Piano trio recommendations

Edited: August 13, 2023, 11:41 AM · As a homework assignment of sorts, my daughter’s teacher asked her to find trios she would be interested in playing. We sent him this list to narrow things down, and he said that Easy and Intermediate should be within her reach.


It’s A LOT of material to get through (just half of Haydn trios is over 5 hours of listening). Ideally, we would like to find something fairly balanced for all three players. My daughter is 13, and working on the first movement of Saint-Saëns 3, and I would assume that the other two would be similar in age and ability (we know the cellist; piano is TBD). Any help in narrowing things down, would be greatly appreciated.

Replies (20)

Edited: August 13, 2023, 11:54 AM · If she can play such a concerto practically the entire repertoire is open to her. The choice would then depend on how much chamber music experience she and her partners have. Assuming she has little I'd think one should stay in the classical era, keeping the technical difficulties at a moderate level.

Beethoven op. 1 for example (no. 3 is the most famous because it is in c-minor, but the other two are just as attractive). Op. 1/1 was the first piece we were assigned by our coach when we played trio regularly for some years, young Beethoven in his cocky, upbeat, humorous mode (with a gorgeous adagio though). Haydn and Mozart wrote great trios but the cello parts are generally considered unattractive. There are two exceptions, Haydn's trio Hob. XV:13 or op. 57/3* in c-minor which has an andante first movement where violin and cello are singing beautifully together (find it in IMSLP) and Mozart's K. 458 in C-Major which has some great solos for the cello in the slow movement.

Beethoven appears to be the first trio composer who consistently paid attention to the equilibrium among the three parts.

Edit: Keep in mind that the limiting factor in most trios is the difficulty of the piano part. The level of the pianist will determine which pieces will be playable and which not.

* The numbering of Haydn's piano trios is a mess, several publisher appear to have created their own numbering. The Hob. (Hoboken) numbers are the most reliable.

August 13, 2023, 12:19 PM · Thank you both! Apologies for not putting PIANO trio in the title earlier, Elise. Since what we currently have are a violinist and a cellist, it’s possible to go in that direction as well, although good young violists are super hard to find.

Albrecht, she has only sporadically played chamber music. A quartet here, a quintet there (currently working on Sarasate Navarra, so that’s just a duet), so I think you’re right that it’s probably best to stick with something easier until they learn to play together.

August 13, 2023, 12:36 PM · The Mendelssohn and Schubert piano trios are marvelous and worth listening to even if they are not ready to tackle them as a trio.
August 13, 2023, 1:07 PM · The Dvorak trio on that list is really nice. Have them get together and read a few things and figure out what sparks their interest.
August 13, 2023, 1:07 PM · Fauré
August 13, 2023, 1:23 PM · I recommend the g minor trio by Elfrida Andrée. In my book it is on par with the Mendelssohn trios.
Edited: August 13, 2023, 1:37 PM · hi Sue, this is a recurring theme on the site here, if you search [trio suggestions] here in the search box on this site, you will find a lot of information already. the general comment is that it's mainly up to the pianist, because they typically have the leading role, so, they need to be able to play their part more or less effortlessly, otherwise it's really not fun anymore.
August 13, 2023, 2:00 PM · I saw that, Jean. Since we don’t have one in mind, the pianist will likely be chosen from some local piano teachers’ students. I figured we can find the right fit, someone who can play at a high level.
Edited: August 15, 2023, 7:06 AM · I'm going to put a finer point on Jean's comment about the pianist. When young people are assigned piano trios generally the level of the work chosen comes down to the skill of the pianist. Even the famous Haydn "Gypsy" trio has a hard piano part. If you choose something with parts that challenge the individual players, then their parts will be their focus, not the ensemble, and the special opportunity to learn the nuances of chamber playing will be largely lost.

A good starter trio that is not too hard for the pianist is Mozart K254 in B-flat major. And it's a lovely piece. I have even played the piano part, although there were a few spots that required some practicing.


August 16, 2023, 4:27 PM · Please do tell us what you eventually choose. :)
Edited: August 17, 2023, 10:36 PM · That's a very good list. I definitely agree with Paul and Jean, the limiting factor will be the pianist especially at this age. Also, even if everyone is capable of more, I think they're better starting with less-difficult music and working on good ensemble and getting a good sound together.

From this list, my kids started with the Frank Bridge miniatures at this age, then the Haydn 'Gypsy', then Beethoven op. 11, then the Bloch Three Nocturnes. Not on that list and recommended is the Rachmaninov Trio elegiaique no. 1, with the big dark Romantic sound but an early work and not as difficult as the "semi difficult" and "hard" pieces.

Pretty funny to call the Schumann trios 'semi-difficult'. Dang. The kids have played several things from the 'hard' list and would not attempt the first two Schumann trios.

August 18, 2023, 10:29 AM · Good points above about keeping the rep simple so that you can emphasize the ensembling and musicality. This is particularly important for a pianist that has not played in a trio before because my experience is that they will too often play to come out and not to fit in - and what with 230 strings and a giant sound box they will invariably 'win' (and the strings may wonder what they are there for).

Have fun!

August 18, 2023, 11:37 AM · I'm not an expert on piano trios, but I agree there's likely some suitable stuff by Mendelssohn and Schubert. I wouldn't recommend the beautiful Mendelssohn Trio in D Minor, though, because the piano part is infamously difficult. And yes, I do have to say that a lot of the time, piano parts can be much more difficult than the string parts.
August 18, 2023, 1:24 PM · Definitely have seen even adult pianists overplay their parts, so will try to start with something simpler so they can come together as a group first.

So far, the kid hasn’t liked any of the Haydn. She likes Beethoven op.1/2, especially 2. She’s taking notes so that at the end of the day she’s can rank order them. Hopefully others will do the same and they can find overlaps.

August 19, 2023, 7:23 AM · Once they come together as a group, after a year or two of chamber music experience, Beethoven op. 70 no. 1 "Ghost" has gotten a lot of mileage for the more advanced groups in the kids' chamber music organization. The piano part like Ella says is not quite as difficult as the Mendelssohn trios, more like the Schubert trios. And even though that list shows Archduke along with op. 70, I personally think Archduke is far more challenging musically if not technically, to the point that I've never heard a high school group perform it well.

At the end of their second year as a trio, when the girls were 13 and my son was 15, they learned parts of the 2nd Beethoven op. 70 trio, a rather more interesting work to me than the Ghost, https://youtu.be/ix5ET-m899A.

August 19, 2023, 8:42 AM · Thanks for sharing, Stan. Really nicely done!
Edited: August 19, 2023, 6:32 PM · Your limiting factor of course is going to be the pianist. The piano parts even for late Haydn can be stunningly difficult.

If you have the pianist, either Mendelssohn is gorgeous, fun to play, not hard to understand musically and not technically difficult for the strings (for piano it's as hard as a concerto, at least played at Mendelssohn's tempo).

If I were designing an introduction to piano trios for violin and cello, I'd start with Beethoven Op. 1. They're super fun, musically rich, playful, great dialogues between instruments. Beethoven was so incredibly good right out of the gate.

Late Haydn trios are really special too (though not so much for the cello).

And when you have an accomplished young chamber musician and you want to make their head explode, you break out Schubert -- B flat or E flat - both are miraculous pieces of music.

And of course the Brahms trios. But maybe better to save them. I think Andras Schiff has argued that pianists should wait until they have some life experience (he also acknowledges that no one will take this advice). So, at very least, don't tell a kid about Brahms op. 101 in hopes they'll discover it later. :)

Edited: August 19, 2023, 11:57 PM · since everybody makes recommendations for later let me add mine. They are trios whose piano part is difficult but still playable.
1. Dumky. A one of a kind masterpiece, an awful lot of fun for the players and Dvorak made sure he could play the piano part himself (he was a violist for those who don't know that already).
2. Shostakovich e-minor. It begins with a terrifying section for the cello in harmonics (there is a way to cheat: the violinist plays the cello part, harmonics and all, they are much easier on the violin than on the cello and the cello plays the violin part which does not climb very high and is doable for a good cellist). The piano part has a few short truly tricky sections but most of it is really very playable. And this piece is an adventure like no other in the trio literature. Highly recommended for those who are up to it (I would judge it somewhat less difficult for the strings than either of the Schubert trios).
August 20, 2023, 5:14 AM · nice suggestions Albrecht! although I think children would not connect as much with these pieces as adults would, I'd say, but then, these are not ordinary children we're talking about.
Edited: August 20, 2023, 8:10 AM · If you're playing Shostakovich no. 2 in a high school group and you don't want to learn the entire piece, the last movement recalls themes from the previous ones and can stand on its own in that context. Not at 13 but later in high school the kids will be familiar with what was going on in Europe at the time, and its expression in music will not be lost. (Have them listen to the Borodin Trio recording first.)

If the kids have an emotional connection to Brahms, let them play Brahms :-), https://youtu.be/1HO2hODgn9s (two years later). For whatever reason my son has a much easier time with Brahms than with Mendelssohn, but his very good friend from their chamber music oganization is exactly the opposite.

Christian, thank you! Time passes so quickly; my daughter is starting at Oberlin in just a few days.

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