LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
String Trio in G Major, Op. 9 No. 1
Axel Strauss, violin, Dimitri Murrath, viola, Edward Arron, cello
Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano
Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet, Tessa Lark, violin, Jeewon Park, piano
ERNST VON DOHNÁNYI
Piano Quintet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 1
Dover Quartet, David Fung, piano
EARLY IN HIS CAREER, Beethoven wrote five string trios, possibly as a preparation for his later string quartets. Although ostensibly a simpler genre than the string quartet, the string trio medium (violin, viola, cello) presents a unique set of challenges for the composer. A long-standing premise holds that the trio should not mimic quartet sonorities but must project a true three-voice concept. However, the greater difficulty is to combine three individual instruments successfully without the blending capabilities of a second violin. The three works in the Opus 9 set (1797) stand as the finest of Beethoven’s string trios—which he subsequently abandoned in favor of the string quartet.
CONTRASTS WAS CONCEPTUALIZED in 1938 at a convivial dinner enjoyed by Joseph Szigeti, the eminent Hungarian violinist, and Benny Goodman, the legendary jazz clarinetist. The two musicians decided to perform together, but they realized that their unique chemistry required new repertoire. The obvious choice of composer for their collaboration was Szigeti’s compatriot Béla Bartók, who could also perform with them as pianist during his projected 1940 visit to the United States. Szigeti wrote to Bartók, who was then on vacation in Switzerland: “Benny has offered to triple the commission you usually receive. Please write him a registered letter, in which you agree to write a six to seven-minute clarinet and violin duo with piano accompaniment, the ownership of which remains yours. It would be very good if the composition were to consist of two independent sections which could be performed separately, and of course we hope it will include a brilliant clarinet and violin cadenza! Benny brings out whatever the clarinet is physically able to perform at all—in regions much higher than in Eulenspiegel [Richard Strauss’s virtuoso tone poem]!” Within a month Bartók mailed the new work to its commissioners. He subsequently added a central movement and apologized that he now “delivered a suit for an adult instead of the dress ordered for a two-year-old baby.”
ONE OF HUNGARY’S MOST influential musicians, Dohnányi was honored throughout Europe as a preeminent pianist, conductor, and composer. A prodigy, by the time he wrote his Opus 1 Quintet at age 17 Dohnányi had already composed sixty-five student works. The quintet won high praise from Brahms, who arranged for the work’s Vienna premiere in 1895. The work shows strong influences of both Brahms and Schumann in its richly romantic harmonies and sweeping lyrical lines.