We’re back and we’ve brought piano trios.

May 18, 2007 at 10:00 am 2 comments

In 2002, the Neue Mozart Ausgabe published a facsimile edition of Mozart’s fragments.  Five of these are identified as fragments for the composer’s keyboard trios, ranging from 25 measures of an opening subject (Fr 1784i) to 6 full pages of a nearly-complete movement (Fr 1787f).  One of the many results of Alan Tyson’s landmark examination of Mozart’s manuscript paper was the re-dating of a large number fragments, including all of those attributed as piano trios.* (See Table 1)  In the more than twenty years since then, however, no one has applied these new dates to our understanding of the piano trio fragments.  Can we learn anything new?

Table 1: Mozart’s Piano Trio Fragments:

[Fragment # (assigned by Konrad), key, time signature, tempo, former Köchel # and date (assigned by Köchel 6th ed., 1964), and revised date (assigned by Tyson, 1987)].

Fr        Key           Time Sig.     Tempo     KV          Köchel -6          Tyson

1784      Bb-major      3/4                [none]        Anh. 51      November 1786     1784-85

1785e     d-minor        C                   Allegro      442            1783                      1785-91

1786c     G-major       3/4                Menuetto   442            1783                      1786-91

1787f      D-major      6/8                Allegro       442            1783                      1787-91

1787h     G-major        C                   [none]       Anh. 52      June/July 1786       1787-91

Following Mozart’s death, Abbé Maximilian Stadler became musical advisor to Constanze and also assisted Georg Nikolaus Nissen in assembling the first catalog of the Mozart’s manuscripts.  At this time, Stadler decided to complete a number of Mozart’s unfinished compositions including a piano trio assembled from the group of fragments long believed to date to 1783: Fr 1785e, 1786c, and 1787f.  Stadler took these fragments, completed their composition, and combined them into a single, d-minor piano trio: K. 442, published in 1797.

Scholars have rightfully questioned that Mozart intended these three fragments to constitute a single keyboard trio.  The resulting work opens with a movement in the minor tonic, followed by a slower triple-time movement in the dominant key of G, and a faster closing movement in the major tonic.  Without specific knowledge of the fragments themselves, in 1945 Einstein stated that, “all three of the movements are presumably only fragmentary; the D major ending of the movement in D minor is particularly suspect, for it is quite contrary to Mozart’s custom.”** With the exception of a few brief periods in the development sections of a sonata-allegro movement, or the occasional portion of a theme and variations movement, the minor mode is notably absent from Mozart’s piano trios.

The first movement of K 442 is a 55-bar sonata-form fragment in d-minor (Fr 1785e).  Mozart’s contribution ends with the beginning of the closing subject and the start of Stadler’s completion (m. 56) is clear due to an in immediate increase in the presence of the cello.  One likely reason that Mozart abandoned these trio fragments was the construction of their themes in a way that did not allow for equal participation by the cello—ultimately the factor which distinguishes the piano trio from the genres of accompanied sonata or divertimento.  The same is true of the middle movement of Stadler’s completion (Fr 1786c) which contains extended passages where the cello is either completely absent or contributes little of musical substance.

The final fragment used in Stadler’s completion (Fr 1787f) is essentially a complete movement.  These six pages contain a full exposition (bars 1-94), with a pair of contrasting hunting-call themes, and a complete development (bars 95-133).  Even without paper analysis it is clear that this fragment could not date from 1783 as originally believed.  This is seen in moments such as measure 9 (Example 1a), where the piano’s two-voice opening subject is split between the violin and cello, and the highly conversational sequencing of second-subject (Example 1b, m. 31-34).  Both examples are compositional techniques not seen in Mozart’s writing in this genre until the later Viennese trios.

Example 1a: Allegro fragment from a Piano Trio in D-major, Fr 1787f-1 (m. 1-10)

(From Neue Mozart Ausgabe)

trioex1a_smallListen to this (Windows Media Player Required)

Example 1b: Allegro fragment from a Piano Trio in D-major, Fr 1787f-2 (m. 31-34)

(From Neue Mozart Ausgabe)


Because of its rather dubious completion by Stadler, the d-minor trio (K. 442) is often omitted from the (rather limited) discussion of Mozart’s piano trios.  However, further consideration of the fragments allow for additional insights into the composer’s late trios, including the possible reconstruction of another trio–one that is more aligned with what Einstein called “Mozart’s custom.”

Each of the trios from June and July 1788 (K. 542, 548, and 564) follows the same pattern: Allegro in tonic key, a triple-time Andante in the subdominant, and an Allegro in the tonic.  Setting aside the minor fragment (Fr 1785e), pairing Fr 1787f with Fr 1786c results is a nearly complete work in the mode of his summer 1788 trios:  An Allegro in D-major followed by a Menuetto in G-major.  All that is missing is a fast tempo movement in the tonic key of D-major.  Since no additional piano trio fragments in D-major exist, it is helpful to look to other fragmentary compositions from the same period of June/July 1788.

In Mozart’s Verzeichnüss aller meiner Werke, for 26 June 1788, the composer lists “Ein kleiner Marsch” for violin, flute, viola, horn, and cello (K. 544).*** (See Examples 2a and 2b)  This work is lost so no manuscript survives detailing the specific instrumental arrangement.  However, the incipit provided by Mozart reveals a strong candidate as a concluding piece for this abandoned trio.  Like the final movement of his other keyboard trios, this is in an up-tempo piece in a duple meter.  It is in the key of D major, which adheres to the tonal structure of other 1788 trios and perhaps most strikingly, the opening motif begins on the same D/F# dyad as Fr 1787f.  (See Example 1a)  Even though K. 544 was supposedly written for a much different ensemble, it is possible that, once Mozart decided to abandon the trio, the musical idea for the final movement was reconfigured as this ‘little march.’

Example 2a: Incipit for “Ein kleiner Marsch” for violin, flute, viola, horn, and cello (K. 544, now lost) from Mozart’s Verzeichnüss aller meiner Werke26 June 1788

Listen to this

Example 2b: Transcription of “Ein kleiner Marsch” incipit (K. 544, now lost)


Might the result be a “new” piano trio by Mozart?  Maybe, maybe not.  However, before we too quickly dismiss it or the “trio” proposed by Stadler, we should ask what might be gained from such completions.  What do they say about the contemporary understanding of a genre?  Does it tell us anything about the agency of the person completing it?  Would examining Stadler’s completion in greater detail reveal new insight into the development of the piano trio in the decade following Mozart’s death?  My hypothetical trio cuts into the fragments as we understand them today.  Does it tell us anything else?  I don’t know if I can answer that…

Mozart certainly did not create the piano trio, but his compositions were central to the establishment of a new genre of chamber music—one which became an important part of private performance in Vienna in the closing years of the eighteenth century.  However, with the exception of the re-dating of their fragments, do we really know that much more about the trios now than in Stadler’s time?  Why? Why not?

* See Allan Tyson, “The Mozart Fragments in the Mozarteum, Salzburg: A Preliminary Study of Their Chronology and Their Significance,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 34/3 (Autumn 1981): 471-510; and Allan Tyson, Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).
** Alfred Einstein, Mozart: His Character, His Work, trans. Arthur Mendel and Nathan Broder (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945): 261.
*** Mozart’s Thematic Catalogue: A Facsimile (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990): f.17v.

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  • 1. Daladier  |  November 6, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Es una pena que la marcha K.544 esté perdida, como tantas otras cosas de Mozart, el concierto para fagot no. 2 K.196d en fa mayor; o el Coro Viviamo Felici K.615. Ojalá un día aparezcan

  • 2. Ryan Raul Bañagale  |  November 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Sí, es lamentable. Manuscritos desaparecidos vuelven a aparecer, sin embargo. Tendremos que esperar un poco!
    Gracias usted por leer.


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