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A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

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Viennese String Trios

We leave behind the world of musical Romanticism for now and invite you to enter into the gracious atmosphere of Classic-era Vienna as Katie Stevens, Patrick Horn, and Peter Cosbey delight us with a concert recorded in the splendid Great Hall of Fort William Historical Park.

They will transport us into the very period of the music as they play Franz Schubert’s String Trio in B- flat major, D. 471, composed in 1816, the same year on which the reconstruction of the Fort is based. We also offer you a virtual performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat major. Op. 3 from 1794, which would have been in musicians’ repertoire in 1816.  Such works would have been performed in small, private spaces, so it is apt that our musicians recorded this concert in a relatively intimate setting, and one whose décor reflected the age.

Our two trios were written by very youthful composers (Schubert was only 19 and Beethoven was 24), who rose to become two of the world’s greatest composers. Both lived and worked in Vienna, that glorious city which was beloved of so many artists and musicians. Shortly before Beethoven died, he said of Schubert, after leafing through some manuscripts containing some of his songs, “Truly, in this Schubert there dwells a divine spark!” Schubert idolized Beethoven, and on his deathbed asked to be buried next to him. His wish was granted, and they repose side by side in Vienna’s main cemetery. Schubert was one of the torchbearers at Beethoven’s funeral and ended up outliving him by only one year and eight months.

Let us now look at the world of 1816, the year that our virtual concert is celebrating. Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, was born. Mary Shelley, wife of the famous poet, started writing Frankenstein. Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire came to an abrupt end the previous year, and the great Romantic poet Lord Byron left England for Italy and Greece in 1816, never to return. Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville received its premiere in February 1816 and was a great disaster, as the crowd booed and hissed. Surprisingly, the second performance was a great success, and the opera went on to London in 1818 and New York City in 1820.

King George III was still on the throne in Great Britain, but barely. He was the longest serving monarch after our present Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria, officially ruling for 40 years from 1760 to his death in 1820. But the 1994 film The Madness of King George, with award-winning Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren as the King and Queen, depicted his increasingly worsening mental illness, resulting in his son presently taking over as Prince Regent until his father’s death. The Regency era, which followed the Georgian, was a period of elegance and refinement in art, architecture and fashion. The reconstruction of Fort William fur trade post as it existed in 1816 belongs to this era.

But the world of 1816 was rocked by unprecedented and far-reaching events, which strike a chord in us today. That year was marked by very drastic climate change, a result of the most violent volcanic eruption in recorded history the previous year, that of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The effects weren’t felt immediately, but global cooling, as opposed to global warming, ensued. The results were catastrophic, with extremely cold temperatures over a very prolonged period of time. 1816 with its abnormalities of climate was called “the year without a summer”. To the terrible rainstorms, crop failure and famine were added rampant disease, such as typhoid outbreaks and cholera epidemics. Seasonal affective disorder hit people in general, but also composers and artists, resulting in darker compositions.

Yet Schubert wrote some really happy music in 1816. His miniature-scaled string trio on our programme sparkles. It is a little treasure, beginning lyrically, with a contrasting, more serious development section in the middle. It is one of three Schubert string trios in B-flat major which were written in 1814, 1816, and 1817. It is incomplete, having only a single movement. Only a few bars of a second movement were written and then abandoned. Schubert is also known for his Unfinished Symphony of two instead of the customary four movements.

He did return to the trio genre in 1827 near the end of his life, but with a different scoring, composing two very celebrated, large-scale trios for violin, cello and piano, Op. 99 and Op. 100 in B flat and E flat respectively. The prolific Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt said of Schubert after his death that he was “the most poetic musician who ever lived.”

Beethoven’s Trio Op. 3, written for violin, viola and cello, as was Schubert’s, was the first string trio of five, all written in the 1790’s. It was modelled after Mozart’s Divertimento K. 563, composed in the same key two years previously, for the same combination of instruments, with the same six-movement pattern, and in the same city. Mozart had died at the age of 35 just three years previously (Schubert at age 31); perhaps this trio was Beethoven’s tribute to the departed master, who had influenced him so much.

Beethoven, like Mozart, alternates fast and slow movements, and frames his fourth slow movement with a minuet and trio dance movement on either side, but imparted his own stamp on it, using syncopation, varied rhythms, energy, changing textures, more exchange between instruments, often playing with motives instead of melodies, and unexpected silences. The final movement is quite complex, with much, vigorous contrapuntal activity, putting to use his earlier studies in counterpoint with the composer Albrechtsberger.

Beethoven could not fail to be influenced also by Haydn, “the Father of the String Quartet”; he studied with him when he came to Vienna in 1792, shortly before writing his Op. 3 Trio. Haydn was 60 years old at that time, an elder, highly revered composer with an enormous musical output. Beethoven was known for his string quartets, which have been considered his greatest works, but interestingly didn’t start composing any until he had completed his five string trios. His sixteen string quartets spanned his early, middle, and late compositional periods, from 1798 right up until the year of his death, 1827, and developed from Mozartian in style, through a more emotional and dramatic style, culminating in the more complex, intellectual final works from 1824 to the end of his life.

For a look at the Great Hall, please check out the following:

A short video clip about the Great Hall:

Fort William Historical Park’s website:

Our fourth and final virtual concert debuts on December 7. “Baroque Bliss”, with a Telemann solo violin Fantasia and eighteenth-century violin duos by Vivaldi, Leclair, and Telemann, performed by TBSO’s Assistant Concertmaster Katie Stevens and Principal Second Christopher Stork. Peter Cosbey plays J. S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello Suite No. 2 in D minor.

We are finally going live on Saturday, January 8 and Tuesday, April 12, 2022, with violinist Jeremy Bell appearing in both concerts. More details on these and on a third live concert will follow later. Stay tuned!

At this point, I would like to remind everyone that we rely on the generosity of our donors, our patrons, and our subscribers to bring you exciting and dynamic concert seasons. The 2021 tax year is drawing to a close, so I would like to invite everyone to seize the opportunity to donate and renew their Consortium membership now (minimum $50 donation), or to be a first-time or returning donor. You will be issued a tax receipt, will receive recognition, and your support would be of incalculable help to us!

Donations can be made by cheque or electronically:

Many thanks for your ongoing support and please do enjoy our virtual concerts as they come your way!


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