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piano trio No. 1 

opus number
21 
Burghauser catalogue number
51 
composed
completed 14. 5. 1875
premiere - date and place
17 February 1877, Prague
premiere - performer(s)
Frantisek Ondricek, Alois Sladek, Karel Slavkovsky 
main key
B flat major
parts / movements
1. Allegro molto
2. Adagio molto e mesto
3. Allegretto scherzando
4. Finale. Allegro vivace 
duration
approx. 31 min. 


composition history, premiere and reception

Trio in B flat major for violin, cello and piano is the first of a series of four surviving piano trios (preceded by at least two trios from the beginning of the 1870s which Dvorak later destroyed). The work was written at a very productive time in the composer’s life, in the spring of 1875. In January of that year he had received his first state scholarship and was thus able to focus fully on his composition work. The trio appeared almost simultaneously with Dvorak’s famous Serenade in E major; in fact, the autographs of both works bear the same completion date: 14 May 1875. It would appear that the trio originally had a different third movement. In the year it was written, Dalibor magazine described this movement as “Alla polacca with a trio in a march tempo”. The new version – Allegretto scherzando – was also modified later on, when Dvorak reworked its middle section. He probably decided to make these changes in view of the forthcoming premiere (held in Prague on 17 February 1877) or before the work’s publication by Schlesinger three years later. The response to the premiere was largely positive. As maintained by Svetozor magazine, the new work demonstrated that “the composer is not only talented but he is now also a mature artist who uses inspired motifs to subtly create an ornate, yet clear and tasteful musical structure.” In 1881 the British journal Musical Times printed a comprehensive, two-part study by the eminent music critic Joseph Bennett on Dvorak’s musical career to date and included a detailed analysis of the Trio in B flat major. According to Bennett, “Here the thematic material is undoubtedly rich and abundant, but the composer is not thereby tempted into diffuseness. He recognises the truth propounded by William Penn, “Form is good, but not formality,” and keeps himself sternly within the laws of symmetry and well-ordered sequence.”


general characteristics

The trio is another opus in a series of Dvorak’s chamber works which well document the tempo with which the composer developed his creative potential during the mid-1870s. The trio gives a strong impression of Dvorak’s individual style, and the formal arrangement of the piece is convincing. The first movement, characteristic for its exuberance, is written in sonata form and treats three themes. The development works exclusively with the main subject and incorporates a highly varied set of modulations. The slow second movement has a dream-like atmosphere and, in its emotional depth, already anticipates the composer’s masterful adagios of subsequent years. The movement is dominated by two themes, with the main subject in G minor, and the subordinate in A major. As the movement gains momentum and reaches its culmination, the first of these opens out into a four-part canon. The third movement is a scherzo somewhat subtly stylised in the manner of a polka, with a more tranquil trio. The final movement in sonata form has three themes, the first of which begins irregularly, not in B flat major, but in G minor. The development section incorporates a quotation from the slow movement (the principle of reminiscence – recalling fragments from previous movements – is typical for Dvorak’s oeuvre in general). The movement is also noteworthy for its changes of mood: from the relentless, passionate expression of the introduction, to its triumphant, jubilant close.