In the first movement I hear an excited young man. At first I thought at an angry young man because of the restless violin part, but no, the cello gives those specific parts something comforting. No anger, but a lot of expectation. Was it what Felix Mendelssohn intended to say with the first movement of his Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, op. 66? After all he was a young man at the culmination point of his career as a composer, pianist and conductor. What more did he look for? Felix composed it in 1845, dedicated it to Louis Spohr, whom we have met in an earlier post, and offered it to his sister Fanny as a birthday present.
The composer wrote it during a short stay in Frankfurt; in 1835 he taken up the post of the Kapellmeister at the prestigious Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig. After a short spell in Berlin at the Prussian court (1841-45) he returned to Leipzig to take up his previous post as a conductor of the Gewandhausorchester and as a teacher at the conservatory he had founded in 1843. He was glad to leave Berlin and happy to return to the city of Leipzig. Quite something to be excited about.
To Spohr Mendelssohn wrote : “I would like to have saved the honour for a somewhat longer piece, but then I should have had to put it off, as I have so often of late. Nothing seemed good enough to me, and in fact neither does this trio.” Well, it is not the first time that a composer is not happy with his own work while the audience reaches a very different conclusion. At least I do. I love the trio’s restlessness, the dynamic, the optimism it exudes, the forcefulness coupled to a nostalgic gentleness, in short I consider it a perfect piece.
Robert Philip, a senior lecturer in music and a well-known presenter on BBC Radio, explains that for Mendelssohn’s generation, writing a work in C minor had a particular resonance with the music written by Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor was greatly admired by Beethoven for its uniquely ambivalent mood of serene tragedy. “Beethoven’s works in C minor have a characteristically rugged seriousness of purpose […] and they in turn were admired by Mendelssohn and his contemporaries.” So let’s in turn admire and enjoy Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, recorded by the Trio Wanderer.
© Charles Thibo