No.1 Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in E-Flat major
Scherzo. Allegro assai
While some members of the nobility kept full orchestras or opera companies on their estates, most were content with (or could afford only) much smaller ensembles. Prince Karl von Lichnowsky was among the latter, maintaining a string quartet to perform in his home. At one of Lichnowsky's weekly soirees Beethoven's three piano trios later published as Opus 1 received their first performance. The Op. 1 Trios were composed in 1794-1795, although Douglas Johnson has shown that the first of the set may have been written in Bonn and then revised in 1793. In May 1795 Beethoven negotiated a contract with Artaria to have the trios published in Vienna and dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky, who secretly subsidized the printing. These were the first works to which Beethoven gave an opus number. Evidently, Beethoven planned to make the trios popular among connoisseurs through performances before publication in order to increase sales. This strategy worked, for advertisements attracted 123 subscribers, who requested 241 scores.
The Trios, Op. 1, reveal Beethoven's complete assimilation of the high-Classic style, as well as his use of the style in a very personal manner. Beethoven's later, masterful manipulation of the tonal system is already evident in his Trio in E flat major. A brief hint of A flat major in the opening measures of the first movement anticipates the importance of that key in the development. Motives from the first theme group dominate the development, which runs headlong into a recapitulation that truncates the first and second themes but extends and develops the closing material. The writing for cello in this movement does not represent a major break from tradition, for it generally parallels the piano bass part. Only a few measures of "development" separate the exposition and recapitulation of the second movement, marked Adagio cantabile and in A flat major. The recapitulation does not present the exposition themes in their original forms, but ornamentally varied. The scherzo falls into the traditional pattern of repetition found in the classical-era minuet and trio. However, Beethoven greatly expands the second part of the scherzo section, basing his material on motives from the first section. The trio section is in A flat major, a key that permeates the entire piece. The leap of a tenth, from G to B flat, that opens the finale is reminiscent of the arpeggio rising to the same B flat at the beginning of the first movement. Marked Presto, the finale is set in sonata form, and the first theme is divided between piano and violin, the leaps and falling arpeggios of the former contrasting with the stepwise motion of the latter. The second theme, on the dominant, also begins with a falling arpeggio, while a frenetic closing section wraps up the exposition. Opening with the first theme, the development section passes through several keys, gradually growing quieter until coming to rest on a sustained dominant-seventh chord. Beethoven differentiates the recapitulation from the exposition by developing the second theme and by again emphasizing A flat major.
(All Music Guide)