Woman embroidering, by Georg Friedrich Kersting
String Trio in G major Op.9/1 (1798, Beethoven aged 27)
Dedication Count Johann Georg von Browne
1. Adagio – Allegro con brio
2. Adagio, ma non tanto e cantabile
3. Scherzo: Allegro
Background and Critical Reception
Seemingly preoccupied with units of three, Beethoven returned to the string trio around the same time that he was working on the three Op.10 piano sonatas – just before writing the three sonatas for violin and piano Op.12. The trios are dedicated to Count von Browne, husband of the dedicatee for Op.10 – and there are several parallels between the two sets. D major and C minor are used for a work in each – while G major, seldom used until now, is used for this first piece.
Robert Simpson, writing in The Beethoven Companion, argues persuasively that the trios are overlooked. ‘His three Op.9 trios are rightly quoted as the locus classicus for astonishing weight and richness of sound in this medium’. He notes how Beethoven’s writing for the three instruments is so inclusive that the ‘missing’ second violin that would make up a string quartet is not evident.
Beethoven has already shown an impressive mastery of the string trio in the Op.3 and Op.8 works, but with the first work of Op.9 he goes up another level. The grand introduction for the first movement is imposing, almost orchestral in its conception given that there are only three instruments in play. It leads to a main theme where Beethoven is really pushing the ranges of the three instruments, the cello down low and the violin up high. It gives a strong sense of pushing boundaries – but there is a lot of fun to be had in the process.
The second movement is a beauty, a tender reflection in E major, a stream of consciousness. The third movement is bright, a quick dance that is much more scherzo than minuet, while the fourth movement rushes forward impatiently, each of the instruments bristling with energy.
Beethoven’s ambition here is clear, taking the string trio to a new level of technical prowess while expanding the form.
Recordings used and Spotify links
L’Archibudelli (Vera Beths (violin), Juergen Kussmaul (viola), Anner Bylsma (cello)
The Grumiaux Trio (Arthur Grumiaux (violin), Georges Janzer (viola), Eva Czako (cello) (Philips)
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna and Mstislav Rostropovich (Deutsche Grammophon)
Leopold String Trio Isabelle Van Keulen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Kate Gould (cello) (Hyperion)
Trio Zimmermann (Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Antoine Tamestit (viola), Christian Poltéra (cello) (BIS)
You can listen to the versions from L’Archibudelli, the Grumiaux Trio, the Mutter-Giuranna-Rostropovich trio and Trio Zimmermann on this playlist:
Heifetz and co are expansive in the slower music but enjoy tripping along in the third movement, relishing the music’s positive energy. The Grumiaux Trio are satin-smooth, Arthur’s violin taking the lead in an affectionate account. The Leopold String Trio give an elegant first movement but keep the freshness of the new discoveries as the work progresses.
You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!
Also written in 1798 Kozeluch Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major
Next up String Trio in G major Op.9/2