Ensemble Music Society
Indiana History Center
Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) last name is Flemish for “beet garden,” the “van” stuck in by his forbearers for pretended Flemish nobility that didn’t exist. When the family migrated from Flanders to Germany, they failed to get the “van” changed to the German “von.” Ludwig’s father was an itinerant musician who couldn’t hold his liquor most of the time; his mother had no musical ability whatever. In fact, other than his grandfather, no special musical talent had appeared anywhere in Ludwig’s ancestry: all common folk — part of the unwashed masses.
Out of this unpromising gene pool sprang one of the greatest composers and most “powerful” musical personalities who ever lived. Beethoven’s influence on musical thought and style has been incalculable. He set in motion many elements of Romanticism while himself remaining Classical to his life’s end.
From the 135-plus compositions published during his lifetime — mostly in the order (i.e. opus no.) they were written — the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio gave us a sampler of three lesser-known Beethoven piano trios last Wednesday as the season opener for the Ensemble Music Society’s chamber concert series. Though pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, operate as an ensemble out of Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Laredo and Robinson are on the IU music faculty, giving the KLR Trio an Indiana base much like the older, equally famed Beaux Arts Trio.
The 30-year KLR collaboration began their program with Beethoven’s Trio No. 11 in G, Op. 121a — often referred to as the “Kakadu Variations.” Though probably written in 1803, it was the composer’s last published piano trio, based on a single-movement set of 10 variations on a tune by Wenzel Müller. The tune is a bit of a ditty, but Beethoven adds “power” to it as only he can, giving Müller a historical footnote he otherwise would have missed.
As though to visit his publishing extremes, the KLR then offered Beethoven’s Trio No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 1 No. 1 — his first published work, dating from 1793. With four movements and lasting nearly half an hour, the 23-year-old composer already was expanding the form from that of his predecessors. With much scale-work lowering the musical density, Beethoven’s unmistakable style still remains much in evidence.
The KLR players ended with the composer’s Trio No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 70 No. 2, sounding much later and more “personal” than its predecessor. The first three of its four movements contain neither sparks nor a true slow movement, but rather exude an equivocal glow that somewhat smacks of early Romanticism. Whereas its Finale bounces along at a rapid clip with shifts in both tempo and rhythm.
Displaying masterful ensemble work throughout these Beethoven samplers, each KLR member showed astounding technique and exemplary musicianship. They also reinforced even the more trifling efforts of this Flanders transplant as bearing his special stamp. It was all Beethoven and it was all right.