Donald Tovey (1875-1940) was born in the English town of Eton. He studied piano privately and subsequently attended Oxford and the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied composition with Hubert Parry. He enjoyed a career as a concert performer as well as a composer and served as a Professor of Music for more than 25 years at Edinburgh University. Today he is best remembered for his essays on music, but he regarded himself first and foremost as a composer. Tovey wrote in most genres and his compositions were not only respected but regularly performed in such important venues as London, Vienna and Berlin. But like the works of so many others, it has inexplicably disappeared from the concert stage. He wrote several chamber music works, most dating from the last decade of the 19th century up to the First World War.
The Trio in c minor, Op.8 also known as Piano Trio No.2 dates from 1895 and was originally composed for clarinet, horn and piano. Tovey, who was quite fond of this composition, wanted it to receive as wide an airing as possible and recognized that it would not receive many performances if it remained solely as a trio for winds and piano. He therefore set about and created a version for standard piano trio and it is in this form that the work became best known. Both versions were published simultaneously for the first time in 1912 by which time he had also added the “Style Tragique” to the title.
Certainly the beginning of the opening movement, Allegro moderato, has the mood of the tragic to it. A heavy and emotion laden theme is brought forth by all three instruments. The forward motion is very deliberate although the various tempi give the music the feel of rubato. A second theme is more lyrical and less dramatic. The second movement, Largo, opens quietly with subdued chords. The theme takes a long time to unfold like a garden of flowers planted from seedlings, however, when it finally is in full bloom, it is glorious to behold. Thus the music here. The finale, Allegro non tanto, begins with a very powerful theme which is an unusual blend of thrust and lilt. Here and there, one catches, tinges of Brahms.
Out of print for many years, this fine work, of which Tovey was quite proud, makes a fine program selection in either version and is well suited to amateur players as it presents no great technical difficulties.
Donald Tovey Trio in c minor for Clarinet (or Violin), Horn (or Cell) & Piano, Op.8