Brahms: Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8 (original version, 1854)
by Roger Moseley
In October 1853, Robert Schumann published an extravagant article hailing the potential of the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, whose compositional and pianistic prowess had deeply impressed him and his wife Clara earlier that year. Brahms’s response was ambivalent: while grateful for Schumann’s enthusiasm, he admitted that “the praise you have openly bestowed on me will arouse such extraordinary expectations of my achievements by the public that I don’t know how I can begin to fulfill them even somewhat.” The Piano Trio in B constituted an initial attempt to live up to Schumann’s billing. Hugely ambitious, it houses a welter of musical ideas and idioms. Even as he sent it to be published as his op. 8 in 1854, however, Brahms wrote to the violinist Joseph Joachim of his dissatisfaction with the work, expressing a desire to revise it. He finally did so in 1889-91, resulting in the drastically different version usually heard today, but he instructed his publisher to retain the original version in his catalog.
Here, we offer a performance of the 1854 version of the Trio featuring a piano made by J. B. Streicher in 1857 that is similar in design to the piano that Brahms kept in his Viennese apartment after relocating there in the 1860s. Together, the Trio and the Streicher offer a glimpse into the sound-world of the younger Brahms, revealing a surprisingly eclectic range of styles, moods, and instrumental colors.
Left: Drawing of Brahms by Jean-Joseph Bonaventure Laurens (1853)
Co-sponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor from an award by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation