Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was in many ways the most prominent musical figure of the nineteenth century. His music’s immediate appeal was instantly recognised, especially by the rising bourgeois of his day, and by almost all composers of his own and the next generation, who could not escape recognising his influence on their art. After a troubled childhood, overshadowed by an abusive father whom Ludwig replaced early on as the main provider of their family, he moved to Vienna to further his studies in composition and his performing career. The piano trios op. 70 were composed during the summer of 1808 in Heiligenstadt, where he also wrote his devastating testament six years earlier describing the extent of his despair over his deteriorating hearing and consequently his unhappiness in an unsent letter to his brother. By the time he wrote the ‘Ghost Trio’ he was deaf, and the turbulent opening of this trio is followed by a beautiful if not yearning melody from the cello - an instrument that had so far mainly played bass lines in chamber music. The grave second movement with its terrifying climactic points is followed by a return to the classical world of his former teacher Haydn, but with unmistakable Beethovenian outbursts which explore the full dynamic and emotional ranges of the ensemble.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote the piano trio in C minor op.66 in 1845, just two years before his early death. It is considered to be one of his most significant chamber works. Like his other trio in D minor (which is in fact his most celebrated chamber work) it has a ‘Lied ohne Worte’ or ‘Song without Words’ style second movement and a brisk energetic scherzo movement. What makes this trio unique however is a quotation from a chorale melody (based on a sixteenth-century work) in the last movement. Mendelssohn composed this piece while spending a few quiet months with his family in Frankfurt and probably started work on his celebrated ‘Elijah’ (completed in 1846) at the same time as editing a few organ works by Bach. This work is engraved with Mendelssohn’s unique style, which draws upon several influences, including the complex counterpoint of Bach, Mozart’s clarity (especially in the passage work) and Beethoven’s drama. However, there is also an element of religious sonority in the music which gives a more reflective and meditative nature at times in contrast with the typical brilliance found in the third movement especially.