String Trio No.2 in B flat Major, Op.17 No.2
Felice Giardini (1716-1796) was born in Turin. When it became clear that he was a child prodigy, his father sent him to Milan. There he studied singing, harpsichord and violin but it was on the latter that he became a famous virtuoso. By the age of 12, he was already playing in theater orchestras. In a famous incident about this time, Giardini, who was serving as assistant concertmaster during an opera, played a solo passage for violin, the composer Jomelli had written. He decided to show off his skills and improvised several bravura variations which Jomelli had not written. Although the audience applauded loudly, Jomelli, who happened to be there, was not pleased and suddenly stood up and slapped the young man in the face. Giardini, years later, remarked, “it was the most instructive lesson I ever received from a great artist." During the 1750s, Giardini toured Europe as a violinist, scoring successes in Paris, Berlin, and especially in England where he eventually settled. For many years, he served as the concertmaster and director of the Italian Opera in London and gave solo concerts under the auspices of J.C. Bach with whom he was a close friend. He was widely regarded as the greatest musical performing artist before the public. (1755-1770). In 1784, he returned to Naples to run a theater, however, there he encountered financial setbacks. In 1793, he returned to England to try his luck. But times had changed and he was no longer remembered. He then went to Russia, but again had little luck, dying in Moscow in 1796.
Giardini was a prolific composer writing for virtually every genre which then existed. As a string player, he knew how to make string instruments sound their best. His chamber music combines the so-called “Style Gallant” with the mid 18th classicism of J.C. Bach, the Stamitzes and the Mannheim school. In the “Style Gallant”, the writing emphasizes the soloistic qualities of the instruments, rather than the integrated writing of all three parts to create a whole, which J.C. Bach and the Mannheim composers pioneered. While today, the string quartet is the “King” of chamber music ensembles, during the third quarter of the 18th century, the string trio was the most popular chamber ensemble and virtually all of the active composers lavished their talents on them. Boccherini, Haydn, Pleyel and Mozart, to name but a few, all spent time and effort writing trios.
Giardini wrote 18 trios for violin, viola and cello. No. 2 is part of a set of six which were published together as his Op.17 in 1773. In these trios, the roles and importance of each instrument is constantly varied. While the viola is often the glue between the violin and the cello, at times, it becomes the the soloist. The cello covers the entire range of its registers, hopping from deep in its bass to high in its tenor.
The pleasant, gentle, first movement of No.2 is marked Andante. The tempo is relaxed, the theme lyrical, however, the ornamental passage work gives it a somewhat livelier quality than one normally finds in an andante. Here the writing is in concertante style. The second movement, Andante grazioso, but the tempo is closer to an adagio. It is an excellent example of a classical slow movement. In the lively finale, Rondo, Allegro assai, Giardini takes a folk melody as its main theme and turns it into lively dance
Here is another trio which characterizes the elegant and gracious age in which it was composed. It is yet another valuable addition, we feel, to the trio players library.