AN INTERVIEW WITH THE EGGNER TRIO
Australia has played a special part in the life of the Eggner Trio. Ever since its 2003 victory at the Melbourne International Chamber Music competition, the trio has made regular journeys Down Under.
“This was a fantastic miracle for us, that it worked out in Melbourne, and that there is a continuation,” says Christoph Eggner, the trio’s pianist. “This will be our fourth tour for Musica Viva; and each time it feels like coming home.”
On almost every trip, Australian repertoire has played a central role in the group’s repertoire. For 2015, the brothers have chosen Dulcie Holland’s 1944 trio.
“We played Ian Munro’s trio last time, and he said that we should check out Dulcie Holland. We listened to many different composers, and finally we were so fond of Dulcie Holland, because it’s a really good composition. It’s one big impressionistic crescendo.
“The musical language comes from the late Romantic period. It’s very meditative, but at the same time, the development through the movements is constant; and the end is one fantastic climax.”
The idea of one woman composer lead to thoughts of another; Clara Schumann’s 1877 piano trio seemed an obvious companion piece.
“Clara Schumann was 26 years old when she composed that piano trio,” says Eggner. “The situation between Robert and Clara was, from today’s point of view, really pretty hard. Clara was pregnant almost all the time; it must have been tough for her. On the other hand she was an extremely famous pianist. Her father was absolutely against Robert, so it was a long fight, and she was caught between them – emotionally it must have been a horrible disaster. They were often moving apartments. Then Robert became really sick, so it was chaos. And then you have this lovely trio, full of humour – it just puts everything into perspective. Of course the first movement is pretty dramatic, but then you have music that is like balsam for the soul. The slow movement is the highlight of the whole trio.”
Eggner does not subscribe to the theory that women write a different kind of music from that written by men.
“I never have the feeling that there is anything typically male about music written by men. I think Clara was writing at a turning-point in musical history – it was the beginning of some sort of emancipation, a social self-awareness for women and their role.”
For their tour programmes, the trio has paired Clara Schumann’s calm music with the tortured score of Robert Schumann’s 1851 third piano trio, a work composed when the author was depressive and syphilitic.
“It’s an unruly piece, not easy,” says Eggner. “I don’t think he suffered from bipolar disorder. I think he was just a normal, busy man, and later, when his illness emerged more and more, he started to change.
“The madness is not easy to follow. It’s a sort of organised chaos. Sometimes he demands impossible things – like one piano piece where he writes, ‘play as fast as you can,’ and then a few bars later he writes, ‘faster.’ He is constantly working on the edge of what is possible.
“There are of course lovely moments in this trio, but there is always this swing from one extreme to the other, and the grey zones in between. And the later you go with Schumann, the more grey you find.
“We really want to show the audience that there are pieces that might not be easy to listen to, but are absolutely worth hearing.”
“Schumann’s music invites you to go right to the edge. And when you are in front of an audience, you can push even further. You want to make music with 150%, which means that there is a high danger that something can go wrong. We want to communicate the composer’s message, and we enjoy taking risks.”
Risk entails an inevitability of failure, at least occasionally.
“It’s more important to convey the message than it is to play perfectly,” says Eggner. “I think the idea of playing perfectly is a 20th-century notion. I think people used to be more focussed on the message.
“Of course taking risks does not mean that you will always make mistakes. Even if we are jet-lagged or unwell, our minimum standard should always be as high as possible, and our failures are usually so small that most of the audience will not hear them.
“In the end, I don’t care about mistakes. They happen so quickly that the best thing you can do is to let them go. The music goes on, and you need to concentrate on what is coming next.”
After the concert, Eggner notes, the situation is different; the trio will go back over the evening’s events in minute detail, analyse the slips, and work hard on the passages to reduce the chance of a repeated mishap.
Quality, one of Musica Viva’s four core values, is central to the trio’s work.
“We understand quality to mean high-level music-making. Our quality lies in the cleanliness and precision of our playing, and of how we transport the message of the music to the audience. We want people to be able to recognise what the composer meant because of the way we play it.”
Interview by Shirley Apthorp, photos by Keith Saunders
The Eggner Trio tour Australia 7 November – 21 November. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit: www.musicaviva.com.au/GetEggner