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Czech Chamber Music Society • Janáček Trio


In the Janáček Trio, the pianist Markéta Janáčková, who shares the surname of the great Moravian composer, is wonderfully complemented by two members of the Czech Philharmonic: violinist Irena Jakubcová and cellist Jan Keller. They have invited the actor and rhetorician Jan Přeučil to take part in their programme.

Subscription series DK | Duration of the programme 1 hour 20 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society

Programme

Bohuslav Martinů 
Bergerettes, H 275 (23')

— Intermission —

Johannes Brahms 
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 (37')

Performers

Janáček Trio
Irena Jakubcová violin
Jan Keller cello 
Markéta Janáčková piano

Jan Přeučil recitation

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Janáček Trio

Martinů Hall — Academy of Performing Arts

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Performers

Janáček Trio  

Compositions

Bohuslav Martinů
Bergerettes, H 275

Of more than 90 chamber instrumental compositions by Bohuslav Martinů, there is a significant number of trios – 15 in total. However, he composed only four pieces scored for piano trio. Bergerettes for violin, cello and piano, H 275, were written at the end of winter in early 1939, in the turbulent period shortly before German troops invaded the territory of Czechoslovakia. At that time, Martinů had already been living in Paris for a number of years (since 1923). He was exposed to diverse influences there, including the music by Stravinsky, Bartók, Hindemith, Les Six and jazz. Martinů used to spend the summers in his homeland, and this was no different in 1938. He did not know then that it would be the last time he would visit Czechoslovakia. He responded to the tension that was pervasive in Europe with his Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani, H 271. The Bergerettes, which Martinů completed in February 1939, have a very different character. This is suggested by the title of the work, which refers to French songs with pastoral or amorous themes that were popular in the 18th century (le berger – shepherd).

It is are a cycle of five miniatures each in three sections with a contrasting section in the middle. Except for the fourth movement, they have the form of da capo with a trio. Despite the circumstances of its composition, Martinů managed to imbue these miniature movements with an atmosphere of joy and optimism. He was helped by memories of his native land, but also by the use of some characteristic elements inspired by Czech and Moravian folklore. The fast tempi of the outer movements and the use of ostinato create the impression of a pulsating energy that makes the music rush forward in an unstoppable current. Among the lively, rhythmically expressive movements, the central Andantino stands out. It is characterized by a certain melancholy and considerable tonal variability. It also differs from the other movements by its reversed three-part form, where the outer sections are slower and the central one is lively. Martinů has never heard the Bergerettes in a public concert. Its premiere took place many years later, in 1963, when it was performed by the Foerster Trio. This graceful composition is charmingly playful. At the concert today it will be accompanied by the selected correspondence between Martinů and Vítězslava Kaprálová, who studied with the composer in Paris.

Johannes Brahms
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8

When Johannes Brahms wrote his first piano trio, he was just over 20. By then he was gaining a reputation not only as a pianist but also as a composer. He had already composed a number of works, mostly for piano, including Fantasia on the popular waltz, Scherzo and three sonatas. He included these works in the programs of his recitals. At the same time, this was a period that fundamentally shaped his music. The Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi aroused his interest in Hungarian folk music and Romani music, which significantly influenced his compositional style (his love of Hungarian music was also encouraged by the Hungarian-born violinist Joseph Joachim, who was already a famous virtuoso when he met Brahms in 1853). On concert tours that Brahms and Reményi undertook together they visited many German cities, where Brahms met leading figures of the musical world such as Robert and Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt. The Schumanns were so impressed by the young Brahms that they helped him to publish several of his compositions, and Schumann wrote an article about him in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik entitled “Neue Bahnen” [New Paths]), in which he predicted a great future for Brahms. (Unfortunately, Schumann succumbed to mental illness shortly afterwards and died in 1856, but Brahms and Clara maintained a deep friendship throughout their lives.)

Brahms composed five piano trios in total. Three of them are for the standard instrumentation consisting of piano, violins and cello, but there is also a trio with French horn and a trio with clarinet. Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 8, is Brahms’s first major chamber work. It has an interesting history because it was completed 37 years later. In today’s concert we will hear the Piano Trio in B flat major in the second version published in 1891. Although the first version of this trio from 1854 was significantly revised and altered, both versions have retained the same opus number. Brahms did not explain his attitude to these versions and did not give any further information on their mutual relationship to his publisher Fritz Simrock, who essentially gave him permission to prepare a new revised edition as he saw fit. This was a highly unusual step for Brahms, who liked to have as much control over his work as possible, was highly self-critical, and reworked his compositions sometimes for many years. (The fact that Brahms chose to publish only three of his two dozen string quartets, or that his First Symphony took him over 20 years to complete from the first sketches to the final revisions before publication, speaks volumes.) While Brahms himself did not reject the original version from his youth, and even wrote to Simrock that he could reprint it if there was interest, the second version soon clearly prevailed on concert stages.

The 1891 version is shorter (mainly due to a significantly shortened introductory movement) and is more concise and clearer in terms of structure. It bears traces of Brahms’s masterful work with thematic material, which he has pruned in favor of greater unification and growth. All the main themes have been retained, while the second themes are new everywhere except in the second movement. The first movement is in sonata form (there are, of course, deviations from the classical scheme, such as the shift of the second theme to B minor or the extended recapitulation). The theme heard in the introduction sets the character of the whole work. As Arnold Schoenberg put it, “the initial thought of the piece […] acts as the generator for all subsequent musical events.” The Scherzo contains a lively and rhythmic main theme that the instruments exchange with each other. The contrasting trio section provides a momentary rest, where the inspiration by folk music can be found. It is the only movement that was barely touched by the revision. It is followed by the soulful Adagio, which features a beautiful melody played by the cello, to be heard around the middle of this movement. The Allegro in B minor establishes an atmosphere of agitation, even drama, which is not entirely dispelled by the lucid second theme in the major key, but the composition nevertheless reaches a triumphant conclusion. Here Brahms creates complex musical textures requiring virtuosic interplay between piano, violins and cello. It should be added that Brahms had already made most of the major changes to the second version before its publication in 1891, namely during the summer months of 1889.

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