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
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)
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.
We hope you have as much fun as we do!