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1 (appropriately subtitled “From My Life”) reaches its climax when the first violin’s high E comes stabbing through the closing moments of the last movement—it was the sound of that high E piercing Smetana’s head that signaled the onset of his deafness and the insanity that led to his death. The Piano Trio in G minor springs from a similar personal tragedy. Smetana and his wife had four daughters in rapid succession, and just as rapidly three of them died. The greatest blow for Smetana was the death of the eldest, Bedřiška, a spirited little girl who showed promise of unusual musical talent. Her death from scarlet fever at the age of four on September 5, 1855, nearly drove Smetana mad. He plunged into a deep depression and was able to rescue himself only through his work. By the end of that month he had begun to compose the Piano Trio in G minor, and he worked steadily for two months, completing it on November 22. As might be expected, the mood of this music is dark: all three movements are in G minor. What might not be expected is that this trio has no true slow movement: a sonata-form opening movement and a rondo-finale frame a central fast movement. The Moderato assai first movement opens with the stark sound of the violin alone, playing the grieving idea that will dominate the entire movement; the chromatic descent of a fifth that shapes this theme will be felt throughout the first two movements. The second subject, announced by the cello, is somewhat gentler, but the development is anguished, and the opening theme returns to drive the movement relentlessly to its close. Despite its minor tonality, the second movement is not so intense as the first. It is a scherzo-like polka, and some commentators have felt that the polka theme depicts Bedřiška at play (the first movement’s stark opening subject makes a ghostly reappearance within this opening statement). Smetana interrupts this movement twice with trio sections (he calls them Alternativos); the first of these is lyric and heartfelt, the second powerfully inflected on dotted rhythms. The end of this movement is particularly effective: the return to the opening material at the close of the second Alternativo is halting and uncertain, and the movement is suddenly choked off. The beginning of the finale, a rondo marked Presto, drives ahead on pulsing energy; Smetana took this opening theme from his own Piano Sonata in G minor of 1846. The cello’s somber, lyric episode may break the energetic pulse of the opening, but it preserves the intense atmosphere that marks the entire trio, and at its close, this music remains—despite a move into G major—dark and grieving. Program notes by Eric Bromberger

e Smetana Trio

aBoUT THE SMETana Trio The Smetana Trio, founded in1934 by the legendary Czech pianist Josef Pálenícek, violinist Alexandr Plocek and cellist František Smetana, is today’s foremost Czech chamber ensemble. Currently comprised of Jitka Cechová (piano), Jiří Vodička (violin) and Jan Páleníček (cello), the Smetana perpetuates the interpretational ideals created by its illustrious predecessors as well as other superlative 20th-century soloists active in chamber music. “ There is nothing routine about the Smetana Trio’s approach to this engaging repertoire. Every aspect of their interpretation is carefully considered without losing an ounce of spontaneity. Individual lines are remarkable for their focus and beauty, though the powerful sense of ensemble is never sacrificed to individual display.” - BBC Music Magazine Following a successful North American tour in April 2013, the Smetana Trio returns to the U.S. in the 2014-15 season with concerts presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Czech Center New York, Gettysburg Community Concert Association and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. In New York City the trio appears at 92Y’s intimate downtown venue, SubCulture, for an evening of Czech music which includes the New York premiere of Roman Haas’s Multicultural Suite for Piano

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