Music for piano, violin and cello enjoyed considerable popularity in Haydn’s and Mozart’s times. This small complement of instruments offered a wealth of sound possibilities and was perfect for the practice of one of the German bourgeoisie’s favourite pastimes – Hausmusik. The classical stage in the development of this genre reached its climax in Beethoven’s trio, which already abandon the light divertimento style for the sake of enhanced expression, significant diversification of texture and sound, as well as thorough emancipation of each of the three instruments. This new concept of the piano trio (and other genres of chamber music) was taken up by Romantic composers, though their successive generations seemed to demonstrate less interest in this field than the classics. While Schubert and Mendelssohn’s masterful trios still look back to classical models (as also does Chopin’s early Trio Op. 8), Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor can be considered as the first truly Romantic piece in this genre, boldly overcoming formal conventions (though the cycle structure is still traditional) for the sake of an enhanced subjective type of expression and a quest for new balance between highly autonomous instruments. In comparison with this tempestuous music, Brahms’s more than three-decade later warm and intimate Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major sounds like a return to the lost paradise of classical symmetry and clarity of form, though it is imbued with strongly Romantic expression. Rachmaninov’s youthful one-movement Trio élégiaque in G Minor reflects the 19-year-old composer’s fascination with Tchaikovsky’s style and distinctly draws upon Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A Minor.
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