Raff wrote five Piano Trios but he destroyed the first of them, which he'd written in 1849. The reasons for his dissatisfaction with it aren't known and it was another twelve years before he completed this first extant trio; years in which Raff had matured musically to a composer more distanced from the New German school and more attracted than they to traditional forms.
Dedicated to Raff's friend from his Weimar days, Dionys Pruckner, the Piano Trio No.1 in c minor op.102 was completed in 1861, but not published by Schuberth of Leipzig until November 1864. Premiered two months later on 6 January 1865 in Raff's home town, it was an immediate success; so much so that Raff despaired of his other trios getting a fair hearing. In an 1872 letter, replying to an admirer of this trio, Raff complained that he "felt sorrow for my three neglected 'trio children' because the number one is performed again and again". In fact, the Piano Trio No.2 was also a highly popular work, although Raff's fears for the other two works were justified.
In his 1934 Handbook for the piano trio player Wilhelm Altmann wrote: "The first trio op.102 has been particularly popular for many years. It is well suited for the concert stage but can also be recommended for domestic use. Its dimensions are relatively small compared to other works by Raff." The quotes in the following movement summaries are from Altmann's book:
movement: Rasch [the excerpt is the start of the movement - 1:31]
"The first movement (Fast, 2/2) shows a passionate and pathetic character. Its themes are clear-cut and are developed ingeniously" The key word is passion. After a hesitant c minor start the music is a romantic outpouring which detours via a minor and C major before coming to its heartfelt close. The piano is expertly integrated with the other two instruments in what is very much an ensemble piece.
"The scherzo (Very fast, 6/4) has a fugal exposition that is based on a delightful theme. It is followed by a tune that has a rocking character. The central section (2/2) indulges in a melody of a longing kind." This short movement is also in c minor and the violin and cello have most of the musical interest, with the piano generally supplying background colour..
3rd movement: Mäßig langsam [the excerpt is from 1 minute into the movement - 1:52]
"The hallmark of the work is the third movement (Moderately slow, 3/4) that could also be played separately. It is one of the most inspired creations by the composer and is characterised by a peaceful quietness and happiness. It is also rich and beautiful in terms of sound". A description which could be applied to many of Raff's slow movements. This E major piece radiates a serene calm.
movement: Rasch bewegt [the excerpt is from 1 minute into the
finale - 2:00]
"The finale (Moving fast, 2/4) again returns to a more passionate expression that affects its main and subsequent themes. As a happy contrast, it also contains a purely lyrical and graceful idea." For some reason, Raff adopts a distinctly Slav turn of phrase in several of the passages of this vibrant piece, moving into a Magyar episode which recalls one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies before the contrast of Altmann's lyrical idea. A fitting close to a satisfying work.
Adapted from notes made by Volker Tosta. This work is available in a modern edition from Edition Nordstern. An article on the Piano Trios by Larius J Ussi is available in the Analysis section. All recordings from the October 1997 Joachim Raff Society recital given by Jochen Brusch - violin, Mario De Secondi - cello and Stefana Chitta-Stegemann - piano.