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For some reason, single works from a series are often taken as emblematic of the entire collection. Thus, Dvorák’s “Dumky” Trio overshadows the composer’s three other piano trios, casting the powerful and emotional F-minor work aside as an also-ran. Too bad.
It is difficult to find a commentary on this music which does not praise its eloquence in the highest terms. As the composer of solo concertos for each of the three instruments in the ensemble (two of them acclaimed masterworks, the third – for piano – not such a success), Dvorák clearly had the skill to produce an idiomatic work. What is so rewarding is the emotional honesty and intensity of feeling he is able to deliver in this intimate yet dramatic format.
In 1883, in an apparent effort to emulate the German style, Dvorák composed three movements that have a decidedly Brahmsian cast, and his natural sense of melody and structure served him well here. The recent death of the composer’s mother was surely a factor in drawing from him a richness of expression, both in the compelling Allegro ma non troppo opening movement and in the heartfelt Poco adagio. The second-movement Scherzo provides moments of exuberance, but even here, an element of somber resolve can be detected in the central section. The finale (marked con brio) offers a return to the exuberant folk style for which the composer is best-known and so beloved.
Space permits one further advisory observation on the topic of neglected masterpieces: Adding to the piano trio format a part for his own instrument, the viola, Dvorák produced a pair of Piano Quartets (Op. 23 and Op. 87) that are equally as treasurable as his famous Piano Quintet (Op. 81).
– Dennis Bade is Associate Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.