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Beethoven's early Piano Trios
I find this ironic in a very pleasant sort of a way that I am writing a piece about Beethoven’s piano trios while listening to an ancient Carnatic composition on veena. Beethoven’s piano trios are some of the earliest music that he wrote. His first published work, Opus 1, was a set of 3 Piano Trios. I had purchased a recording of the last two Opus 1 trios by the Vienna Trio over a year ago. The latter of the two, the third C minor trio has an interesting anecdote behind it. After about 15 years of it being published, Beethoven published a rearrangement of the trio for a String Quintet as Opus 104, simply because he was appalled at the version of the same piece that an amateur musician had written. During the years between Opus 1 and Opus 104, he had gone totally deaf. The String Quintet rearrangement is a hard to find piece and I am glad that a recent recording of the piece was arranged specially for the CD supplement of the book An Equal Music.

Beethoven was a student of Haydn when he published his first Opus. Beethoven’s music was somewhat ahead of its time and so Haydn was concerned that his trios might not go too well with the easy going Viennese bourgeois of the 1790s. He discouraged Beethoven from publishing his Piano Trios – kind intentions that Beethoven mistook for signs of jealousy in his teacher. Fortunately, rapprochement followed soon and the issue was settled amiably with Beethoven dedicating his Opus 2 piano sonatas to Haydn.

Curiously, I never quite found a recording of first of the three Opus 1 trios (the Vienna Trio CD just had No. 2 and 3), something that used to nag me each time I would listen to Beethoven’s piano trios.

I had started my day on the 19th of June with the Opus 11 piano trio. (The 4th Piano Trio written by Beethoven, nicknamed “Gassenhauer” that means “street song”). The piece has fascinated me for two reasons. Firstly, the piece was originally intended for a slightly unusual ensemble of Clarinet, Piano and Cello. Since clarinet a was relatively new instrument in late 18th century Vienna, with relatively fewer virtuosos who could perform the piece, Beethoven re-published the composition for a “regular” piano trio ensemble of violin, piano and cello. The piece derives its nickname from its final movement which is a set of variations on a popular tune from the opera L’Amor Marinaro by Joseph Weigl. Incidentally, unlike the first three Piano Trios, this one only has 3 movements, a decision Beethoven is understood to have regretted for a long long time.

I had no idea that 19th would prove to be so propitious for my collection of Beethoven’s Piano Trios. A friend is in Bangalore for sometime and our rendezvous over brunch on Saturday, spilled over into a walk around Brigade road and we eventually landed at the Planet M. I was rummaging in the most desultory manner through the hotchpotch of western classical CDs when suddenly I came across a two CD set of Beethoven’s Trios and this time, Opus 1 No. 1 did not elude me. That the CDs were very reasonably priced at 350 Rs, was icing on the cake.

Incidentally, 19th in Bangalore was also celebrated as Fete De La Music at the Alliance Francaise – with live performance of all genres of music from Carnatic classical to Western classical, from Indian Folk to Indian Film Music, from Jazz to Rock. For me the celebrations could not have come at a better time!

Retrospective Muse: While returning home later this night, I heard the radio in the car play Daler Mehandi’s “Ho jayegi balle balle”. After posting a blog entry about Beethoven’s piano trios, written while listening to Carnatic classical, this was the only thing left to hear. Life sure has funny ways of getting even with you!
posted: 23.6.04


Hey it's Tim from over at Orkut. I didn't realize you had been talking about Opus 11 as well, this disc does have that piece on it.

As I said, it deserves another listen.

By the way, what is Carnatic music?

I know Indian Classical, I have some Shankar discs and also once had a few things by Imrat Khan and his family.

I would not claim to be very up on it, talas and ragas really elude my Western sensibilities, (when I try to drum along I get totally lost, I can find the scale usually if there's no quarter tones, but the raga is lost on me) but I can tell the difference between sections, alap and so on.

I am always interested in hearing new things, let me know what are some good things to look for in Carnatic music. Our local Borders has a large international section, so anything is possible.



By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6.7.04  

Hi Tim!

There are two schools of Indian Classical Music - "Hindustani Classical" and "Carnatic Classical", the latter is more dominant in Southern part of India.

Even I don't follow Indian Classical fully, especially the technical nuances. I do end up drawing lots of parallels between Western Classical and Indian Classical forms though :-) - e.g. the "sections" are like "movements"

Incidentally, Violin is used extensively in Carnatic Classical, perhaps you should try and pick an intrumental recital on Violin. Other "Western" instruments that have been adapted to Carnatic Classical are the Mandolin and the Saxophone. Perhaps later you can move on to the recitals on traditional Indian instruments such as the Veena!

Happy Listening :-)

By Blogger Deepak, at 6.7.04  

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