Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15, is the first of several pieces of music to be inspired by a tragedy in Smetana’s life. Spurred by the death of his beloved daughter Bedřiška (1851-1855), “an extraordinarily gifted child, [Smetana was inspired] to compose [his] chamber work in 1855.” (Large 65) The trio starts with feelings relating to Smetana’s anguish, followed by a dedication to the memory of his daughter torn between her life and death, and ending with a movement that gives eventual closure to Smetana’s loss. The style of the trio involves stylistic elements of both Schumann and Liszt, as is characteristic of several of Smetana’s musical pieces (Clapham 65) and is composed of three voices: the violin, cello, and piano. In the first movement, there is a great similarity to Clara Schumann’s Trio in G Minor. This brings to mind the idea that Smetana may have used the theme similarity to show what kind of musician his daughter might have been had she survived adolescence (Hefling 320). The first movement possesses two major themes that both utilize the chromatic descent of a fifth. This descent is also a common theme that ties the three movements together. The movement begins with an arresting violin solo on the G string of the violin which is representative of the baroque chromatic symbol for grief and sorrow (See Figure 1.).
Figure 1 (Smetana).
The motif of these opening measures is the unifying idea that binds the three movements together (Clapham 65). The piano and cello then enter in and continue the feeling of lament by adding rhythmic definition. A second theme that is less tense and depressed, is introduced in B flat major where the cello takes up the melody. This gives a feeling of innocence and angelicness, similar to what Smetana’s daughter may have possessed, providing a sensation of comfort and peace. The piano adds a cheerful, playful theme, continuing the depiction of Smetana’s daughter. The theme then ends and enters back into...
Cited: Bartoš, František. Bedřich Smetana: Letters and Reminiscences. Prague: Státní nakladatelství krásné literatury, 1955.
Berend, Ivan T. History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003.
Clapham, John. Smetana. New York: Dent, 1972.
Fuller, Richard. Romantic Music (1850-1900). 2006.
Hefling, Stephen E. Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Hubbard, W.L. Musical Dictionary. New York: Irving Sqire, 1908.
Large, Brian. Smetana. New York: Praeger, 1970.
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