Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn, Op. 87
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven wrote a great deal of music for various combinations of wind instruments during his teens and 20s. Some of this was intended for the Bonn court of the Elector Maximilian Franz, who maintained an ensemble of wind players, and some represented Beethoven's attempt in Vienna to teach himself to write idiomatically for winds as he prepared to compose a symphony. But his Trio, Op. 87 comes from a different genre altogether: it was intended for the growing number of amateur performers in Vienna. Beethoven composed the Trio for the unlikely combination of two oboes and English horn in 1794, shortly after his arrival in that city (and he actually wrote another work for this particular combination of players, a set of variations on "Là ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni).
Because amateur performers would gather in unusual permutations of players, this Trio was quickly arranged for many other combinations of instruments: versions exist for two violins and bass line, two flutes and viola, two clarinets and bassoon, as a sonata for violin and piano, and in various piano settings. In 1806, Beethoven approved an arrangement (not by him) for two violins and viola, which was published that year. It was assigned the misleadingly-high opus number of 87, which would seem to place it near the Seventh Symphony; in fact, this music was written before Beethoven had published his Opus 1.
The Trio is ideally suited to skilled non-professional performers: while not particularly difficult, it is melodic and agreeable and demands idiomatic playing and a good sense of ensemble from all three players. It is in the four-movement classical form that Beethoven was attempting to master in his early years in Vienna, yet it preserves the pleasing character of the serenade music Mozart and others wrote for lighter occasions over the final decades of the 18th century. Music this friendly and engaging needs little comment or introduction. It has a sonata-form first movement complete with exposition repeat, a lyrical Adagio, and a spirited Menuetto (really a scherzo) that skips along its 3/4 meter - Beethoven appends a brief coda. The finale is full of energy: its main theme appears quietly at first, then grows more animated, and soon the music is flying along on triplet runs that help rush the Trio to its firm close.
- Eric Bromberger contributes frequently to the Los Angeles Philharmonic program; he is also a regular host of the Philharmonic's Upbeat Live pre-concert events.