Around a quarter of a century ago, scholars embarked upon fruitful research into composers active between the mid-19th century and the lead-up to World War One, many largely hitherto ignored by all but music historians, consisting of at least two generations who focused either on ‘absolute’ music (in central Europe) or music for the theatre (in Italy and France). Philipp Scharwenka (1847–1917) was one such figure.
Born to a family with ancient Bohemian roots but determinedly German in its culture, Philipp and his concert pianist brother Xaver attended Berlin’s Neue Akademie der Tonkunst, where Philipp would eventually also teach theory. He began composing in earnest in 1874 and the following year founded his own school with his brother, where he would teach composition for the rest of his life.
Philipp Scharwenka’s chamber works, which date mostly from the turn of the century, are some of his most notable compositions and include three piano trios (the first two, recorded here, with violin and cello; the third with violin and viola).
The Trio Op.100 in C sharp minor, published by Breitkopf in 1897, unfolds in flowing, measured writing across three movements with a clearly defined formal range. The composition feels like a well-oiled machine, including all the expressive techniques developed over the years in expertly dosed quantities, and sometimes achieving intense – and never long-winded – lyricism.
The subsequent Trio in G Op.112, published in 1902, again by Breitkopf, is also in three movements. The work’s tonal regions, while very clear and based on sonata form in both the first and third movements, deviate slightly from the traditional relationships by including the relative minor keys too. This is nothing out of the ordinary: it is simply a way to keep the form compact and flowing while testing out slightly more unusual tonality.
Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) was born in eastern Prussia (now part of Poland) in the town of Samter to a family with ancient Bohemian roots, but determinedly German in its culture. He and his brother Xaver (1850–1924) received their first music lessons from their mother and from the cantor at the local protestant church. In 1865, once they had finished high school, his family moved to Berlin, where the two young men were admitted to the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst, founded by the renowned pianist (and one-time pupil of Carl
Czerny) Theodor Kullak. Philipp was given a job teaching theory at the academy, and in 1874 he began composing in earnest. The following year he founded his own school with his brother, where he would teach composition for the rest of his life. Xaver, who became a famous soloist, later created a branch of their conservatoire in New York, and gave his brother a teaching role there (1891–2). Philipp returned to Berlin and in 1901 became a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts.
Scharwenka’s Piano Trios are firmly rooted in the German Romantic language of Brahms and his contemporaries, a tight harmonic basis provides sweeping romantic melodies and by times a touching lyricism.
The Trio Gustav devote themselves both to the great chamber literature for trio and to the hidden treasures of the Italian chamber repertoire. Their instrumental virtuosity, together with the international concert experience of the three interpreters, merge together so as to charge every performance with energy and elegance.
Recorded July 2021 in Fossano (Cuneo), Italy
Booklet in English contains liner notes by composer and musicologist Giulio Castagnoli on the composer and these works, along with the artists’ biographies
Francesco Comisso plays an N. Amati violin (Bologna, 1735)
Dario Destefano plays a cello by Giacinto Santagiuliana (1821)
Olaf John Laneri plays a Yamaha Grancoda piano