Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op. 11 “Gassenhauer”

I decided to have a look at one of Beethoven’s trios. Certain critics have deemed this piece unworthy but  I find Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op. 11 “Gassenhauer” from 1797 of some interest. It is deceptively simple on the surface, based around a ditty taken from the then hugely popular aria by Joseph Weigl. This ditty is extensively played around with in the third movement and put through nine different variations of escalating complexity.

Written in B flat Major presumably to facilitate being played easily and with agility on the B flat clarinet.  It has a three movement structure; 1. Allegro 2. Adagio 3. Tema Con Variazoni

The first movement barely manages to stay within the traditional sonata form and the sense of tonality is constantly undermined and shifting. Is it B Flat Major or is it in G? The two themes seem closely related. Are they separate themes or a simply a variation on one theme? There is nothing traditional about this Allegro apart from it’s breezy and jolly atmosphere.  The two piano hands are expertly written to serve as two individual instruments and it is easy to forget that this is a Trio. The tonal ambiguity rather than the melodic motifs is what’s of real interest here and what I find quite uncharacteristic of the Classical era and perhaps a sign of what’s to come? It shows Beethoven’s early tendencies of pushing and pulling against the norms and rules of the standard classical forms and seems to stand at the crossroads of Beethoven’s transition from the Classical style into his middle and late periods.