Coleman Chamber Concerts
Beckman Auditorium, Cal Tech, 10-23-1994

Trio Fontenay

Notes by Dennis Bartel


b. Bonn, 16 December 1770
d. Vienna, 26 March 1827

TRIO in G Major, on Wenzel Müller’s “Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu,” Op.121a (1803)

By the early 19th century the piano trio had come in for wider use as one of the most commercially viable forms. Beethoven, the free-lance musician, had as his Op.1 calling card to Vienna  a set of piano trios, and like other composers he sometimes used the piano trio as a more manageable and intimate form in which to present works of a large scale. He arranged his popular Septet for piano trio, as well as his Second Symphony, with lucrative results. Correspondence with his publisher reveals Beethoven likewise wrote this Trio in G Major with an eye on commerce.

“I am the tailor Cockatoo” was a hit song from a 1794 Singspiel by Wenzel Müller, in which the clownish main character boasts of being “well-heeled and debonair,” only to be “snapped up and hauled away for questioning” by the police. In his G Major Trio, Beethoven provides an introduction of mock-solemnity before stating this simple song without adornment. Ten witty and inventive variations follow, in which all three instruments are given solo opportunities before the final hunting-style variation brings the work to a crowd-pleasing close.

Best estimates have the Trio in G Major written in 1803, about the time of the Eroica Symphony, Op.121a. It was published thirteen years later, hence the misleadingly late opus number.