Schubert, Franz: D929, Piano Trio No. 2 in Eb Major

The ‘heavenly length’ which Schumann ascribed to Franz Schubert (speaking of the 9th Symphony in C Major) can take many forms – it isn’t just a matter of time.  In the Octet length is made of lightness; in the C Major Symphony it is made of emotional and instrumental range; and in the Eb trio, it is a constant search, ever moving from simple matters into detours, do-overs, reconsiderations, and memories of movements past.  This probing quality is evident in all the movements, and it is perhaps useful to consider an example from each.

The first movement of the trio begins with a simple four-bar unison, but the conclusion it reaches is immediately questioned by the strings.  The attempt to resolve the strings’ question only takes one back further, to remaking the first bars in increasingly frustrating keys – in the end, it takes 48 bars to address the doubts of bars 5 and 6, and the trio finds itself in B minor (across the pond, keywise) for its second theme.  The second movement has a lovely theme (which is said to have come from a Swedish folk-song) accompanied by an insistent (and slightly weird) ostinato rhythm. This theme is strangely punctuated toward its end by pairs of notes in pianissimo with chorus-like echo in the violin and piano; strangely, this forked figure becomes the subject of the movement as much as the main theme, and it haunts the movement until its end.

The third movement, a minuet, is almost completely in canon (see Bach, above), which allows it to danceably agree with itself and yet be somehow unresolved.  The fourth movement opens as though it has found its peace with the elements of the first three, putting forth a theme that sounds as though it would usher in a friendly rondo.  But its opening also bursts into a strange key when it should end, and the first thought doesn’t find its proper completion until bar 73, where, poked by a pizz, the trio changes meter – by which time it is clear that there is a great deal yet to come – which there is – and nobody would have expected the Swedish recapitulation..)

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