Rózsa began writing his String Trio, Op 1, in the spring of 1927. The work, initially called Serenade for String Trio, was first performed at the conservatory on 23 March 1928, with the composer himself playing the viola part. His composition teacher, Hermann Grabner, showed it to Karl Straube, cantor of the Thomaskirche and one of the most influential musicians in Germany. Straube was sufficiently impressed to arrange for the work’s publication by Breitkopf and Härtel. The young composer was thrilled and felt his future was assured. “There were the lovely baroque angels with my name in the middle and ‘Opus 1’ underneath,” he recalled in Double Life. “I put the score on the music stand beside my bed and I woke up many times that first night just to look at it. My dream had come true.”

In 1974 the composer revised the work for its first recording. Recalling that the initial version of the trio was almost 45 minutes long (the published work is closer to 30), he made numerous cuts and rewrote several passages, designating the new work Opus 1a. In Double Life, he acknowledged the trio in its original 1929 published version contains “elements of immaturity” and moments when he was “feeling [his] way,” but also observed that “the basic elements of my mature style are, in embryonic formations, unmistakably present already”. Published in 1929—the same year the composer graduated summa cum laude from Leipzig Conservatory.

In the first movement the composer alternates two ideas. The first is sternly agitated, always surging forward in search of further development (including a brief fugal passage midway through the movement)—and sounds almost nothing like mature Rózsa. The cello introduces the second theme, lyrical and shaped with Hungarian contours, presaging the sense of longing for his homeland that will permeate virtually all of his concert music to come. Rózsa acknowledged this Hungarian influence in his earliest works in a 1984 interview. “It’s hazy”, he said, “but it’s there”. The second movement has the character of a peasant dance, with a contrasting middle section again featuring a lyrical line from the cello—this time against tremolo chords in the violin and viola. After an intervening Largo con dolore wherein Rózsa spins his melodic line around an ever-shifting harmonic landscape, the concluding Allegretto vivo brings a sense of neo-classical clarity. Its playful D major theme anchors a modified rondo form (ABACDA) that concludes with a coda of increasing speed and growing virtuosity. Many of his future works—most notably his concertos—would end in similar breathless fashion.

The only commercial recording (of the heavily revised 1974 version) was released by Orion Records in 1975. It is now available on Cambira CD-1034.

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Rózsa initially wrote the piece in 1927 (when he was still a teenager!) but then revised it in 1974, designating it as Opus 1a.. It is almost certain Op. 1a was never published. Either Rózsa created new sets of parts (probably in manuscript), or simply marked up the published ones (there is no score, per se, only sets of parts for the three instruments). Since his revisions probably consisted mostly of cuts, it might be a relatively simple task to mark up a new set of parts.

World premiere Leipzig, Landeskonservatorium, March 23, 1928
Ernst Hoenisch (vl), Miklos Rozsa (va), Georg Hocke (vc)

Duration: 30 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1927 (age 19-20)
Revised: 1974 (age 66-67)

I. Largo - Allegro molto energico
II. Gioioso
III. Largo con dolore
IV. Allegretto vivo

Listen to an early performance
Endre Granat, v; Milton Thomas va; Nathaniel Rosen, c
Endre Granat and Nathaniel Rosen are still with us. Milton Thomas died in 2001.