Beethoven, Ludwig van: Op. 70, no. 2, Piano Trio

Some pieces are just hard to describe; Ludwig van Beethoven’s Trio in Eb, Op. 70 no. 2. is one of them. It is not that the trio is difficult to hear or understand, only that its most beautiful qualities remain resolutely intrinsic. It is a quality one might compare to the string quartets of Haydn, say, whose jokes and tricks are easy to hear but impossible to tell without an instrument. Or one might compare it to the impossible ease with which Mozart creates expansive, inarguable coherence. Describing these sorts of musical phenomena is not what words are for. It is not in their job description, and it should not be expected of them.

To set the trio’s qualities in relief, one could say that its content is neither impossible cleverness (like Haydn) nor preternatural naturalness (like Mozart). Donald Francis Tovey describes the difference in this way: “…what eventually did appear was the integration of Mozart’s and Haydn’s resources, with results that transcend all possibility of resemblance to the style of their origins, and are nowhere more transcendent than in a work like the E flat Trio, op. 70, no. 2, where Beethoven discovers new meanings for Mozart’s phrasings and Haydn’s formulas.”

Beethoven’s methods in the trio are not completely beyond analysis or description, but they are beyond a brief explanation. If, however, one wonders how music might stand completely on its own terms, this trio may give as good an answer as has ever been given.

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