The Piano Trio in C Minor is a youthful work by Dmitry Shostakovich written when he was seventeen years old and studying at the Petrograd Conservatoire. Performed just twice during the composer’s lifetime, in the 1920s, the trio remained unpublished and unknown to the wider public until 1983. It is a work in one movement, notable for the powerful influence of the romantic tradition. Nevertheless, already here Shostakovich was successfully assimilating his composition technique that would become typical in his mature works: the imagistic rethinking and the transformation of the primary musical idea (here this is an initial motif in third with the cello). The Trio in C Minor together with other conservatoire-period works of Shostakovich prepared the soil for the young composer’s first major success – the First Symphony.
In Krzysztof Penderecki’s chamber music, ensembles with the clarinet hold a prominent position. The relatively short Clarinet and String Trio Quartet lasts around fifteen minutes, of which more than half makes up the final movement. One exceptional feature of the composition technique in this quartet is the incredibly transparent structure: it is dominated by solo or duet episodes, and only rarely do all four instruments perform together. This is noticeable already in the first movement; it opens with a solo monologue by the clarinet, which is later joined by the viola. Without interruption, following the miniature scherzo and serenade, comes the slow finale which has the title Farewell and is also constructed primarily on the instruments’ dialogues.
In his works Sergei Prokofiev almost never turned to folkloric musical material. His Overture on Hebrew Themes is one of the rare exceptions, appearing thanks to chance circumstances. In 1919 Prokofiev, then living in the USA, was approached by the Russian émigré Simon Bellison – a clarinettist and future soloist of the New York Philharmonic and, at that time, director of the Jewish ensemble Zimro. Bellison asked the composer to write an overture with which the ensemble could open its concerts, and he gave Prokofiev a copy-book with Jewish musical themes. Prokofiev, who initially rejected the idea, soon became interested in it and in just a few weeks had completed the piece. The one-movement overture is structured on two main themes: one pliant and dance-like, the other melancholic. The skilful combination of both themes with markedly different elements of harmonious language, typical of Prokofiev, ensured the work’s success with the public, though the composer himself did not place much significance on the piece.
The quintet Die Forelle was commissioned from Franz Schubert by the wealthy amateur cellist Sylvester Paumgartner to whom, it would appear, we are indebted for two surprising particulars of this masterpiece. It is most likely that it was the client who insisted on the choice of instruments, unusual for a classical quintet (piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass), and for the fourth movement to be variations on the melody of Schubert’s song Die Forelle.
The quintet was composed in the autumn of 1819 in a very short space of time. Schubert was travelling in Upper Austria together with his friend the baritone Michael Vogl. For Schubert this was a time of confusion and professional disorder; his hopes of “breaking through” and having a serious career in music had, one after another, come to nothing. The quintet, like many of Schubert’s chamber pieces, was the fruit of his “broad fame in narrow circles” of friends and admirers. Nevertheless, the music of all five movements of the quintet is almost serene. The famous song Die Forelle to verse by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart which forms the basis of the fourth movement had been composed two years earlier, and Schubert was still continuing to rework it in pursuit of perfection.