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Two piano trios to research by

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO– I should like to acknowledge a debt to three musicians whom I’ve never met, but whose fine work has made some historical research quite a bit easier.   Their names are Yael Weiss, Mark Kaplan and Clancy Newman.  Respectively, they play the piano, violin, and cello.

Last year, Bridge Records based in my hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y., issued a CD by the Weiss Kaplan Newman trio featuring two works, the Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major (Op. 8 ) by Johannes Brahms, and the Piano Trio in G Minor (Op. 15) by Bedrich Smetena. 

I wasn’t familiar with either work, but as I’ve enjoyed other music by these two composers, I gave the CD a spin.   Unfortunately, I really wasn’t in the right mood for it the first time I listened.  Other matters were preoccupying me.  So I put the CD away, resolving to listen to it again, perhaps when I was less impatient and thus more receptive.

Before doing some historical research–essentially reading and note-taking for a book project–I popped the CD into the disk drive once again.  I set the volume low enough to be heard comfortably at my computer terminal, but not so loud that it could be heard beyond my office.  I started to read and to type.  Before long, the music seemed to be working on me.  I am a fairly fast typist, but I seemed to type even faster–and with more gusto–during the more energetic parts of the two works, falling back to my normal speed in other parts.

As my research continued — hours stretching into days and then weeks — this CD became my constant companion.  It was as if Weiss, Kaplan and Newman were urging me on: Another document, another chapter, another transcript.  They were not demanding task masters, just pleasant companions whose music was able to rally me onward.

Some may suggest that almost any selection of classical music, played over and over, would have the same effect on a person working hour after hour at his computer.  Maybe so. But Yael, Mark and Clancy (as they like to refer to themselves in the liner notes) do it for me.

The three musicians tape recorded a conversation about the two works, and reprinted the transcript in the CD’s liner notes.  Brahms composed this piano trio after his mentor Robert Schumann attempted suicide, whereas Smetena’s work followed the death of his daughter Bedriska.  You’d think such music would be sad, funereal,  too depressing to study by.   However, Newman in the musicians’ trialogue, suggests “maybe there’s something about grief that’s got these almost schizophrenic emotions: rage, and tenderness..”  And Weiss adds: “And also the interruptions–that somehow the feelings don’t seem to completely express themselves.  They’re there, but then suddenly: Wow, there’s another one!”

I’m not qualified to tell you a whole lot more about the music, but I can tell you this: at times, my fingers just seem to be dancing over my computer keyboard.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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One Response to “Two piano trios to research by”


  1. […] really love this – it is as important to me as any official “review”: Two Piano Trios to Research by And – one last thing…: If you are in New York City, this Thursday, 1/26 I’m giving […]

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