Amanda Maier (1853-1894)
Piano Trio in E-flat
October 15, 2023: Lysander Piano Trio
During the all-too-short span of her life, Amanda Maier excelled in two male-dominated fields—as a solo violinist and as a composer. Although little is known about her childhood, clearly her musical talent was recognized early and she enrolled at age sixteen in the Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien in Stockholm. She became the first woman to earn the elite Musikdirektör diploma, receiving the highest possible grades in harmony, counterpoint, history and aesthetics, violin, organ, and piano. Her organ skills had merited her a place in the Academy’s even more exclusive Artistklass.
Maier continued her education in Leipzig, studying violin with Engelbert Röntgen, concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and composition with conductor/composer Carl Reinecke and professor Ernst Friedrich Richter. She became a regular of the Röntgen household, participating in their many musical gatherings and eventually marrying Engelbert’s son Julius, who had become the love of her life. She also socialized and made music with many other renowned Leipzig musicians, including Clara Schumann and Edvard Grieg.
Maier’s earliest surviving compositions, including the Piano Trio, date from this Leipzig period. The later 1870s also saw her performing and touring in an ensemble as a violinist, highlighted by a performance for King Oscar II in Malmö in 1876. The following year Maier returned home to Sweden, but after her father died, she returned to Leipzig where her life felt centered.
The couple had to spend two years visiting between Leipzig and Amsterdam after Julius accepted a piano teaching position in the Dutch capital while she maintained her performing schedule in Leipzig and on tours in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. After their marriage in 1880 Maier settled in Amsterdam, and one year later their son Julius II was born, who was to become a violinist. The following year she suffered the first of three debilitating miscarriages, but in 1886 their second son Engelbert was born, who later became a cellist. Besides caring for her sons—whose early music education she oversaw—she continued to perform, though less frequently and rarely in public. Just after Engelbert was born, Maier fell ill with the lung disease that would plague her for the rest of her life. She also suffered from painful recurring eye trouble that often required her to wear dark glasses or a patch. Maier continued her musical activities during good spells between attacks, but they naturally lessened. When the devastated Röntgen wrote of her death to their good friends the Griegs, Edvard wrote back saying, “She was one of my favorites!”
In the years after Maier’s death, concerts featured her works in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and The Netherlands, but she and her music gently faded from public awareness. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in her music, with recordings and publications of works such as her Piano Quartet and Violin Concerto, which she had performed with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in one of the pinnacles of her career.
Going back to late April 1874, the diaries of both Julius and Amanda had made copious mentions of the Piano Trio, showing great pride and that they consulted on compositional details. They gave the first of many private performances on May 20, 1874, with cellist Julius Klengel (cousin of Julius Röntgen) at the Röntgen’s Leipzig home. Amanda wrote home to one of her favorite professors at the Stockholm Academy about another performance on June 7, saying:
Everything has gone as well as I could have wished, and I believe I have made significant progress. . . . I performed . . . Mendelssohn’s concerto, and, among other pieces, a Trio for piano, violin and cello that I have recently composed. My Trio has been well received and sounds wonderful; they say here in Leipzig that my music has a ‘national’ flavor—a Nordic one, that is—which seems to be all the rage here.
Jumping forward more than 140 years, Maier’s great-grandson Reinier Thadiens, who was living in Southern France, saw a list of her “lost works” and found the manuscript of her Piano Trio in a pile of music he had inherited. He immediately notified Swedish cellist and scholar Klas Gagge, who published it in 2018 through the Swedish Musical Heritage project and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. The world premiere—that is, the public premiere—took place on April 20, 2018, performed in Umeå, Sweden, by violinist Cecilia Zillacus, cellist Kati Raitinen, and pianist Bengt Forsberg.
In the first movement, Maier immediately contrasts her forthright opening idea with a quiet phrase in Classic-era style. She proceeds not like Mozart or Haydn, however, but aligns with Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms—those Romantic composers with a classical bent. The expressive second theme is related to the first but has more harmonic instability. Her development section, which journeys through distant harmonies on a scheme similar to Schubert’s E-flat Trio, D. 929, reaches several dramatic peaks before the climax that launches the recapitulation. Taking some Romantic “liberties,” she waits until the coda to bring back her second theme in the main key.
The dancelike outer sections of Maier’s Scherzo consist of miniature self-contained sonata forms, much like Brahms’s Scherzo in his Horn Trio of 1865. The songful contrasting central trio section is particularly lovely.
Led off by a lyrical cello melody, the slow movement is particularly poignant, with considerable opportunities for contrapuntal intertwining between the violin and cello. The broad three-part form includes a shortened and varied return of the opening and coda.
The finale blossoms quickly from a gentle but sprightly opening to surging phrases brimming with Romantic vigor. Maier was clearly aware of some Romantic composers’ cyclic procedures, shown in her recalling of the slow movement. Throughout Maier has delighted in modulating excursions, so it comes as no surprise that she introduces a false reprise before returning “home” for a rousing finish.