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 t​he​y 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.