Piano Trio No. 8 in G Major, K. 564, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The piano trio as we know it began with the trio sonata of the Baroque era, in which a solo instrument (the violin, for instance) would be accompanied by the basso continuo—often consisting of the harpsichord and a bass violin (now called the cello), which usually just reinforced the bass line of the keyboard part. Two major things occurred which transformed the trio sonata into the modern piano trio—the invention of the pianoforte by Bartolommeo Cristofori in 1709, and the birth of Mozart in 1756. The new piano allowed for more melodic lines and a greater dynamic range for keyboard players. Composers began to give the piano more dominance, promoting it as a solo instrument, rather than using it primarily for accompaniment. As the greatest pianist of his time, Mozart’s contribution to piano trios include not only his impeccable piano writing, but also the expansion of the cello part, giving it equal footing with the violin. Mozart’s last piano trio, K. 564, may have actually begun as a piano sonata. During the last year of his life, as Mozart struggled with poor health and crushing debts, he reworked the piano sonata into a piano trio as he hoped to capitalize on the growing popularity of chamber music. While perhaps written out of financial necessity rather than sudden inspiration, this work is impeccably crafted. The piano introduces the theme in the first movement, and skillfully passes to the other two instruments. The second movement, in theme and variations form, shows how effortlessly Mozart could transform a single melody to great dramatic effect. The final movement is a playful Rondo with dance-like grace and humor.
“Old Photographs” from Constantinople, by Christos Hatzis
Commissioned by the Gryphon Trio, “Old Photographs” is a single movement from Constantinople, a large multimedia production by Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. This unique work combines elements of the song cycle with the sacred cantata, as well as opera, chamber music and ballet while juxtaposing modern and ancient musical styles from Eastern and Western genres. In “Old Photographs”, that duality can be heard as it begins with a plaintive piano melody in the style of Robert Schumann, and gradually progresses into a wild tango. About his music, Hatzis writes:
"I feel strongly that with my music, I am trying to force a tiny opening in the cloud that will allow His Light to shine through. At best, I am a follower, not a master, and my MASTER holds the patterns and patents of my being and work. So, in the best of circumstances, I can only think of myself as an imitator."
Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 5, by Arthur Foote
I. Allegro con brio
II. Allegro vivace
III. Adagio molto
IV. Allegro comodo
Arthur Foote was a member of the Boston Six, a group of elite American composers at the turn of the 20th century who sought to import the best of the European classical music tradition, and in turn, elevate America’s reputation in the arts. Other members of the group included John Knowles Paine, the first professor of music at Harvard University; Horatio Parker of Yale; Edward MacDowell, who taught at Columbia; George Chadwick, Director of the New England Conservatory; and Amy Beach, America’s first famous female composer. Foote graduated from Harvard, and was the first American composer to receive all of his training in the United States. He served as organist for the First Unitarian Church in Boston for 32 years, and helped found the American Guild of Organists. The lack of European pedigree probably hurt Foote’s career, but his Piano Trio in C minor certainly deserves a place among the great piano trios.