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March 2014
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Taking Time with Trios

Desiree Ruhstrat and Marta Aznavoorian

Desiree Ruhstrat and Marta Aznavoorian

On Friday, March 21, as WFMT celebrates its “high holy day,” as Carl Grapentine calls it—Bach’s birthday—the Trio makes several appearances. Back when Bach was puttering around Germany, it was a popular way to play duets: pull together two melodic instruments, and bring in a third guy to play bass (often on a cello or viola da gamba). Two violinists might play together, or perhaps one instrument might be a harpsichord (instruments for a particular piece were interchangeable).

Marta Aznavoorian

Marta Aznavoorian

David Cunliffe looks over his comments for "Master Piano Trios"

David Cunliffe looks over his comments for “Master Piano Trios”


The harpsichord was becoming popular in Bach’s time because one could play chords, melody, and bass—the only limitation was its plucking mechanism; the sound dies away too quickly. The chemistry between harpsichordists and string players, who could sustain a note indefinitely, was inevitable.

By the time Haydn got his hands on writing trios, the keyboard was the dominant instrument, though he did specify violin and cello (no more interchanging instruments). With Beethoven and Schubert, the stringed instruments achieved égalité; in fact the violin, cello, and piano parts could be equally virtuosic.

The trio is a genre that has endured through the ages, inspiring works from the greatest composers of the last three hundred years. On Saturday at 9:00 AM, WFMT presents Chicago’s own Lincoln Trio in a program called “Master Piano Trios.” It’s the history of the genre. This is not a broadcast, but a live, in-studio event that includes lunch. The program features live performances, recordings and video.

Also on Saturday, in the two o’clock hour, WFMT presents a broadcast of Schubert’s Piano Trio in Bb.


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