Beethoven & Smetana – The Bohemian Beethoven

Smetana composed the G minor trio in 1855, shortly after the tragic death of his beloved daughter, Bedriška. It is an autobiographical work dedicated to Bedriška: “In memory of our eldest child, Bedriška, whose rare musical talent gave us such delight; too early snatched from us by death.” The Trio was also Smetana’s first real success as a composer. 

The three movements of the trio are all in G minor, and the entire work is dominated by minor keys and falling intervals, suggesting sighs of sorrow. The second movement, a Scherzo with two trios, is like a portrait of the child and the woman she would have become. The final movement includes a funeral march punctuated by tolling bells on the piano.

Beethoven’s Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, was nicknamed the Ghost by the composer’s most famous student, Carl Czerny. Early sketches of the second movement were found in Beethoven’s notebook at a time when the troubled composer was attempting to create an opera on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 

The two shorter outside movements give the trio an arched shape – two more traditional and lucid movements with a black hole of despair in the middle. It is important to note that Beethoven was in Heiligenstadt on doctor’s orders for his emerging deafness when he composed the Opus 70 trios. The six-month stay in Heiligenstadt resulted in the famous Heiligenstadt Testament – a letter to his brothers admitting the severity of his hearing loss.