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Czech Chamber Music Society • Eben trio
The Eben Trio is a chamber ensemble of great renown in this country and abroad. For the final concert of this series, they chose a special programme. In the first half, Beethoven's Archduke's Piano Trio will be performed, followed by one of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's most famous chamber works.
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (30')
— Intermission —
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 97 "Archduke" (40')
Roman Patočka violin
Jiří Bárta cello
Terezie Fialová piano
Rudolfinum — Suk Hall
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The internationally renowned Eben Trio, named after Petr Eben, a prominent Czech composer of the second half of the 20th century, is made up of the pianist Terezie Fialová, the violinist Roman Patočka and the cellist Jiří Bárta. They have given concerts at such prestigious venues as the Auditorium du Louvre, the Gasteig in Munich, the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the National Hall of Performing Arts in Beijing, the Oriental Arts Centre in Shanghai and the Rudolfinum in Prague. The Eben Trio have received the Czech Chamber Music Society Award and the Masefield Prize Hamburg, and were the overall winner of the Concours de musique du Lyceum Club International de Suisse in Lausanne.
In 2013, they were the first Czech ensemble to be invited to the Verbier Festival Academy and the Septembre Musical Montreux-Vevey in Switzerland. The Eben Trio have given concerts in most European countries, in the USA, China and Korea, and have regularly appeared at international festivals. They have promoted and performed music by contemporary composers, including Peteris Vasks, Toru Takemitsu and Bent Sørensen. In 2019, they gave the Czech premiere of the latter’s concerto for trio and orchestra LʼIsola della città.
Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 97, “Archduke Trio”
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat major is called the “Archduke Trio” because of its dedication to Archduke Rudolf of Austria, the youngest of the sixteen children of Emperor Leopold II of Austria. It is one of Beethoven’s twelve works for piano trio. Beethoven came to Vienna from Bonn and settled permanently in the Austrian capital at 22 years of age, a year after Mozart’s death. And after Mozart and Haydn, he ultimately brought the expressive resources, musical forms, and style of what was later called Classicism to a new level, moving in terms of certain aspects of expression towards that which we now call Romanticism. He did this in symphonic and chamber works as well as in his piano music. At first his composing was influenced by Haydn, Mozart, and slightly earlier composers. Incidentally, besides Salieri and Albrechtsberger, one of Beethoven’s teachers was Haydn, although Haydn was quite busy and ultimately spent more than a year working in London. And it was from Joseph Haydn in particular that the young Beethoven was able to take inspiration, drawing upon the older master’s feel for the drama and elegance of music, possibly also his sense of humour, and certainly his craftsman-like skill at composing. Nonetheless, Beethoven was already his own man from the very beginning, and over time he became more so: an innovator of form and expression and an original musical mind unafraid to try out and employ new solutions and concepts. He was grounded from an early age in the predominant style of the day, but over time there was an increasing admixture of his more typical characteristics: the passionate, the idyllic, and the virtuosic. His music captures and reflects an effort towards pure comprehensibility, but there is also a searing flame of human emotion in it. There is also a vicarious reflection of the revolutionary ideals of freedom, dignity, and brotherhood. In this way, he was increasingly able to give individual works a truly special, unique artistic profile. Of course, all of this was possible primarily because in Vienna he gradually succeeded in obtaining long-term, generous support from the nobility. He was paid a stipend that enable him to devote himself fully to nothing but music.
One of Beethoven’s patrons was Archduke Rudolf of Habsburg-Lorraine, the composer’s junior by 18 years. A capable amateur musician, he was Beethoven’s pupil as a pianist and composer, and the two men became friends. Beethoven dedicated more than a dozen works to the archduke, including the piano sonatas “Hammerklavier” and “Les Adieux” and the “Emperor Concerto”. In 1819 Rudolf became the archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese in Olomouc (Olmütz). He chose a palace in Kroměříž as his main residence, where he compiled large collections of music, books, maps, and copperplate engravings. He wanted Beethoven to write a composition for his installation, but the composer did not finish the work until several years later: the Missa solemnis. The lofty composition arose from the conviction that it is within a person’s power to instil faith in one’s fellow men. Naturally, the composer was hoping that his music would have an effect that would go beyond the realm of the church. Beethoven’s Mass is an extraordinary work, remote from ecclesiastical mysticism or the Catholicism of the period. In modern times, it is better known as a concert work.
The Piano Trio in B flat major, called the “Archduke Trio”, is dated 1811. Today it is seen as one of Beethoven’s greatest chamber works. Its dimensions are almost symphonic in scale. The majestic first movement in sonata form is followed by a dance-like scherzo, a slow movement of sorrowful, song-like beauty, and finally a playful finale. The work’s public premiere took place at the hotel Zum römischen Kaiser in Vienna in April 1814. The violinist was Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the cellist was Josef Linkde, and the composer was at the piano. By then his worsening deafness had begun to make it impossible for him to perform. A few weeks later, he definitively ceased making public appearances.
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49
In the music of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, from the beginning there is a combination of the heightened imagination typical of Romanticism with creative sensibilities in harmony with Mozartean clarity and economy. The son of a well-to-do townsfolk and the grandson of a great Jewish philosopher, he was a true prodigy like Mozart, and he benefited from not only his extraordinary talent, but also the support of his parents in the form of education and special advantages like the possibility of immediately getting to hear his own compositions played live. He took composition lessons from Carl Friedrich Zelter, a musician who was famous in Berlin at the time, and later he studied with the equally famous teacher Ignaz Moscheles. The instruction Mendelssohn received was artistically conservative, but he admired the late works of Ludwig van Beethoven. He also acquired historical knowledge, and he was the first composer to reflect that particular knowledge his in his music. The facts that his family had adopted the Christian faith and that he was himself a person of sincere Protestant convictions enabled him to take an intense interest in Bach’s music. And so it was that at the age of 20, with the Berlin performance of the St Matthew Passion he rediscovered Bach’s nearly forgotten compositional legacy for his contemporaries. At the same time, Johann Sebastian Bach strongly influenced him as a composer of music for the Protestant church. Ultimately, Bach’s influence is also present in the conceptions of the Biblical oratorios Elijah and St Paul. He quickly became a successful conductor. From 1835 until 1847 he held an important position with the Orchestra of the Leipzig Gewandhaus—he was the fifth chief conductor (Kapellmeister) in its history.
The list of works in the legacy of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy that have a permanent place in the worldwide repertoire begins with music he wrote in his childhood and youth. At age 16 he wrote his still popular Octet for strings, he composed the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 17 years old, and he wrote 12 little symphonies for strings three years earlier than that. His Songs without Words are some of the best known works of the Romantic piano repertoire; he wrote concertos, the overture The Hebrides, and symphonies, the best known being the Scottish Symphony, Italian Symphony, and Reformation Symphony, in which he achieved a clear and perfect combination of classical form and Romantic emotion. His symphonic works are full of ideas, character, individuality, and mood. Many of Mendelssohn’s works exhibit exuberance in their first movements, in others movements one finds repose and emotional expression, and in the finales energy and liveliness interspersed with calmer episodes. These traits are joined by tenderness, ethereality, poetic inspiration, and lyrical majesty as well as the enchantment of the south of Europe, impressions from England and Scotland, and the spiritual depth of his Christian faith. The Violin Concerto in E minor, which was composed for the violinist Ferdinand David, concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, was written in close cooperation between the two musicians. The concerto is not only virtuosic and lyrical, but also highly innovative.
Mendelssohn composed three trios for piano, violin, and cello. The first came when he was just 12 years old, but only the two more mature works are numbered. The Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor was completed on the first day of autumn in 1839. Alongside the aforementioned Octet, it became Mendelssohn’s most popular chamber work thanks to its musical beauty. The first movement in classical sonata form with an exposition, development, and recapitulation starts right off without an introduction, and the lyrical main theme is given to the cello. Variations on this material lead to a second theme, also first played by the cello. The second movement is something like a song without words, with the theme in the piano part. The scherzo is short and light-footed, based on the rhythm of the work’s main theme. In the finale, technique is displayed above all by the piano. The movement and therefore the whole composition brightens not long before the end, when the key changes to D major. It is in the fourth movement that one finds the most noticeable changes proposed by the composer Ferdinand Hiller, whom Mendelssohn had asked for critical comments and suggested revisions. Although the changes heightened the music’s Romantic character, in a review of the piano trio Robert Schumann called his colleague Mendelssohn “the Mozart of the 19th century”.