Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shostakovich: Trio in E minor, 1st movement

The Wikipedia article on this trio is very rudimentary, but has the basic information. You probably shouldn't put too much credence in the comments on the structure. For example, the comment on the first movement says it is "highly dissonant" which it certainly is not. I often wonder when people use technical musical terms like "dissonant" or "legato" if they actually know what the words mean, or if they just think they are a sort of metaphor for "good" or "groovy".

Let's have a listen to the first movement. Here is an excellent recording by Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich made in 1959. The first movement goes to the 7:38 mark:

Here is a site where you can download a pdf of the score. The first movement begins with a fugal texture, but with the cello stating the theme in extremely high harmonics:

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Then the violin comes in with the theme as the cello continues:

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When the piano enters with the theme it is in the low bass in octaves:

As you can see, this is not dissonant, far less dissonant than late 19th century music! The cello statement of the theme is on A or rather the Aeolian mode. When the violin enters, though following the same basic intervals, it is in G major. Then the entry of the piano is in Phrygian mode on B. Though the texture is that of a fugue with the three instruments each stating the theme, harmonically this is very unlike a traditional fugue in which the voices would typically enter on the tonic, dominant and then tonic again. Here they enter on A, G and B with a modal structure.

The fugal opening serves as an introduction to a movement in sonata form, moderato, that begins just after the 3 minute mark in the clip above. This begins in E minor with the piano stating another version of that opening fugue theme. At the 5 minute mark a new section begins, marked Poco piĆ¹ mosso with a new theme in G major:

You might notice that even though the details of the harmony are not traditional (there are cross-relations between F sharp and F natural, for example, at the beginning) the broad outlines are what you would expect: a movement in E minor is quite likely to have a second theme in G major in the Classical period. Of course there are some strange twists and modulations--just before this section is a brief passage in E flat and E flat minor that would not be found in a Classical piece.

After the stating of these two themes, the exposition of a sonata form, there is a development section:

And recapitulation of both themes. Here is the beginning of the recapitulation of the opening E minor theme:

What is different about the way Shostakovich handles Classical forms is in the details: the avoidance of standard cadences, odd modulations and melodic inflections and most of all, the mood or atmosphere which he creates with these details.

As an example of how he might alter a cadence, here is how the first movement ends:

There are some elements of a typical cadence: the D sharp leading tone in the bass which together with the B and F sharp in the upper voices gives a full dominant triad. But no seventh and traditionally, an authentic cadence requires the dominant to be in root position, not first inversion. But then the D sharp is contradicted by a D natural in the next measure and the tonic chord is rendered rather doleful by the reiterated F natural decoration for four measures! The E minor cadence is essentially combined with a Phrygian cadence.

Let's listen to this first movement again in a different performance. Here is the trio of Piano: Martha Argerich, Violin: Gidon Kremer, Violoncello: Mischa Maisky:

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