Although German composer Ludwig van Beethoven is known primarily for his symphonies and solo piano pieces, his canon of compositions runs much deeper.
Among Beethoven's other accomplishments are his piano trios — six in all, with strings — which are staples of the chamber music repertoire.
Three of them will be performed on Monday evening at Tulane University’s Dixon Hall by the Finckel-Han-Setzer Trio under the sponsorship of New Orleans Friends of Music.
The trio is composed of David Finckel on cello; Wu Han on piano; and violinist Philip Setzer, a founding and current member of the nine-time Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet.
Finckel was a member of the Emerson Quartet for 34 years before vacating his chair in 2013.
The pieces to be performed are Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1; Piano Trio in D-Major, Op. 70, No.1 (“Ghost”); and Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 (“Archduke”).
Each one of the three trios contains four movements. The musicians will perform all in their entirety.
The Friends chose the all-Beethoven program for a simple reason: It's great music, Wu said.
“I have not played a concert with this music without feeling completely humbled by it," the pianist said. "And our audiences just love it as well.
“Opus No. 1 is one of the grandest trios ever written,” Wu said. “It was the trio in which Beethoven made his debut as a pianist in Vienna. Each of the trios we are performing are like mini-biographies of Beethoven. Each one takes a very special position in his life.”
The trios, Wu explained, cover a wide range of emotions and were composed at various stages of Beethoven’s life.
“Opus No. 1 is young and joyous,” she said.
“‘Ghost’ is very revolutionary,” Wu added. “Beethoven was thinking about writing an opera about Macbeth, so that trio (which he was reportedly planning to use in it), is incredibly temperamental in many ways. And then the ‘Archduke’ (dedicated to Beethoven’s patron, Austrian Archduke Rudolf Habsburg), is going toward his later life. In one concert, you can pretty much go through his life story.”
“When you decide to play the Beethoven trio cycle, you’re making a statement," she said. "It’s a challenge for the musicians, and the connoisseurs among the music lovers know how difficult it is. That’s why this particular program is very popular, and why we enjoy performing it.”
Married since 1985 and dubbed “The Power Couple of Chamber Music” by the Wall Street Journal, Finckel and Wu have been in the forefront of promoting chamber music for many years. Since 2004, as co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, they have greatly expanded the organization’s repertoire, the number of concerts performed and the society’s range of offerings, including international tours and residencies in other cities.
In 1997 they launched the ArtistLed label, billed as “classical music’s first musician-directed and internet-based recording company.” To date they have produced about 20 records, including duets by the couple and recordings with the trio.
In addition to his key roles with the Emerson String Quartet and the Finckel-Han-Setzer Trio, Setzer has been a guest soloist for some of the leading orchestras in the United States and abroad. His association with Finckel dates back more than 40 years.
“Phil and I knew each other before I was in the quartet,” Finckel said. “We became friends and played some chamber music together. When the vacancy came in the Emerson Quartet (in 1979), I guess he thought of me first. I was very lucky.”
The concert will be preceded by a lecture by Tulane University Professor John Joyce on Beethoven's piano trios.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28
WHERE: Dixon Hall, Tulane University
INFO: (504) 895-0690 or friendsofmusic.org