At the age of 23, many young people have ambitious dreams, fewer have clear plans, and still fewer will see them realized. At 23, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy had already achieved a number of goals, each of which would fulfil a musician’s life. He had already written an unforgettable masterpiece such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream; he had conducted and rediscovered Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion; he had an outstanding culture and an amiable personality.
However, of course, he still had many projects. And, at 23, he wrote to his beloved sister, Fanny: “I should like to compose a couple of good trios”. And two “good” – or rather magnificent – piano trios he would write.
Indeed, this extraordinarily precocious child prodigy had already written a work for piano, violin and cello, at the age of only 11; curiously, this Trio (which has not been preserved) was in the same key (C minor) as the second published trio he would write.
The project remained in the back of his mind for some years. When Mendelssohn turned 29, in 1838, the idea was still a form of wishful thinking: as he wrote to one of his best friends, the pianist and composer Ferdinand Hiller, it was his intention to do something in the field of chamber music for piano and strings, since he felt that the contemporaneous repertoire for such ensembles was somewhat thin.
During February of the following year, 1839, the idea started to take flesh, in the form of some preliminary drafts for the D-minor Piano Trio, op. 49, sketched in Leipzig; in March, Mendelssohn conducted another epoch-making premiere, that of Schubert’s C-major Symphony (“The Great”), which his friend Robert Schumann had fortunately rescued from oblivion. The composer spent the remainder of that spring in Frankfurt and Rhineland, together with his family, and, on that occasion, he dedicated himself to the composition of the Trio.
When the work was finished, he played it for his friend Hiller, who later recalled his first impressions: “Mendelssohn had just finished his great D minor trio, and played it to me. I was tremendously impressed by the fire and spirit, the flow, and, in short, the masterly character of the whole thing. But I had one small misgiving. Certain pianoforte passages in it, constructed on broken chords, seemed to me – to speak candidly – somewhat old-fashioned. I had lived many years in Paris, seeing Liszt frequently, and Chopin every day, so that I was thoroughly accustomed to the richness of passages which marked the new pianoforte school. I made some observations to Mendelssohn on this point, suggesting certain alterations, but at first he would not listen to me”. In fact, Mendelssohn reportedly asked Hiller: “Do you think that that would make the thing any better? […] The piece would be the same, and so it may remain as it is”. The composer’s reaction puzzled Hiller, who knew him to be a painstakingly fastidious and careful artist. “You have often told me”, said Hiller to Mendelssohn, “and proved to me by your actions, that the smallest touch of the brush, which might conduce to the perfection of the whole, must not be despised. An unusual form of arpeggio may not improve the harmony, but neither does it spoil it – and it becomes more interesting to the performer”.
Hiller’s appeal to Mendelssohn’s artistic conscience was not lost: “We discussed it and tried it on the piano over and over again, and I enjoyed the small triumph of at last getting Mendelssohn over to my view. With his usual conscientious earnestness when once he had made up his mind about a thing, he now undertook the lengthy, not to say wearisome, task of rewriting the whole pianoforte part. One day, when I found him working at it, he played me a bit which he had worked out exactly as I had suggested to him on the piano, and called out to me, ‘That is to remain as a remembrance of you.’ Afterwards, when he had been playing it at a chamber concert with all his wonderful fire, and had carried away the whole audience, he said, ‘I really enjoy that piece; it is honest music after all, and the players will like it, because they can show off with it.’ And so it proved”. Indeed, the piece obtained an immediate success, which would deservedly continue to present-day. It did please the performing musicians, it pleased the audiences, and it enthused critics of the standing of Robert Schumann. The premiere took place on February 1st, 1840, at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, with such excellent performers as violinist Ferdinand David (who was Mendelssohn’s concert master and who would be the soloist at the premiere of Mendelssohn’s exquisite violin concerto), cellist Carl Wittmann, and the composer himself at the piano. Schumann wrote a review of the score when it was published by Breitkopf and Härtel, and no doubt is possible as to his appreciation of the work: “This is the master-trio of the present day, as in their day were those of Beethoven in B flat [‘Archduke’] and D [‘Ghost’]”; Schumann also prophetically foresaw that this “exceedingly fine composition […], years hence, will still delight our grandchildren and great-grandchildren”. For Schumann, the Trio was “a new proof of its creator’s artistic power, which now appears to have reached its fullest bloom”, and which was likened to that of another great master of the past: Mendelssohn was “the Mozart of the nineteenth century, the most brilliant musician”, though he also was the composer “who looks most clearly through the contradictions of the present, and who for the first time reconciles them”.
As frequently happened, Schumann had understood the special quality of Mendelssohn’s music: it achieves, almost miraculously, an extremely difficult balance between the passionate, lyrical and sometimes stormy Romanticism of the era, and the architectural elegance of the past. One has not to seek far to discover abundant evidence for both elements: the first movement overflows with the strings’ vibrant melodies and the piano’s rousing and virtuoso figurations; while Mendelssohn’s absolute mastery of the contrapuntal techniques is constantly evident though never flaunted. Indeed, both his music and his personality eschewed the boasting attitude of many self-styling virtuosos of the time. A delightful anecdote relating to a later performance of the D-minor Trio proves this easily. In 1844, Mendelssohn had to perform his own work once more in England, but, on that occasion, the violin part would be played by another child-prodigy, Joseph Joachim, who was just thirteen. As the story has it, when the concert was about to begin, the pianist’s score was nowhere to be found. This was not a major problem: the composer could play it by memory. However, in order not to outshine his young companion, Mendelssohn reportedly said: “Never mind, put any book on the piano, and someone can turn from time to time, so that I need not look as though I play by heart”. Joachim, to whom we owe the anecdote, commented: “Nowadays, when people put so much importance on playing or conducting without book, I think this might be considered a good moral lesson of a great musician’s modesty”.
One year after the performance with Joachim, Mendelssohn set himself to work in order to fulfil his youthful intention: the Piano Trio in C minor was composed in 1845, and its autograph was later given as a present to Fanny, Felix’ sister who had first heard of his plan. While this present somehow acknowledged Fanny’s role as Felix’ trusted ally, perceptive critic and keen supporter, the official dedicatee was another composer, Louis Spohr.
With his usual modesty, Felix accompanied this princely homage with an almost apologetic understatement: “I would like to have saved the honour for a somewhat longer piece, but then I should have had to put it off, as I have so often of late. Nothing seemed good enough to me, and in fact neither does this trio”.
The work was premiered by the same performers who had first played the other trio, on December 20th, 1845, and it was published soon and internationally. The composer himself acknowledged the complexity of its technical demands, writing, once more, to his sister Fanny: “The trio is rather beastly to play, but it isn’t really hard: seek and ye shall find”.
The Gospel allusion found in this quote is a reminder that a religious dimension is rarely missing from Mendelssohn’s music. In fact, listeners familiar with Mendelssohn’s most famous works will easily recognize in these Trios some quintessential traits of his writing: the fairy, enchanted style of the Scherzos, the instrumental cantilenas similar to the Songs without words in the slow movements, the use of virtuosity always in the service of musical ideas, and, most notably, the presence of Chorale quotes and allusions in the second Trio’s last movement. For Mendelssohn, Bach represented a model not only in musical terms, but also as a person whose immense musical gifts had been devoted to spiritual purposes. Thus, the Baroque-inspired style of this Finale, with its homage to Bach’s Gigues, is also a tribute to the Lutheran musical tradition; the Chorales whose tunes are suggested, rather than properly quoted, here and there, seem to allude to the glory of God (Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir; Gelobest seist du) and to the creative musician’s reverence to the Creator (Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit, which was also the last Chorale set to music by Bach). This fulfilment is the perfect crowning for Mendelssohn’s artistic efforts in giving to the musical world much more than the “couple of good trios” he had aimed at writing.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Destefano was formed artistically with Renzo Brancaleon, Antonio Janigro and Johannes Goritzki graduating with the highest grades and honors in Italy, at the "G. Verdi" in Turin and, in Germany, at the Hochschule of Düsseldorf. In 1987, at the age of 22 years old, is principal cello in the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale of Bologna; later he was invited as fpricipal cello to work with the Orchestra RAI and the Teatro Regio in Turin. In 1990 he won 1° prize at the Vercelli "Viotti" competition, 2° prize in Japan at the "Osaka Chamber Music Competition" and, in 1995, 2° prize in the competition of Trapani, the silver medal at the Bordeaux Festival (France), the 1° prize in the Duo Competition in Corsico (Milan), the 2° prize at the Extraordinary Duo Competition of Vittorio Veneto in 1985. He has performed in England, France, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Albania, Algeria, Usa, Brazil and has toured in Japan as a soloist and chamber musician with renowned soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic and American orchestras, playing, among other things, the Fuji Festival and the Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo. As chamber musician he played with international musicians such as K. Blacher, W. Christ, E. Dindo, M. Marin and Cipoletta. With flutist Griminelli played, the firstworld performance, the 2nd concerto for flute, cello and orchestra by E. Morricone. Dario Destefano has recorded the complete Chopin's chamber music and music by Dvorak, Rubinstein, Sostakovich and Smetana, and in duo sonatas by Brahms, Franck, Rachmaninoff, Sostakovich and Kabalevski. Contemporary composers have dedicated compositions as S. Fuga, G. Castagnoli and Carlo Galante.
Francesco Comisso: Co-Leader of First Violin in the "I Solisti Veneti" of Claudio Scimone since 2003, Francesco started studying music at a very early age with his father, a musician. After graduating from the Conservatory of Venice under the guidance of Prof. Giulio Bonzagni in 2001 he received the academic title of "Konzertdiplom" with honours from the Musikhochschule in Hamburg under Prof. Andreas Röhn. He continues his artistic development as a violinist under the guidance of the serbian teacher Dejan Bogdanovich. As Chamber Music Musician he works with international musicians such as P. Vernikov, V. Mendelssohn, S. Tchakerjan, D. Rossi, D. Bogdanovic, E. Bertrand, P.-H. Xuereb, P.Fabrice, P. Gallois, A. Lucchesini. He works as Concertmaster with: the Orchestra of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, the Orchestra of Padua and Veneto, the Veneto Philharmonic, the Marche Philharmonic Orchestra, Camerata Strumentale di Prato, and always as Co-Leader and Principal of Second Violins with: the Orchestra of La Fenice in Venice and the Orchestra of the Arena di Verona. With I Solisti Veneti, Interpreti Veneziani, the Veneto Philharmonic and the Hamburger Synphoniker he played as a soloist in more than forty countries and in the most prestigious halls (Wiener Muiskverein, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, Salle Gaveau in Paris, Tokyo Suntory Hall, Tokyo Opera Hall, the Philharmonie in Berlin, Gulbekian Musichall in Lisbon, Center of Performing Arts, National Theather of Beijing, Tel Aviv et Jerusalem Theater, Teatro Teresa Carreno and Sala Simon Bolivar in Caracas, etc.) and at the most important festivals of the world.
Olaf John Laneri was born in Sicily from Italian father and Swedish mother; he takes his diploma with honours at the Verona's Conservatoire, and then he continues his artistic education in Italy at the Piano-Academy of Imola, where he graduates as a Master in 1998. After several 1st prizes in national competitions, he results prize-winner at the international competitions of Monza , of Tokyo and Hamamatsu. In the summer of 1998 he wins the 50th edition of the competition "F. Busoni" of Bolzano (2nd prize "with particular distinction"; 1st prize has not been awarded), where he already distinguished among the finalists the previous year and in 2001 gains the 2nd prize at the World Music Piano Master of Monte-Carlo. About his performance of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini, included, only one recording of an Italian contestant, in a CD published for the 50° Anniversary of the competition, A. Cohen writes on International Piano: “Certainly the best live performance I ever heard”. He is invited to play for prestigious theatres in Italy and in Europe, in recital and with the Orchestra ("I Pomeriggi Musicali" in Milan, the Orchestra of the Arena Theater in Verona, with the Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Montecarlo). He played at the Festival “A. B. Michelangeli” of Brescia and Bergamo, at the Teatro Bellini in Catania, at La Pergola of Florence, at the Tiroler Festspiele in Austria , at the Ruhrfestival, in the Herkulessaal and at the Gasteig of Munich, in the Salle Cortot, in the Salle Gaveau and for Radio France in Paris, in Salle Molière in Lyon, at the Festival Paderewski and Chopin in Poland, at the Gijón Piano Festival, at the Opéra of Montecarlo, Rudaki hall in Tehran. His repertoire includes all the 32 Beethoven’s piano sonatas together with 10 sonatas for piano and violin, played with Laura Marzadori.
(b Hamburg, 3 Feb 1809; d Leipzig, 4 Nov 1847). German composer. One of the most gifted and versatile prodigies, Mendelssohn stood at the forefront of German music during the 1830s and 40s, as conductor, pianist, organist and, above all, composer. His musical style, fully developed before he was 20, drew upon a variety of influences, including the complex chromatic counterpoint of Bach, the formal clarity and gracefulness of Mozart and the dramatic power of Beethoven and Weber. Mendelssohn’s emergence into the first rank of 19th-century German composers coincided with efforts by music historiographers to develop the concept of a Classic–Romantic dialectic in 18th and 19th-century music. To a large degree, his music reflects a fundamental tension between Classicism and Romanticism in the generation of German composers after Beethoven.