Landmarks and memories of sunny days

The taste of the summer. © Charles Thibo

No, the summer is not over yet. Many more warm and sunny days to enjoy. And still, I feel that little nostalgia already. It sneaks into my mind at the end of August, when I get up and the sun has not yet risen. In two weeks school will start again, and by then the sun will set way too early and the air will be too cool and humid to spend the evening in the garden. Landmarks. Autumn is knocking discretely at the door.

An unfinished Romantic work

Here is a piece that illustrates a little this sentimental longing: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Piano Trio in C minor, a Romantic piece, naturally! Initially it was an unfinished work. Rimsky-Korsakov started its composition in the summer of 1897 in Senytchkovo, during an extremely creative phase. While composing a number of romances, he had developed a new compositional style with the emphasis on the vocal origin – the text of the poem – of the melody.

He did not feel at ease with composing chamber music however and was dismissive about his piano trio. In his autobiography “My Musical Life” he recalls: “I composed a string quartet in G major and a trio for violin, cello and piano in C minor. The latter composition remained unfinished, and both of these compositions proved to me that chamber music was not my field; I therefore resolved not to publish them.” He tried out parts of it with friends at home, but remained unhappy with the results.

Darkness, consolation, peace

The trio was completed and published by Rimsky-Korsakov’s student and son-in-law Maximilien Steinberg in 1939. It has four movements and was recorded by the excellent Leonore Piano Trio. Nigel Simeone characterizes the first movement as “substantial and serious […] dominated by the melody introduced by the cello at the start”, in his introduction for the label Hyperion. The severe mood is contrasted by a delightfully whimsical second movement. “It is the sort of capricious character piece Schumann might have written had he been a Russian”, writes Simeone.

The third movement opens with a dark sequence of chromatic chords for the piano, coloured by sustained octaves played by the violin and cello. A consoling piano theme emerges, taken up by the cello, and then by the violin with a lovely cello counterpoint*. The central section exudes melancholy and the movement ends as it has begun with repeated chords played by the piano supported by long string notes until it reaches a peaceful end. The finale starts with a dark piano solo, interrupted by recitative-like passages for cello and violin. It is followed by a lyrical theme introduced by the cello, but soon echoed by the violin. Among the surprises in this movement is a long piano solo derived from the violin solo first heard in the slow introduction.

A beautiful piece conjuring beautiful memories of a beautiful summer.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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