Piano Trio No.1 in b minor, Op.1
Donald Tovey (1875-1940) was born in the English town of Eton. He studied piano privately and subsequently attended Oxford and the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied composition with Hubert Parry. He enjoyed a career as a concert performer as well as a composer and served as a Professor of Music for more than 25 years at Edinburgh University. Today he is best remembered for his essays on music, but he regarded himself first and foremost as a composer. Tovey wrote in most genres and his compositions were not only respected but regularly performed in such important venues as London, Vienna and Berlin. But like the works of so many others, it has inexplicably disappeared from the concert stage. He wrote several chamber music works, most dating from the last decade of the 19th century up to the First World War.
Tovey’s First Piano Trio was composed in 1895 while he was a student at Oxford and submitted for a competition but was published until 1910. It was dedicated to Hubert Parry with whom Tovey had studied periodically on a private basis. Somewhat surprisingly, for a first work, it is written on a massive scale. The opening movement, Maestoso, Andante ma con moto, over shadows the other movements in its breadth and length. It begins rather calmly, almost languidly. Rather than any sense of the majestic, there is a diffidence. But slowly tension is built and leads to several effective dramatic climaxes. The second movement is marked Minuetto, molto moderato and it is identifiable as such to begin with. But this is a very free-form movement and soon the music is unrecognizable as any kind of a minuet. It has a rather dreamy and limp quality. The mood is subdued and the tempo is rather relaxed. It is only with the arrival of the third movement, Rhapsodie, Feroce, that the music acquires real energy and drive, however, it cannot be styled as fierce. Rather it begins as a kind of cheerful march. The second subject has a vaguely Oriental flavor to it. The finale, Allegro ma non troppo, begins unusually with a tinkling part in the piano but an attractive yearning melody in the strings. The music quickly builds in drama and excitement.
The quality of this work is so good that one is forced to conclude that it could not have been Tovey's first work. Perhaps, the first to which he put an opus number. It is a fresh and beautiful and will do well in concert but should not be missed by amateur players.