Skip to page content

Trios come in all formats, with or without piano, uniting strings and winds in various combinations. Among the most venerable works in which a wind instrument is called upon to play the role usually given to a violin (Mozart’s “Kegelstatt”; Beethoven’s Op. 14; Brahms’ Op. 114), that instrument is a clarinet. Bohuslav Martinu, the eclectic Czech composer, wrote plenty of music for clarinet, but in the summer of 1944 he produced this trio, in which the more buoyant sound of the flute seems just right.

After ample study in his home country, Martinu succumbed to the lure of Paris, finally moving there in 1923, and a great deal of his music has an unmistakably French lilt. Even in those years when he felt remorse over his separation from his native land, his music tended to display an underlying optimism. After Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Germans, he worked in the diplomatic service assisting refugees who had emigrated to Paris. Eventually, he fled from Paris, moving on to Portugal before arriving in America in March of 1941. Here Serge Koussevitzky encouraged the composer with a commission for his First Symphony, and Martinu was engaged to teach composition during summers at Tanglewood.

It was in New England that the three movements of the Trio came to life. The piano establishes a running figure which is complemented quickly by sustained trills from the flute and rhythmic punctuation from the cello. A shift of mood introduces more reflective material, but the general atmosphere is one of invigorating animation, with each instrument contributing to the discourse. In the second movement, the piano is given the opening statement, after which the flute, then the cello, go their own ways. A triple soliloquy is the frequent result, with moments of accord that are all the more compelling for their rarity. The final movement is introduced by a somber flute solo, after which a characteristic moto perpetuo in the piano supports vigorous activity in the other voices. Moderation returns for a more pensive middle section, to which each of the participants contributes eloquently. A newly energized closing section offers a lighthearted reminder that the word “scherzando” is part of the tempo indication.

– Dennis Bade is Associate Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.