In the oeuvre of Sergei Rachmaninoff, pianist and composer in one person, chamber music pieces are to be found only sporadically. Of particular interest among them are two piano trios of the same title, Trio elégiaque No. 1 in G minor and Trio elégiaque No. 2 in D minor, both composed within a short period of time. The one-movement Trio elégiaque No. 1 in G minor was written in just four days in 1892. In its mood, it is linked to the tradition of similar elegiac works by Russian composers, especially by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who in 1882 honored the memory of his friend Nikolai Rubinstein with a piano trio dedicated “to the memory of a great artist”. When Tchaikovsky died in 1893, Rachmaninoff composed his second piano trio, using the title Trio elégiaque again, and using the same quote, “à la memoire d’un grande artiste” dedicated it to Tchaikovsky. As regards Rachmaninoff’s first piano trio, Trio elégiaque No. 1, it is not known to whom or to what its melancholy atmosphere refers. However, at that time Rachmaninoff was working on his first opera Aleko, based on Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin’s short story The Gypsies, a tale of love, revenge and family honor with a tragic ending, and this may have been reflected in the trio. Melancholy, after all, was one of Rachmaninoff’s character traits. The high point of the sonata movement of Trio elégiaque No. 1, with its series of episodes, is a funeral march, which has an almost orchestral sound, and the trio is therefore sometimes described as a symphonic poem for three instruments. The work was premiered by Rachmaninoff himself together with his classmates, David Kreyn at the violin and Anatoliy Brandukov at the cello, on 30 January (11 February) in Moscow.
Piano Trio No. 1 in A minor is the only composition of its kind in the body of work of Maurice Ravel. Although he had been planning to write a composition for piano, violin and cello since 1908, he realized this idea as late as between April and August 1914 in the Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where he was from. Ravel himself described the work on this piece as an effort to take his mind off the war that broke out in July. In a letter to his friend, the composer and pianist Maurice Delage, Ravel announced his work with a self-deprecating humor: “I’ve written my trio. Now all I need are the themes.” The basic building block of the trio is rhythm. By its variability, polymetric character and asymmetrical division of bars, Ravel broke new ground in his work. On the one hand, the music opalesces in vague contours (the second movement, Pantoum, refers to a Malaysian verse form), while on the other hand it is organized according to the strict scheme of Baroque passacaglia (third movement). The rhythmic component of the final movement is reminiscent of the folk music of Ravel’s native Basque country. The premiere of the trio took place in January 1915 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, the first performers being the Italian composer and pianist Alfredo Casella, the violinist Gabriel Willaume and the cellist Louis Feuillard.
Franz Schubert wrote four compositions for piano, violin and cello. After an attempt in 1812, left unfinished, he returned to this cast many years later in his Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 99 (D 898) and Piano Trio in E flat major, Op. 100 (D 929). However, the chronological order in which the two works were written was most likely reversed. Piano Trio in B flat major (the autograph is missing) was composed second and was published posthumously in 1836. The impulse for the composition of the trios was the founding in 1827 of an ensemble consisting of Ignaz Schuppanzigh (violin), Josef Linke (cello) and Carl Maria Bocklet (piano). All of them were friends with Schubert and were instrumental in the performance of several of his compositions. These two piano trios were rightly labelled “Grand” when first published. Piano Trio in B flat major features two characteristic aspects of Schubert’s music, the dramatic character and the romantic lyricism, presented in the first movement by the contrast of two main themes. Another typical Schubertian feature is the polarity of the key, applied in the numerous modulations of the second movement. The third scherzo movement uses the compositional technique of the canon, while its middle section consists of a simple trio. The final rondo movement is characterized above all by the variety of its rhythmic component. The trio was probably first performed on 26 December 1827 as part of a concert series organized by Schuppanzigh.