As a composer of chamber music, I believe it’s safe
to say that Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartets
represent his greatest achievements in that genre,
notwithstanding his Piano Trios, Violin and Piano
Sonatas, and Cello and Piano Sonatas. Although his
Chamber Music for Winds is of high quality, I believe
that it doesn’t achieve the same level of greatness
as the aforementioned genres. He even wrote
some charming music for mandolin and piano!
There are also Beethoven compositions for
String Trio consisting of violin, viola and cello, which
date approximately from 1792 to 1798.
These consist of the “Trio in E Flat Major, Op. 3,”
which was written prior to 1794, the “Serenade in
D Major, Op. 8,” written between 1796 and 1797,
and the three “Trios, Op. 9, Nos. 1-3,” written in
G Major, D Major and C Minor, which were
composed between 1797 and 1798.
The first two Trios are longer, in five and six
movements. They follow more of a divertimento
format, similar to works from Franz Joseph
Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The later
“Op. 9 String Trios” are in the more traditional,
four-movement Sonata form, which was common
for string quartets and symphonies of the day.
I can’t help feeling that Beethoven used this Trio
format as a “trial run,” before tackling his first
“Quartets, Op. 18,” which were composed
between 1798 and 1800.
These three “Op. 9 String Trios” reveal
Beethoven’s true voice, as opposed to the two
earlier works which show a greater indebtedness
to Mozart and Haydn. It’s fascinating to hear the
budding genius, at this early stage of his
compositional career. For me, the most originality
was demonstrated by the “C Minor Trio.”
I recently heard a two-CD set of these works
released by the Deutsche Grammophon, during 1989.
At a running time of two hours and 20 minutes, these
discs contain all five of Beethoven’s String Trio
compositions, and features performances from
violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, cellist Bruno Giuranna,
and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. These players
make a strong case for this music. As I am currently
unable to recall other recorded performances,
I suppose that I can highly recommend this set.
However, at times it seemed as though this was
a trio of star soloists, as opposed to an ensemble
that had played with each other for many years.
I found this particularly apparent when listening to
Disc One. Nevertheless, these were fine performances
and impressive demonstrations of individual virtuosity.
I’m glad that I reacquainted myself with this lesser
known, yet still important facet of Beethoven’s output.