Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65, B130
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
4 February – 31 March 1883
Premiere - date and place
27 October 1883, Mladá Boleslav
Ferdinand Lachner, Alois Neruda, Antonín Dvořák
Simrock, 1883, Berlin
Parts / movements
1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Allegretto grazioso – Meno mosso
3. Poco adagio
4. Finale. Allegro con brio
approx. 39 min.
The Piano Trio in F minor could be regarded not only as one of the major achievements of Dvořák’s chamber music, but also as one of the most important works of its genre. Its strength lies in the unusual wealth of musical ideas and their resourceful development, in the assured structure of the individual movements and the formal integrity of the work as a whole, and in the concentration of sound whilst ensuring the right balance between the instruments. The opulence of sound, expression and form in this symphonically conceived work almost transcends the chamber music genre itself. In terms of its expression, this composition is exceptional in Dvořák’s oeuvre: instead of the warmth and spontaneous joy of life typical for Dvořák, the music here conveys dark and sombre thoughts, a sense of uncertainty, uneasiness and defiance. Taking into account these qualities, the work might be seen as the chamber counterpart to the composer’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, which originated in the same period.
For its grave, philosophical tone, the Piano Trio in F minor is often described as Dvořák’s “most Brahmsian” work. One could, in fact, consider a specific source of inspiration: Brahms’s Piano Quintet, Op. 34, from the year 1864. Its expression is very similar, it is written in the same key and has a similar choice of instruments and corresponding introduction – the instruments make their striking entry with the main theme in unison, without the use of harmony. Irrespective of possible sources of inspiration, Dvořák’s trio is a masterpiece formally rooted in the long-established traditions of European chamber music, but introducing fresh, wholly unconventional ideas.
composition history and premiere
Dvořák is usually said to have been motivated to write his Piano Trio in F minor by the death of his mother. Anna Dvořáková died on 15 December 1882 and, six weeks later, the composer started work on the score. However, the work also originated during a period when, after many years of endeavour, Dvořák was finally establishing himself in the concert venues of Europe. Literature on the composer often states that he was fighting a private battle within himself at that time as someone who was having to choose between the ideals of a sincerely patriotic individual, and his ambitions for international success. In the collection of works from this period which share similar sentiments (apart from the trio, also Symphony No. 7, the Scherzo capriccioso or the Hussite Overture), the sense of conflict, defiance and uncertainty is indeed much more tangible than in any of his previous works. Yet no explicit documentation currently exists to explain the causes for this change of heart underlying Dvořák’s music. The composition of the trio took him approximately two months. The premiere was held on 27 October 1883 at Dvořák’s concert in Mladá Boleslav; the composer himself sat at the keyboard. The piece was published that same year by Berlin-based publisher Simrock.
The first movement is written in sonata form and is characteristic for the fundamental emotive intensity which underlies its entire thematic material. Moreover, none of the themes ends regularly on the tonic, thus the music continually gives an impression of things left unsaid, of misgivings and questions. The final rising interval of the main theme from b to g, important for the motivic fabric of the movement, is, in fact, the musical equivalent of a question mark. The movement has extremely dense instrumentation, particularly in view of the almost constant, wilful presence of the piano, with its rich and varied sound. The overall mood of the movement is dark and grave, and any brighter moments are only fleeting. The exposition of the main themes is followed by a relatively brief, but dramatic development section. We then hear something akin to a second development in the recapitulation, which not only features an exact repeat of the exposition, but also further develops various motivic figures. The second movement (which was probably originally meant to stand in third place) might be described as a kind of unconventional scherzo, with a striking rhythmical division in the main theme: while the string instruments play an accompanying figure of endless triplet sequences, the melody in the piano consistently alternates two quaver and two crotchet values, creating a sense of nervous agitation. The middle part of the movement introduces an effective contrast with its broadly arching melodic line; the shift to a major key underlines the impression of fleeting tranquility. In its emotional depth and exquisite melodies, the third movement is one of Dvořák’s most superb slow movements. Despite the fundamental key of A flat major, the music retains a sense of nostalgia which briefly becomes more animated in the middle section; otherwise it continues its gentle course, tracing wide melodic arcs, often in canonic imitation. The final movement, a combination of sonata form and rondo, heralds the return of the restless, sombre atmosphere of the first movement. The dramatic tone is set at the start by the highly rhythmical descending octaves as one of the chief motivic figures of the movement. The close of the work is pure Dvořák: while the audience anticipates the final few bars of the piece after a powerful build-up in the music’s expression, a reminiscence of the main theme from the first movement suddenly emerges as if from nowhere. This is followed by a hushed passage in a bright major key which gradually ebbs away, only to rise up unexpectedly once more and, after a few spirited bars derived from the main theme, the work comes to its resolute close.
period press review
Neue Freie Presse, 13 February 1884 (Eduard Hanslick):
“The most valuable gem brought to us amid the plethora of concerts in recent weeks is undeniably Dvorak’s new Piano Trio in F minor. It demonstrates that the composer finds himself at the pinnacle of his career. If we disregard the smaller genres, it is particularly the Symphony in D major, the string sextet, and now the Trio in F minor which rank Dvorak among the world’s greatest modern masters.”
The Musical Standard, 31 January 1885:
“The pianoforte trio of Dvořák in F minor is the only number of this scheme that calls for special notice, and hardly that, seeing that the work had been performed at these concerts last year. I had the good fortune to hear the trio before its production in St. James’s Hall, at the house of Mr. Oscar Beringer, when the eminent Bohemian composer played the principal part, and excited a furore. I need only repeat, for the time being, my highly favourable opinion of this trio as a work of original genius thoroughly carried out in all constructive details, and uniformly interesting in respect of themes. Of the four movements the first allegro is obviously the most elaborate and important. Here the distribution of the work among the three instruments must strike a student of the score as masterly. The second movement, an allegretto grazioso in the unrelated key of C sharp minor, with an enharmonic change to D flat major at the alternative (or trio), stamps a Bohemian brand on the work with unmistakable force and purpose – “a genuine tune of home growth,” as the annotator remarks. The poco adagio in A flat (relative major) supplies an adequate test, or touchstone – such it always must be – of the composer’s capacity; and the final allegro betrays no declension of power or thought.”