Week 22 – Beethoven’s Blog

Posted on August, 12th 2021

Beethoven Trios Opus 70, No 1 in D Major the “Ghost” and No 2 in Eb Major

Remember Blog #1? It featured Beethoven’s Opus 1 Piano Trios, a set of three. This medium (violin, cello, and piano) was very dear to Beethoven, having written seven of them during his Vienna years. There exists one or two others from his very early years, plus a couple of sets of variations, and a trio for piano, flute, and bassoon. This week we are concerned with the very important trios of Opus 70, No 1 in D Major the “Ghost” and No 2 in Eb Major.

I have asked Andrea Swan to offer her thoughts on these two trios and she has graciously agreed to do so. You will remember her as guest piano recitalist at last year’s White Lake Chamber Music Festival. In her professional life she has performed many times, all of Beethoven’s chamber music that includes piano. Please enjoy her thoughts.

“The Opus 70 Trios stand in the center of the Beethoven Trio output. The Opus 1 Trios are definitely “piano heavy” and the Archduke Trio, Opus, 97 is regarded by musicians as one of the masterpieces of the Trio literature.
The two Opus 70 Trios share an opus number but are totally different in character. No. 1, nicknamed “The Ghost” because of its mysterious, eerie 2nd movement filled with tremolos and shocking dynamics, contrasts with the outer movements that are delightfully upbeat and carefree.
No. 2 is probably the least played of all of Beethoven’s trios, although many historians regard it as the most original. It has 4 movements, including a Theme and Variation 2nd movement that ping pongs between C Major and C Minor, a 3rd movement called Allegretto that has the sweetest theme (and the weirdest 4 measures I have ever encountered in all of Beethoven – if you listen, you can’t miss them!), and a very long, very demanding Finale.
As a pianist, I find the D major much easier technically. It lies in a comfortable key for both the pianist and the string players. There’s lots of interplay and “joking around”  between the 3 instruments and the outer movements are both joyous romps.The 2nd movement is so completely different – very somber and mysterious, and its length and slow tempo require enormous concentration to pull off successfully.

The Opus 70, No. 2 Trio is much more difficult, technically and musically. There are some passages for the pianist, especially in the outer movements, that are challenging and demand good fingerings and a lot of practice! The first two movements are quite serious – then Beethoven changes to a much lighter mood in the 3rd movement and the 4th movement takes the listener on a wild ride of jubilation and boundless energy.”

Thank you, Andrea. Wonderfully said. I’m including below links to two performances, one of each trio. The pianist in the Opus 70 No 2 is Menahem Pressler with whom Andrea studied.

Opus 70 No 1 Barenboim, Zuckerman, Du Prez

Opus 70 No 2 Beaux Arts Trio Pressler, Coen, Greenhouse