B3LLA Piano Trio

music that inspires

BELLA's MISSION is to connect people to themselves, each other, and their communities through professional live music performances of the highest standards, reflecting shared human emotions and experiences.  BELLA sees their role as artists as inspiring people from diverse backgrounds to cherish the beauty in themselves and others.

BELLA is committed to being socially responsible and engaged artists in their community.  Towards this end, they donate a portion of all of their donations to non-profit community organizations, including those dedicated to helping people and families affected by breast cancer.

DEBUSSY's Piano Trio in G Major, L.3 (1880) (Manuscript only recently discovered!!!)

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Anyone who is familiar with this work must also know that it is a case wherein history
has hidden from us a masterpiece.  It was composed by a 17-year-old Claude Debussy
(commonly referred to as the ‘father of impressionism’ in music) in 1880, who at the time
was working as the personal pianist to Nadezhda von Meck, known for her artistic
relationship and patronage of Tchaikovsky. Wanting to boast of this young Claude’s
talents, von Meck wrote to Tchaikovsky and in her letter speaks of a ‘masterfully written
piano trio.’ It is unclear how it happened, but somehow the score was lost to time and
has been only recently discovered a century after its composition. Surfacing in Paris
and now residing in the Morgan Library in New York, on these pages are inscribed the
ideas of a brilliant young man, and very evident is the style of the ‘artistic force-to-be’
rumbling within him. The work has four movements and is not too far off of a standard
chamber work-model so common in the 19th century:
The first movement is a lighthearted sonata-form movement, that weaves through
many key areas within one phrase. Like the style of Prokofiev (but perhaps with more
tonal integrity), listen for big romantic themes, and exuberant climaxes. It is unseemly
however, the way Debussy ends and begins the first movement, neatly organizing the
torrid ideas into what at the outset appears to be the very ‘picture of innocence.’ It is in
the second movement that one can truly see the Debussy we know and love. It is a
macabre dance, full of whit and humor. The third movement is the emotional core of
the trio. It takes the form of a somber song, like a ballad. The immediate attractiveness
of this movement will be clearly evident; so much so that one wonders how famous this
melody would have been had this work not been missing from the repertoire for the last
hundred years. If there was any doubt that Debussy was the composer of this trio,
certainly the last few bars of the third movement will put any worries to rest. The finale
movement opens with a turbulent melody which inhabits a windswept landscape, the
sound of which cannot be properly described using only terms such as Romantic,
French, Impressionistic, or Modern. He uses a hodgepodge of styles and keys to set
some traditional but mostly excitingly erratic musical ideas. The music in this finale,
staunchly confident and somehow at the same time thrillingly insecure, soars to a
rousing conclusion that sums up perfectly who Debussy was in that day: an entity
bursting with so many novel ideas that soon works composed in the style of the piano
trio could not contain them. So for the rest of his life after this, Debussy would move far
beyond this style and would eventually be the man who brought music to the place
where Monet brought art; somewhere completely different from where we were before.
It is upon arriving at this different place, that the question begs, “If we are here now, well
then, where were we? And how did we get here?” For a figure so integral to one of
those incredible events we see in history when one artist steers the ‘aesthetic direction’
for all of mankind (in this case from the ‘Romantic’ aesthetic to ‘Impressionism’ and
eventually ‘Modernism’), it is an exciting discovery for us to be able to see where it all


DVORAK's "Dumky" Trio (1891)

Perhaps one of his best-known works, Antonin Dvořák’s “Dumky” Trio deviates greatly from the standard-model trio of the High-Romantic period. Dumka is a term that is used in Slavic languages to describe an “epic ballad of brooding intensity.” Dvořák’s trio consists of 6 Dumka, hence it’s nickname which bears the plural form of the word. The mood of each movement (or Dumka) differs greatly, however there is one word that could certainly link them all: “Dramatic.” The element of “Folk” music and it’s entailed style cannot go without being mentioned, as even though the piece is only 6 movements, there must be over a dozen Czech folk songs and dances neatly proportioned throughout. The rapid changes of intensity between sections of music is starkly juxtaposing, as Dvořák uses hardly any transitional bridges. So this means that the emotions are skittish; one moment obtrusively pounding fist and within the next, entwined in an exuberantly dance. That is just to name two. Here is a quick breakdown of what the basic structure and moods of the work are:


I - The opening is dramatic and sorrowful, and then within an instant erupts into a brilliant dance. It is in ABAB form, so that essentially repeats and ends with a bang.

II - A languid marche funèbre makes up much of the second movement. Seemingly infected with the extremes of sadness, depression and loneliness the march crawls forward with magnificent poignancy. There is a counter-dance that violently tears through the somber lament, once in the middle and once at the end.

III - Peaceful and serene, the pastoral third movement is reminiscent of prairie-life, and is interrupted jarringly by fiery ‘folk’-dances.

IV - Like the hands of a clock, time in the fourth movement ticks away in the violin while the cello provides the melody, consisting of nothing more than a d minor scale played up and then back down. This movement can be mesmerizing.

V -The most violent of all the movements, V is rustic and vibrant. The texture is constructed using highly complicated rhythmic patterns.

VI -Beginning with what sounds like music of ancient oriental origin, the final movement is set in a world of a very mysterious, and unpredictable nature. The ‘interrupting’ music this time though, is a peasant’s song played on the violin. The finale takes at the same time, both an extremely personal and a dauntingly apocalyptical tone.

So, it may be more helpful to simply say, this work explores almost every imaginable mood. The emotional spectrum is incredibly far reaching, and one can just listen to this piece using that as their guide. It appears clear why he strayed from convention for this work, wanting to produce a collection or display of lots of emotions, instead of outlining an epic programmatic work that tells a story (like the vast majority of his great works). There is no real message in this work, and thus his musical inventiveness, and ingenious whit took complete advantage. Suffice it to say that in order to be enjoyed one shouldn’t attempt to understand the “Dumky” Trio, but rather submit to simply experiencing the “Dumky” Trio. Like a roller coaster.

Enjoy the ride!



SHOSTAKOVICH's Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67 (1944)

Shostakovich was a Soviet era composer who lived through WWII and who was composing music not really for entertainment, but rather to be the voice of the people when it was taken away from them. This is totally uncensored music that describes to us a bit more about what it may have been like to live in Russia during Stalin’s reign. So you see, while artistic creations such as Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, or Monet’s “Water Lilies” gave the world a type of beauty and perfection the world had not yet seen, they are still basically fictional. In fact most art is. In other words, the reaction to Shostakovich’s music, rather than leaving you satisfied as you are after your favorite movie, should be closer to the reaction of watching a documentary about the Holocaust. Just as no one says, “Oh yes I love film, and that was quite a nail-biting and riveting film about communist Russia!” So too Shostakovich’s compositions are as concerned with ‘fine-art and music’ as a WWII documentary is produced for the sake of “film and art.” Composed at the height of the terror in 1944, the work you about to hear is treacherous to say very the least. It is in 4 movements.


I  - The very opening of this trio is perhaps the most vividly haunting music that had been written up to this point. It begins with ‘harmonics’ in the cello that appear to embody a spirit or ghost. The violin then enters, but because of the cello’s “harmonics” (very high notes), is playing lower than the cello. So then there are two voices that sound like they are in different dimensions. Amidst the ghostly duet, the piano enters third with yet an altogether different timbre as it plays the subject deep in its low register. The atmosphere of an overcrowded graveyard bathed in pitch black darkness is certainly appropriate here. The rest of the movement is tied together using a motif that is reminiscent of an alarm (the kind you would hear in war-time), which also at times sounds like the clanging of train wheels on their way to death-camps. We have all seen the pictures, but Shostakovich saw the real thing.


II - If this is your first experience of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, this movement will give you an idea of how he generally found it appropriate to depict life in red Russia. Like being told to smile genuinely with a gun to your head, for the rest of your life (which wasn’t long off usually), it is through the gritting of teeth that the horror of what was actually happening can be heard. While we could play for you a few measures of music and it would sound happy, all in context you realize that it is a bad dream that you can’t get out of. In a way, this movement traps you for 3 minutes in a circus funhouse that is inhabited by swastika covered clowns with sharp teeth and weapons.


III - The third movement begins with tolling death bells that are heard in the same succession (7 chords in the piano) throughout the movement. Similar to the opening of the first movement, the scene here is like watching tortured souls sorrowfully wander through a graveyard after a life cut all too short. This movement connects to the finale. So you will not hear a break.


IV - The fourth movement begins when you hear the violin begin “plucking” a sinister (and recognizable) theme, which seems to represent a shifty-eyed, and untrustworthy sheister of a character. Although Shostakovich was not Jewish, it is in this work (and only this movement really) that he first uses Jewish folk music as the subject. Now, how he got his point across regarding what was happening to the people of Russia (perhaps especially those that were Jewish) thus far in his life without using their folk music is beyond us. However, seeing what he does in this movement when he actually casts the oppressed subject as the main character, may help us understand why he didn’t use it in every piece. Suffice it to say, it is painful to witness. For example, in one particularly powerfully gruesome scene it sounds as though this ‘Jewish melody’ is literally ripping the hair out of it’s scalp, while music symbolizing dictator communism pounds mercilessly away in the background, faceless, heartless and lethal. It is this blood-splattered section in particular that makes this trio without a doubt the most intense piece of music in our repertoire and perhaps in all of the chamber music repertoire ever written. As the music finally subsides, accepting it’s fate, the last words of the piece are given to that sadistic, sheister character that has antagonized this entire finale. It is perhaps a depressing way to leave the audience, but by giving the last laugh to the oppressive powers, Shostakovich seems to send a clear message: Nobody won that war. We now look back on it in history, but we can only do so because we are here and alive; and with regard to each and every innocent life that was lost, and those who had to bury their loved one’s body, it was really Stalin, Hitler and evil who won. Shostakovich seems to be reminding us of that here- and painfully so... perhaps in desperate hope that we living in the future will never allow ourselves to become so near-sighted that we hand ‘ignorance’ and ‘fear’ the reigns of our world ever again.



BEETHOVEN's "Archduke" Trio (1811)

Considered to be the 'magnum opus' of the piano trio literature, Beethoven's
"Archduke" Trio remains one of the most curious examples of his compositional
process. It bears the nickname "Archduke" because it was written for Archduke Rudolph
of Austria (to whom Beethoven also dedicated the Emperor Concerto, the
Hammerklavier Piano Sonata, and Missa Solemnis). The trio is beautiful and delightfully
bizarre. There are four movements, but it feels like there are three because the 3rd and
4th movements are connected (or played 'attaca' in music terms). So you will not hear a
break between them, however the change in tempo and mood should make it
somewhat obvious.

I - The first movement begins in a most famous way with the 'main' theme of the
movement in the piano alone. The strings then enter each claiming their third of the
stage with individual displays for the audience before all coming together as three, to
restate the exceedingly beautiful 'main' theme again in harmony; and we are off.
From this point on think about listening like you are watching a movie. The action
and plot winds through fantastic landscapes and fascinating scenarios. If you are
really, really listening, the whole story is in the notes, and words will not help you
understand what he is really saying. If you are really listening hard (close your eyes if
it helps and have a mind 'open' to any change of course that Beethoven has in
store), you will be sung a timeless story, set in an unexplored terrain, and told
through touching sentimentality and bold humor.
! [12 minute movement]

II - The second movement is a simple 'scherzo' meaning 'joke' in italian. Just enjoy how
fun it is. oh, and listen for a creeping, sinister character that seems it could strike at
any second (near the middle)
! [6:00]

III - The third movement is the 'heart' of the work, not just because it is in the middle, but
because it is where Beethoven constructs the fragile and emotional 'soul' of his trio.
It plays like a church hymn, but tinged a bit more with romantic love rather than piety.
Innocent, gorgeous, and vulnerable is this music; it is a 'theme and variations' so for
the first 8 minutes of the movement Beethoven recomposes the 'love hymn' over and
over again just trying to find the right words. But isn't that how it always is with any
true expression of love? At about minute 8 when he has searched all he can,
Beethoven arrives at a stagnant conclusion. He tries restating the original theme
(back when it sounded like a hymn) only the context has changed. This this brief
moment of despair and confusion is meant to prepare your heart for what is to come.
(if you are the kind of person who loves to tear up at concerts, this would be the
appropriate time) What follows is that perfect way of saying the thing you could only
feel in your heart; and could thus find no translation in any language. His search can
be ended, he has achieved the translation of human emotions (in this case romance
and love) into a form you and I can understand without words. By the way, yes, this

is the Beethoven that was largely responsible for the paradigm shift that created
"The Romantic Era" (1800-1900). You are hearing the historical sketching of a man
that changed our world view- relinquishing powdered wigs and 'court-minuette
parties,' and embracing an insatiable hunger for the raw want and power of human


(So where exactly is the beginning of the 4th movement? Well, as soon as the music
sounds much more hilarious, and you feel like you are in a 'turn-of-the-19th-century'
bar, you're in the 4th movement)

IV - At this point one could not have imagined more different music from what was just
heard. I'll keep if brief. The 4th movement is everything that the 3rd movement is not.
It is saloon music (we only wish we had an 'out-of-tune upright' piano to play this on!)
Galant in spirit and totally carefree, there is a almost nothing but joy and humor in
this finale. So, it is anything but serious, nothing if not fun, and even sounds like a
country hoe-down at one point near the end. Yep: one of the most studied
masterpieces in the chamber music repertoire and in the entire academic history of
mankind and western aesthetics, ends with hoe-down music. It's true.
! [7:00]

We hope you have as much fun as we do!



SHOSTAKOVICH's Prelude (1955)

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The mood of the short 3 minute work is dismal to say the least. In fact, any word used to describe it after that would only confuse those things Shostakovich wished to express with no words at all. So let me tell you a different story: Imagine a mental picture or landscape of recent post-war Russia, as told through one of the most important artistic figures to be politically  associated with the ghastly events of WWII. Having not only lived the oppression himself, Shostakovich had a turbulent relationship with Stalin that resulted in a largely public and powerful show of powers between dictator and poetic justices. Shostakovich united the people with every sympathetic, war-torn symphony he premiered; because he was living it with them; and Stalin knew this. Attempting to take advantage, Stalin tried to forge a relationship with the artist asking him to write various compositions in the dictators honor. Being the humble genius that he was, Shostakovich used a few of these instances to publicly humiliate the him. In one particularly insolent example Stalin had asked for a symphony from Shostakovich (which oddly enough was going to be his 9th). Stalin demanded that it be proportioned to rival Beethoven's ninth in size, content and perfection. This new symphony, Stalin believed, would ultimately and historically embody the massive authority, and great power that was the communist Russia he had created. Shostakovich, after meeting and taking vigorous notes, produced for Stalin that Symphony, his ninth; and the premiere date was set of course with Stalin in attendance.  The work commenced: lighthearted, miniature, almost quip of a symphony. Just to give you an idea, one of the main themes in the first movement sounds like the "Oscar Meyer Wiener song." As his new emasculating masterpiece (forever inscribed with his name) continued, Stalin finally stood up and stopped the concert in its first movement. Shostakovich was exiled. This would not be the only time he would be punished for humiliating the communist regime and Stalin publicly, and he was lucky he wasn't murdered on the spot. This is just one example of the journey that was the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, however it is in the notes of the music that you are about to hear where the real story unfolds. You will hear just the 'melody' from a simple, sad folk song, sung by a man who lived his entire life under the thumb of arrogant ignorance; and risked life and limb accepting the heavy burden of being the voice for the people.

[playing time: 3 minutes]



SCHUBERT's Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat Major (1827)

IIAndante con moto

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   The second movement is a haunting procession, marching along with the air of a funeral. The famous melody heard in the opening, first sung by the cello and then by the piano contains the 'germ' of musical material used later and throughout the whole movement:

As we look at the theme we see two 'octave leaps' in bar 14 (a higher G to a lower G). Try to remember this simple motif as the movement unfolds. From the beginning the music remains quiet and reserved until a surprisingly loud and exuberant section ensues at about minute 3. If you compare the 'theme' or 'subject' of this boisterous music to the original cello melody, you will notice that the entire fiery section is composed using the exceedingly minimalistic motif from measure 14!:

   Listen to how Schubert ingeniously changes the meaning of the gesture using simple harmonic reinterpretations and of course his limitless imagination. Schubert was perhaps second to none in many aspects of music composition including his brilliant handling of harmony and form, and this is an example of his resourcefulness and ability to do a lot with a little (even as Franz is an extremely repetitive composer and will not win any awards for the conciseness of his movements). It is that familiarity factor that makes his compositions cohere perfectly to themselves, bearing an effusive personality that can often be addicting. Not long after the loud and exhilarating version of the motif begins, it performs a quick about-face, preparing us for the sad inevitability that began the movement. Only this time, it is even sadder. As you experience the beautiful procession once again, prepare your ear for a sudden loss of stability in the music as the piano begins rumbling low on the instrument like approaching thunder. It is at this point that Schubert opens the chest of the movement and almost rips its heart out on the spot. An outpouring of the unbearable pain and anger contained within the composer explodes, giving the audience a terribly vivid view of some very burdensome emotions; a troublesome job that the 'pathetically huggable' opening theme leaves humbly to higher forces. Here's what the music looks like:

You can see how the 'motif' from the main theme is now the 'main' theme of all of this explosive music:

Just as the trio erupts with almost symphonic loudness, Schubert dissipates the tension and prepares us for the only kind of music that could effectively make us forget what we have just heard. The cello, using the motif from the opening, calmly consoles our pounding hearts as it sings a blissful song.  The graceful meditation continues as we hear sacred music highly reminiscent of "Ava Maria." All of this music and emotion still based solely on a two note gesture.

  Just as Schubert assumes we would be immersed in a state of complete relaxation he increase the harmonic tension of this peaceful music and begins a momentous crescendo that will launch us into the loud exuberant music we heard earlier. Again, the section is rivetingly fun and loud, this time using both stringed instruments to employ the motif to leap up and down the scale of A major. In order to end the movement Schubert must return back to the key of C which is not at all closely related to A.

   To do this he cleverly, and with perfect harmonic progression twists us back and forth between the two keys so smoothly that you would never assume they were not related. The joyous music finally lands with great force in C major. Then, with one strategic 'sleight of hand,' Schubert presents to us the dark key of c minor, the sad key that began this powerful procession. With fateful timing the famous 'misty eyed' lament that opened the movement returns for the last time. As he does in many of the beloved masterpieces he composed, the composer adds a 'Schubert twist' to the final reoccurrence of the main theme. If you listen carefully as the piano plays the first two notes of the minor (sad) melody, the strings, plucking, re-harmonize the music underneath to change the key to major (happy) for a moment. This minuscule moment of relief is short lived, in fact the theme enjoys only two beats of 'happy' chords before it is transformed back to its inevitable final form.

The strings prepare the final cadence. As though standing over an empty grave, and with glancing rhetoric, they seem to ask, "Do you have any last words?" Holding a cadencial chord the strings listen as the piano speaks the last words of the condemned before lying at rest in c minor. Finally, in the strings, and with the motif that was to be the heartbeat of the whole movement, you can hear its final two...