Mozart Piano Trio in C Major, K. 548
Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50 “To the Memory of a Great Artist”
In “Devotions,” the Priday/Kloeckner/Armstrong Trio explores the deep intertwining of the musical and personal in the artist’s life, focusing on one composer’s devotions, inspirations, and obsessions – and the connection between two composers across eras.
Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Trio, in many ways a complete symphony and ballet for three musicians, owes its existence to the presence of three different figures in Tchaikovsky’s life: the formidable Russian pianist and pedagogue, Nikolai Rubinstein, the great 19th-century patroness Nadezhda von Meck, and W.A. Mozart. Rubinstein’s death in 1881 is the emotional raison d’etre for the work: composed as a memorial to his close friend and mentor, the Trio gives voice to fresh grief – particularly in its opening elegiac movement, with its rushing waves of brooding pain and tenderness, and in its final heart-stopping funeral march. The influence of Tchaikovsky’s patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, on the Piano Trio can also be seen: its incarnation as a trio for piano, violin and cello, despite Tchaikovsky’s reservations, can be traced to von Meck’s earlier request for such a combination of instruments. Though very much a real-life figure who financially supported Tchaikovsky and made much of his artistic life possible, von Meck in her personal friendship with Tchaikovsky was a purely literary and artistic character: the two conducted an intense personal relationship solely via letter, as they never met and even avoided physical contact.
In his lifelong obsession with Mozart, Tchaikovsky’s unique ability to carry on relationships of spiritual closeness with those physically distant even transcended time. In Mozart, whose opera Don Giovanni inspired a young Tchaikovsky to devote his life to music, Tchaikovsky discovered the ultimate artistic model not in style but in spirit: the two composers share a heartfelt, almost childlike approach to musical inspiration. In a letter to Sergey Tanayev, the pianist of the Trio’s premiere and fellow admirer of Mozart, he wrote, “My God! how divinely beautiful this music is in its unassuming simplicity!” Mozart’s biography was reportedly always by his bedside. In Mozart’s music Tchaikovsky heard not only a divine purity and spontaneous creativity which he strove to emulate, but also the goodness of Mozart’s personal character. In “Devotions,” personal relationships and human characters are both memorialized and purified in the world of music.