“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe is constantly trending towards disorder. Strangely, this rule of physics seems to apply to music as well. Looking at almost any style of composition, we can see a distinct pattern in which strict formalism leads to looser and looser (i.e., more chaotic) forms and eventually to the establishment of entirely new forms or styles. From the transformation of shuffles into bebop to the evolution of Bach’s structured sounds into Glass’ cacophonous pieces, the definition of music is constantly diversifying.
Mozart and Haydn established piano trios as a genre in the mid-1700s. While they continued to fine-tune the form throughout their lives, Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” is the first true expansion of the style. Prior to Beethoven’s work, most traditional piano trios were glorified solos in which the violin and cello acted as accompaniment and occasionally doubled the piano’s melody. This is because these pieces were written for fortepiano, the modern piano’s predecessor.
The fortepiano, which had a much smaller octave and dynamic range, gave way to the modern piano in the early 1800s as composers began to push the tight musical boundaries set by prior composers. When he composed the “Archduke Trio,” Beethoven utilized the newly extended versatility of the instrument. As a result, the trio can almost be considered a quartet, with the left and right hands of the piano contributing unique lines to the music. Further, he expanded the traditional three-movement form to a four-movement format mirroring a quartet. Throughout the piece, Beethoven experimented with the relationship between each of the “four” instruments to create a variety of textures and moods. Since the premiere of this piece, composers have continued to expand on Beethoven’s ideas, pushing the limits and definitions of piano trios and propelling music further into entropy.