String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9, No. 3
Beethoven’s three String Trios, Op. 9, were composed, like the Op. 18 quartet performed Monday evening, in the early years following Beethoven’s arrival to Vienna. Having left Bonn at age 21 for the city of Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven sought to establish himself in Viennese musical circles. Initially, he became famous for his prowess as a virtuoso pianist, and in particular as a formidable improviser; meanwhile, however, he was honing his compositional craft.
Before Beethoven felt comfortable to venture his first string quartet – a prestigious genre which had been cultivated by Haydn and Mozart – Beethoven trained himself, both by copying the others’ quartets, and by composing string trios. Indeed, all five of his completed works for the ensemble, including his Trio, Op. 3, his Serenade for String Trio, Op. 8, and the set of three Trios, Op. 9, date from this period. The trio Op. 9, No. 3, his final trio, is therefore a pivotal work. In addition, it is an early instance of what is often called Beethoven’s “C Minor mood”, referring to the key signature which he used so frequently for his most intense works, including the Sonata “Pathétique”, the third Piano Concerto, and the fifth Symphony.
The string trio, more than a mere testing ground for quartet-writing, poses compositional challenges of its own – the absence of a fourth voice requires careful negotiation, and places a great degree of independence on each member of the group – and Beethoven was evidently proud of the Op. 9 set. He dedicated the trios to Count Johann Georg von Browne, an officer of the Russian army stationed in Vienna and an important early supporter of his, writing, “to the foremost patron of his muse, go the best of his works.”