String Trio No.3 in F Major, Op.85 No.3
For Violin, Viola & Cello
This trio is the last of a set of three mid-romantic period string trios composed by Hermann Berens during the summer of 1871.
Hermann Berens (1826-1880) was born in Hamburg and studied piano and composition in Carl Gottlieb Reissiger who was the music director and chief conductor in Dresden. During this time, Reissiger employed Wagner as his second conductor. Although Berens undoubtedly got to know Wagner well, there is nothing of Wagner in Berens’ music. Rather, Mendelssohn and Schumann served as his models. spent most of his life in Sweden eventually becoming the director of a prominent Stockholm music drama theater and a professor at the Stockholm Conservatory. In addition to his chamber music, he wrote several operas in Swedish and a considerable amount of piano music. Besides the piano, Berens also was proficient on the violin and the trios reveal the hand of an experienced string player.
String Trio No.3 might well have been called Grand Trio for it is truly written on a large scale. The opening, Allegro, is a huge movement brimming with ideas which Berens effectively presents. It begins quietly, almost like a pastoral. As the first theme is developed, momentum is gradually added. By the time the theme is fully elaborated, things are really moving along. A second theme has a whimsical feel. This in turn leads to a lyrical melody, given in turn to each voice and played against an effective pulsating accompaniment. If this were not enough, suddenly a brief but wild, turbulent episode, which gives the feel of the sea bursts forth. When the storm clouds clear, an uplifting chorale is sung against a quiet pizzicato accompaniment. The poignant second movement, Andante, has a heavy, solemn dirge-like air. The mood of the Halloween-like Allegro scherzando which follows could not be more different. It is a nervous, fidgety scherzo rushing here and there. The slower and lyrical trio section provides fine contrast. The finale, Allegro e con brio, wastes no time getting going. It explodes out of the starting gate full of energy. But just as it gets going, Berens surprises by toning it down, only to build things back very gradually.
This is a master work for string trio and ought not to be missed by either professionals or amateurs. And considering that it is a work from the mid-romantic, it is doubly useful, since there are so few works of this quality from this period.