Music Post: Threes, more threes, and many more threes


The Eroica Trio. Their music is beautiful, too.

Classical music is replete with trios, usually consisting of a piano, violin and cello, sometimes a violin, viola and cello, and, less commonly, other combination of instruments.

The Baroque period gave us “trio sonatas” and the middle part of the typical scherzo so often has just three voices that even if many instruments are playing those three lines we still call it the “trio section.”

It’s not hard to fill two hours with excellent music for three instruments. It wouldn’t be hard to do that for months on end. But this weekend we’ll sample some of the finest.

I’ll play you beautiful trio music by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. Even in their day, two centuries back, there were interesting exceptions to the usual piano-violin-cello formula. The big surprise is the Beethoven: a piece arranged for three flutes. Also from the German tradition is Gustav Jenner, who wrote one for clarinet, horn and piano.

The French chamber tradition, a great reservoir of good listening for anyone who needs more than mere beauty to sustain interest, produced many really fine trios, which, in addition to being beautiful, also have ear-catching sonics and harmonies. I’ll sample works by Saint-Saens, Faure, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel and Poulenc – his is for oboe, bassoon and piano – and permit me to say that the Ravel Trio is one of the finest compositions of any kind by any composer ever.

More recently the living American composers Jennifer Higdon and Paul Moravec have shown they can make a great deal of music with just three instruments. Moravec writes for clarinet, violin and piano – Higdon appears in Trick Question so I’ll not discuss it here – and the energy they generate would require a whole fleet of instruments if anyone else were doing it.

And just because most classical music fans have never heard it, I’ll sample a trio for viola, viola da gamba and harpsichord by Dietrich Buxtehude. His organ pieces so influenced Bach, we hardly ever hear anything by Buxtehude not for organ.

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