German composer and pianist Clara (née Wieck) Schumann (1819-96) began a relationship in her teens with composer Robert Schumann (1810-56). She premiered numerous of his works, the first when she was only twelve, and she dedicated much of her career to the legacy of his music. After a lengthy struggle with her piano-teacher father and Clara finally approaching the age of consent (21), they married in 1840. She was one of the leading piano virtuosos of the 19th century. She toured extensively, but she also had eight children, became a highly-respected piano teacher, and composed a number of important works.
This piano trio is one of Clara Schumann's most accomplished works. The first movement ("Moderately fast") includes a romantic/longing theme, an agitated transition, a melancholic second theme, a gently weaving development, and an accelerating coda. In the second movement Scherzo ("In the tempo of a Minuet"), Schumann at first mainly features the violin in a "snappy," triple-beat character. The contrasting section begins with the piano but is quickly joined by violin and cello lines in a more interwoven style. The third movement ("Moderately slow") is a waltz beginning with languorous solo piano and arguably reminiscent of Chopin. The waltz is then varied for the violin and extended by the cello and violin. The movement also includes a jarring "back and forth" passage, a development that efficiently explores the movement's two main ideas, and a recapitulation of the waltz that begins with the cello. In the fourth movement ("Moderately fast"), Schumann at first features a chromatic violin theme with a hesitant quality. Later, an assertive, Bach-like, contrapuntal section emerges twice, featuring staggered, fugue-like entries on a variation of the movement's main theme.
Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-49) was a musical prodigy and already a published composer of piano music before his eighth birthday. He graduated from the future Warsaw Conservatory in 1829, having been proclaimed "exceptionally talented" and "a musical genius." His early works include the Variations in B-flat (op. 2, 1827) on 'Là ci darem la mano' from Mozart's Don Giovanni and his two piano concertos (1829-30). Most of Chopin's works are from his later career in France and for solo piano. These include his nocturnes, mazurkas, waltzes, etudes, and the Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat major. They also include his 24 Preludes (performed on August 6). However, he also composed chamber works with cello, including the Cello Sonata in G minor (July 5) and the Piano Trio in G minor (July 14).
This work somewhat resembles the mature style of Chopin's other late works, especially his ballades. However, it also loosely alludes to the ternary (ABA) structure and the characteristic rhythm of the Polonaise dance form (see below).The work begins with a lengthy introduction, which is followed by a section that explores the "idea" of a Polonaise. The section is quite complex, however, for the dance-inspired theme is continuously varied and developed. The slow, contrasting section begins with a chordal melody over tuneful material in the lower range. The opening, dance-inspired theme is then replaced by new material, instead of being reprised. The new material includes a virtuosic cadenza, which is followed by a partial return of the work's introduction and a variation of the slow, contrasting theme. The work is thus an organic combination of elements inspired by a traditional dance-form with something considerably more "through-composed." The chromaticism and harmonies are also quite revolutionary for something composed still inside the first half of the 19th century.
Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) was a child prodigy, and he attended the Petrograd (St. Petersburg) Conservatory from age thirteen to twenty. The Soviet Union emerged when he was sixteen, and communist philosophy was a part of his required schooling. His compositional interests included the grotesque, sharp contrasts, and clear and well-projected orchestrations. Shostakovich's body of work includes fifteen each of symphonies and string quartets, quite a bit of solo piano music, six concertos, two operas, and thirty-four film scores. He sometimes worked within the expectations of the Communist Party, but he also sometimes fell out of favor, and many of his friends and relatives were imprisoned or killed in the Great Terror that began in 1936. He later developed polio, had several heart attacks between 1966 and 1971, was a life-long smoker, and died of lung cancer in 1975. Shostakovich's chamber works gave him considerable room to experiment, such as in his string quartets.
This was the composer's second attempt at a ninth string quartet. In 1961, he had burned an earlier version, based on "themes from childhood." The work's five movements are played without pause. The first four are remarkably similar in duration, following a basic alternation pattern of fast-slow-fast-slow. However, the last movement is two or three times longer than any of the others. The first movement ("Moderately, with motion") begins with a fluctuating violin theme that later appears in varied form in more of the work's movements. The slow, second movement ("Slowly") is like a somber hymn or film music expressing sadness. The propulsive, dance-like third movement ("Very quickly") contains other music from the first movement. Some of its "galloping" gestures are also reminiscent of music for cowboy movies. The fourth movement ("Slowly") includes variations of the work's opening violin theme, alternating with notable pizzicato passages on unusual chords. The much longer, fifth movement ("Quickly") consists of eccentric episodes. These passages include an extensive fugue and a plaintive cello cadenza. Most of the movement's episodes are derived from material found in the work’s earlier four movements, but often in new and unexpected combinations.