Sounds of Spring Program Notes

The piano duet is one of the most intimate forms of chamber music.  Two players sharing the same instrument have to sit pretty close to one another on the bench to reach all the necessary notes.   In the early 19th century, piano duets were particularly popular in Vienna, since there were many accomplished amateurs who enjoyed playing such works at home.  It was an area where Schubert was greatly successful during his lifetime, and he wrote more piano duets than almost any other great composer.  Yet his four-hand works are significant not only because of their quantity but also because of the great care he lavished on them.  One can say that he plumbed the emotional depths of the piano duet more than anyone else.

The present rondo dates from the last year of Schubert’s life and was published the year after his untimely death.  Its gorgeous main melody undergoes a number of subtle transformations and alternates with some slightly more animated episodes that, however, never seriously alter the serene mood of the composition.  © 2023 Peter Laki

Mozart used the combination of piano and three string instruments only twice, but in those two masterworks (K. 478 and K. 493) he invented a new genre that found many followers in the 19th century.  During his years in Vienna, he liked to play chamber music on the viola; that may be the reason why he chose to expand the familiar piano-trio format to include his favorite instrument.

The G minor quartet, written in 1785, has received particular attention on account of its opening key, which Mozart always reserved for works in a dark, passionate, proto-Romantic tone.  The opening movement of the quartet is no exception; it is one of Mozart’s most turbulent and emotionally charged Allegros.  The lyrical second movement and the final Rondo continue in a different vein: they are both graceful, melodious, and firmly anchored in the major mode.

This work was one of three piano quartets the Viennese music publisher Hoffmeister commissioned from Mozart.  But since it didn’t sell well, Hoffmeister canceled the commission.  The second quartet was eventually published by a different publisher; the projected third quartet, alas, was never written.  © 2023 Peter Laki