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Mayer trios GEN22790
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Emilie Mayer (1812-1883)
Missing Link
Trio in D minor for piano, violin and violoncello
Trio in E-flat major for piano, violin and violoncello
Trio in A minor for piano, violin and violoncello
Hannover Piano Trio
rec. 2021, Kleiner Sendesaal, NDR, Hannover, Germany
First recordings
GENUIN GEN22790 [81]

I always think première recordings are an exciting prospect for reviewing, but I also often find it hard to believe that it has taken so long for the works to be recorded. These pieces come from around the middle of the 19th century. One might easily conclude that in this case it was because Emilie Mayer was a woman. After all, such fate befell most women who aspired to a life of music. Somewhat unusually and gratifyingly, this did not happen with Meyer. Amongst others, she was fortunate to have a great supporter. The music critic of the Vossische Zeitung wrote on April 23rd, 1850: “We may place her work on an equal footing with most of what the young world of musical artists […] has produced today, a wreath of honor that music criticism can rightfully present to female talent.”

Meyer was thus in good company, since the writer may have meant Liszt, Alkan, Offenbach, Franck, Lalo, Bruckner, Smetana, Johann Strauss II, Gottschalk, Rubinstein, Goldmark, Borodin, Camille Saint-Saëns and Brahms – to name but a few. Other women who struggled to achieve their aims at the same time were Clara Schumann, who had a far greater battle to assert her musical talents, and Fanny Mendelsohn. A husband or a brother could be just as difficult an adversary to women who wanted any kind of career.

Emilie Mayer composed eight symphonies, seven concert overtures and a piano concerto among much else. That included many songs and chamber works. It may be safe to imagine that, had recordings been possible in those days, discs with her music on would have been available to the public. The public certainly knew her music but her name and her music were forgotten after she died; such is the fickle finger of fate. When you have heard the music on this disc, you will be quite justified in puzzling why this happened.

It was a surprise to read that Meyer’s Trio in D minor was not performed publicly because of the high costs this would have involved. It makes one wonder how other composers managed to have their works performed, since apparently her colleagues shared such a fate. It was, however, performed in 1856 in Vienna, at the Court of the mother of Franz Joseph I. This recording features the second of two versions, more overtly romantic than the original. It is a fine Trio with a theme that runs through the entire pleasantly upbeat work.

The Trio in E-flat major, premièred in Munich in 1855, is similarly romantic in mood and has a strongly stated opening theme. The second movement is gently and beautifully melodic, while the third-movement minuet is bright and sunny. The finale ups the pace with a marking of Allegro non tanto which breezes its way to a satisfying finish.

The Piano Trio in A minor from around 1859 once again begins with a strongly declared theme, more serious in mood than the other Trios’ opening movements. The piano in the first movement plays a particularly muscular role, drawing a similar response from the violin and cello. The second-movement Adagio cools the mood substantially, and is passionate in its exposition. The third movement, a Scherzo, is a higher-octane affair that reintroduces the seriousness outlined in the first. The finale lives up to the given definition of Allegro con moto as “lively, upbeat, and full of rhythmic drive and melodic energy”.

The first modern-era performances took place only in November 2021. The Trios were rediscovered by Katharina Sellheim from the Hannover Piano Trio. She is a pianist of high regard: she has been engaged by no lesser a figure as Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau to accompany him in his master classes on song. It is an article of faith for this ensemble to champion unknown works, so deserve the listening public’s gratitude. While Emilie Mayer’s Piano Trios may not be considered as great as those of the leading composers of the mid-19th century, they are certainly not lightweight in any sense, and are extremely enjoyable. We are fortunate that Katharina Sellheim rescued them from oblivion, and that her colleagues Łucja Madziar and Johannes Krebs play with equal passion and commitment.

Steve Arloff
Katharina Sellheim (piano), Łucja Madziar (violin), Johannes Krebs (cello)

Published: October 4, 2022

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