Piano Trio No.1 in c minor, Op.5
Arthur Foote's Op.5 Piano Trio No.1, had he been a German, would almost certainly have established his reputation.
Arthur Foote (1853-1937) certainly was the equal of nearly any of his European contemporaries, but the fact that he was an American, at a time when American composers were not generally taken seriously, was without doubt an insurmountable obstacle to his achieving the reputation he deserved. Foote was born in Salem, Massachusetts and was the first important American composer trained entirely in America. His main teacher was John Knowles Paine, from whom Foote gained an admiration for and was primarily influenced by the leading Central European Romantic composers of the day, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Dvorak and Brahms. If Arthur Foote's his name is not entirely unknown, it is fair to say that his music is. This is a shame especially as far as chamber musicians are concerned. Foote’s chamber music is first rate, deserving of regular public performance.
Piano Trio No.1 was composed in 1882 and revised in 1884. Foote meant to make his name with this work and his first string quartet which he was working on at the same time. While this trio bears the low number of Op.5, Foote was thirty years old at the time he wrote it, and it was clearly not his fourth composition. It is fair to say that Mendelssohn and Schumann are the godparents of this work, but they are really only his structural models and his point of departure. The trio is not imitative of their works but fresh, up-to-date and fully informed of the most recent developments being made by such luminaries as Brahms and Dvorak. The expansive, opening movement, Allegro con brio, has for its main theme a fetching, yearning melody in c minor. The part-writing for the parts leaves nothing to be desired. The second theme has the aura of a New England congregational church hymn. The marvelous, elfin-like, dancing Scherzo which follows is as fine as anything of its sort. It is something Mendelssohn might have managed had he been alive and writing in the 1880's. The slower, contrasting trio section again features a hymn-like tune. The main theme of the very lyrical third movement, Adagio molto, is a a sad, languid and highly romantic melody. The dramatic development section creates an uneasy mood of unrest. The finale, Allegro comodo, opens with a rhythmically unusual and somewhat angular theme. It show an updated for the time (1880's) tonality. The second theme is based on the American church hymn O God our Help in Ages Past. After a brief fugue, a broad coda brings this fine work to an exciting finish.
This is a first rate piano trio by any standard. The only reason this work has never received the audience it deserves is because it was written by an American who was “out of the loop,” living in Boston, far away from the then main centers of interest for such music, i.e. places such as Vienna, Berlin, London and Paris. But this work is in no way inferior to its great European counterparts. Certainly professional piano ensembles would do well to add this work to their repertoires. It will surely be an audience pleaser. It is also well within the ability of competent amateur players.