Beethoven: Piano Trio Op. 97 “Archduke” The Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio

Ludwig van Beethoven

Of the seven trios that Beethoven wrote for piano, violin, and cello, it is the seventh, the “Archduke”, that is the best known.  Composer and author Kathy Henkel, who writes regularly for the LA Philharmonic web­site, wrote a short article about the “Archduke”, which you can read here in its entirely.  Here is a brief excerpt:

It was in the summertime of 1810 that Beethoven began sketching what would become his final and finest piano trio.  Earlier that year, he had harbored serious thoughts of marrying his doctor’s lovely 18-year-old niece, Therese Malfatti.  When his hopes were dashed, the composer slunk off to Baden for a few months, where he nursed his wounds and distracted himself by jotting down plans for a string quartet and a piano trio.  On his return to Vienna in October, he completed the quartet – his striking Op. 95, “Serioso.”  The piano trio itself was written in a flurry of inspiration from March 3 to 26 the following year.  It completed a decade of awesome creativity which had begun with the “Eroica” Symphony.  Coming at the end of this so-called “heroic” decade, the “Archduke” Trio represented the full bloom and the crowning achievement of the composer’s Middle Period.  It is music of sweeping grandeur for a trio of virtuosos.

Indeed, it was just such a trio of virtuosos – Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern, and Leonard Rose – who joined forces in 1961 to form the Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio, featured in the video below.  All three enjoyed long and distinguished careers as solo artists.  Their collaboration would continue for 23 years – until the death of Leonard Rose in 1984 – and they received a Grammy Award in 1971 for their recording of the complete Beethoven piano trios.

The noted Beethoven authority John Suchet has written movingly about the premiere of the “Archduke” trio:

The most beautiful of all Beethoven’s Piano Trios, and one that holds a poignant place in his life.  At its first public performance Beethoven insisted on playing the piano part, although his hearing was now (1814) seriously defective.  The composer and violinist Louis Spohr reported:

It was not a good performance.  In the first place the piano was badly out of tune, which was of little concern to Beethoven because he could not hear it.  Secondly, on account of his deafness, there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired.  In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys till the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of notes were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible.  I was deeply saddened at so harsh a fate.  It is a great misfor­tune for anyone to be deaf, but how can a musician endure it without giving way to despair?  From now on Beethoven’s continual melancholy was no longer a riddle to me.

Beethoven knew it too.  Apart from one more performance a few weeks later, he never performed in public again.  Listen to the glorious slow movement [at 21:15 in the video below] of the Archduke Trio knowing that, and it will carry a whole new meaning.

The tempo indications of the four movements, and their start times in the video below, are as follows:

1. Allegro moderato – 0:00
2. Scherzo (Allegro) – 13:52
3. Andante cantabile ma però con moto – 21:15
4. Allegro moderato – 34:26

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Published in: on August 31, 2017 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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