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Thanks to her constant touring, which almost always included performances of her own music, Clara was probably a better-known composer than Robert when they married. The Four Polonaises of her Op. 1 (not her actual first compositions) had been published when she was 11 years old, to be followed by numerous other solo piano pieces and her Concerto. After her marriage, Clara turned to larger forms, studying jointly with Robert through all of his enthusiasms. Their influences were mutual – composed in 1846, Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17, was a direct influence on Robert’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 63, written the following year. (Robert’s own G-minor Piano Trio would be composed in 1851.) After Robert wrote his trios, Clara lost confidence in hers, but Brahms was one of many others who also played the work.
Clara’s Trio begins softly, but with a robust main theme with the kind of bold profile that lends itself to points of imitation and motivic development. She recapitulates her secondary material in G major, before returning to G minor for a dramatic coda. The Scherzo is a rustic piece in the tempo of a minuet, filled with snap rhythms carried by the violin. The Trio, though, plays across-the-bar metrical games and has a very expansive, Beethovenian transition back to the main music. The Andante is a lovely instrumental song in G major, though not without its own offbeat tuggings and a fiercely contrasting middle section in E minor.
It is not hard to hear how Brahms would have admired the finale, an ostensibly relaxed Allegretto with gypsy coloring. Like the finale of Robert’s Quintet, it mixes sonata and rondo elements. Its main melody is subtly related to the main theme of the first movement and polyphonically pliable. Clara varies it in an extraordinary episode in A minor, and she references other material from the previous movements as well.