Piano Trio, Op. 97 (Beethoven)

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Piano Trio
"Archduke Trio"
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven in 1815, portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler
KeyB-flat major
Composed1810 (1810)–11
DedicationArchduke Rudolph of Austria
Performed11 April 1814 (1814-04-11)
Sketches for the third and fourth movements of Piano Trio, op. 97, 1810–1811, musical autograph

The Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97, by Ludwig van Beethoven is a piano trio completed in 1811.[1][2] It is commonly referred to as the Archduke Trio, because it was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria, the youngest of twelve children of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor.[2] Rudolf was an amateur pianist and a patron, friend, and composition student of Beethoven.[2] Beethoven dedicated about a dozen compositions to him.[3]

The Archduke Trio was written late in Beethoven's so-called "middle period". He sketched out the draft for it in the summer of 1810 and completed the composition in March 1811.[1][2][4] It follows the traditional four movement structure with sonata form in the first and rondo sonata form in the last movement.[4] It also allows for a more prominent part for the piano than previous compositions.[2]

Historical Context[edit]

The Archduke Trio came to fruition just months after a highly successful premiere of his Battle Symphony (Wellingtons Sieg, Op. 91).[2] Though the relationship between Beethoven and Archduke Rudolf had its challenges, Beethoven was indebted to him for his unwavering financial support, on which account Beethoven continued to dedicate works to him.[2] In this work, Beethoven increases the independence of the piano's role in relation to the violin and cello and in comparison with his earlier piano trios.[2] There is much debate over the amount of time Beethoven dedicated to composing the Archduke Trio, though an earlier autograph from March 1811 could prove that it was composed in only three weeks' time.[2][1] At this time, Beethoven was experiencing great success with his compositions and pitting publishers against each other.[1] He may have been considering marriage according to personal correspondence via letters.[1] Beethoven also wrote personally to Archduke Rudolf with the newly composed trio to have it copied within the archduke's palace out of fear that it would be stolen.[1] This was a frequent transaction between the two and resulted in the archduke establishing a library of all of Beethoven's compositions with manuscript copies for conservation.[1]

First performances[edit]

Two days after completion in 1811, Beethoven played the Archduke Trio in an informal setting at the Baron Neuworth's residency with no known performance after until 1814.[2] The first public performance was given by Beethoven himself, Ignaz Schuppanzigh (violin), and Josef Linke (cello) at the Viennese hotel Zum römischen Kaiser on April 11, 1814. At the time, Beethoven's deafness compromised his ability as a performer, and after a repeat performance a few weeks later, Beethoven never appeared again in public as a pianist.[5][6][7][1]

The violinist and composer Louis Spohr witnessed a rehearsal of the work, and wrote, "on account of his deafness there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of notes were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible unless one could look into the pianoforte part. I was deeply saddened at so hard a fate."[7]

The pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles attended the premiere, and wrote about the work, "in the case of how many compositions is the word 'new' misapplied! But never in Beethoven's, and least of all in this, which again is full of originality. His playing, aside from its intellectual element, satisfied me less, being wanting in clarity and precision; but I observed many traces of the grand style of playing which I had long recognized in his compositions."[6]


The work is in four movements. A typical performance runs more than 40 minutes in length.[3]

Allegro moderato[edit]

This first movement is in the home key of B-flat major and is in Sonata form. The first two measures present a motif consisting of five notes which are used throughout the trio in various altered forms. The main theme remains piano until the coda where it returns at a fortissimo indication.[4][2]

Scherzo (Allegro)[edit]

Also in the home key of B-flat major, the second movement consists of a fast scherzo and trio rather than the traditional slow movement. Some editions show the repeats of scherzo and trio sections, but Beethoven published it originally as written out repeats. The triad used as motivic material in the first movement is presented as scales here in the second.[4]

Andante cantabile, ma però con moto[edit]

The third movement is in the key of D major and follows variation form and is approached attacca to the finale movement. There has been some debate over the specific tempo intended by Beethoven as to the authenticity of the inclusion of "con moto" in the score.[4]

Allegro moderato[edit]

This finale movement is as expected in the home key of B-flat major and employs a loose interpretation of the Rondo Sonata form structure: A B A' B A' (Coda) The similarities between all four movements rhythm can be seem culminated here where Beethoven increasingly shortens the rhythmic values before bar lines. During the lengthy coda, there is a stray in key centers as far as A major and E flat Major until returning to B-flat major at the end. Beethoven himself indicated during a rehearsal of the piece that it should not be played in a gentle manner, but with much energy and force.[4][2]


Though there were complaints directed towards Beethoven after the public premiere regarding his abilities as a performer due to his increasing deafness, the trio itself enjoyed much success and was quickly considered as one of his masterpieces.[2][3] His reputation and credibility as a composer did not diminish, but rather continued to soar.[2] Music journals such as the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung viewed the trio as typical of the composer's output with nothing out of the ordinary.[8] They considered the scherzo to be contrapuntal in nature, which speaks to what music textures were still acceptable for audiences at this time between the Classical and Romantic eras.[8] Likewise, in 1823 the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung issued a call to musicians to perform the piece with much dedication and inspiration.[4]

References in popular culture[edit]

  • The trio, referred to as The Archduke, plays a significant role in Elizabeth George's mystery A Traitor to Memory (2001)[9]
  • In Haruki Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore (2002), the piece and its history are used to explain the relationship between two main characters, Nakata and Hoshino, and the latter's development as a person.
  • In the Coen Brothers's film The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), the melancholic third movement of this work plays a central role, particularly in the climactic final scene in the electric chair.
  • In Colm Toibin's Nora Webster the recording figures prominently in the title character's musical development as well as the foil (the album cover) for an internal examination of how her life might have been different


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Thayer1; Krehbiel2; Deiters3; Riemann4, Alexander Wheelock1; Henry Edward2; Hermann3; Hugo4 (1921). Life of Ludwig van Beethoven. New York: The Beethoven Association. pp. 170–270.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Watson, Angus (2010). Beethoven's Chamber Music in Context. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press. pp. 193–200. ISBN 9781843835776.
  3. ^ a b c Keller, James (2014). Chamber Music : A Listener's Guide. Cary: Oxford University Press, Incorporated. pp. 62–64. ISBN 9780199700080.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Hiebert, Elfrieda Franz (1988). The piano trios of Beethoven: an historical and analytical study. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International. pp. 138–153.
  5. ^ Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op.97 imslp.org, accessed 17 April 2014
  6. ^ a b Historically Informed Performances: “Archduke” and “Ghost” Trios, by John Moran Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine bf.press.illinois.edu, accessed 17 April 2014
  7. ^ a b Beethoven: Illustrated Lives Of The Great Composers, by Ates Orga accessed 17 April 2014
  8. ^ a b Wallace, Robin (1986). Beethoven's critics: aesthetic dilemmas and resolutions during the composer's lifetime. Cambridge University Press. p. 93.
  9. ^ George, Elizabeth (2001). A Traitor to Memory. Random House Large Print. ISBN 9780375431135.

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