The Portuguese pianist José Vianna da Motta was dedicated to composition for about thirty-five years. Between 1885 and 1890, period during which he lived in Germany, he became particularly interested in the repertoire of chamber music, choir and orchestra, and composed, among other works, the Abertura Dona Inês de Castro for orchestra, the Concerto em Lá maior para piano e orquestra, several Lieder (Drei Lieder, op. 3; Fünf Lieder, op. 5; Vier Gedichte, op. 8), four-hand piano works (Erinnerungen, op. 7; Ein Dorffest, op. 11), the Quarteto em Mi bemol maior and the Trio em Si menor(Trio in B minor).
According to the indications in his manuscript, Vianna da Motta began the composition of the Trio em Si menor on December 4, 1888 and finished it on July 16, 1889. Putting aside the fact that the entry of July 15, 1889 in his Diary no. 8 Vianna da Motta affirms that he had finished the composition of his Trio em Si menor, it is curious to note that the pages of the diary corresponding to the dates indicated in the manuscript of the trio were partially destroyed and that no reference to the work had been kept there. It may be a mere coincidence since other pages of this diary were cut, but one should not rule out the hypothesis that Vianna da Motta had himself torn out these pages to cover up information related to the composition of his trio. Indeed, a letter dated September 7, 1930 addressed to Afonso Lopes Vieira proves that the composer was concerned about his image that posterity would preserve. In this letter, Vianna da Motta asks the poet to destroy a letter in which he expresses his displeasure when reading some passages of the epic poem Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões.
This seems to be the only trio that Vianna da Motta composed for piano, violin and cello, although in his Diary no. 6, between September 24 and 27, 1887, some references to the composition of a trio appear. Judging from Vianna da Motta's own words, it was an unsuccessful attempt that made him choose to compose a string quartet instead, which became his Quarteto em Mi bemol maior. However, the fact that the composition of his quartet ended on November 22, 1888, and that Vianna da Motta started the composition of his Trio em Si menor less than two weeks later show how impatient he was to re-experience the trio genre. It is therefore possible that the rough drafts of the first attempt were preserved and used in his trio, or at least that its musical ideas were subjected to a process of reflection and maturation during the long period which Vianna da Motta dedicated to the composition of his Quarteto em Mi bemol maior. One can however affirm with some certainty that the composition of the quartet was fundamental to the development of a musical maturity necessary to the composition of the trio.
The music text revision, made by Bruno Belthoise for the publication of the Trio em Si menor, was based on the composer's copy, finished on August 8, 1889, the one that seems to be the only existing manuscript source of this work. The entry of Diary no. 8 corresponding to this date reveals that Vianna da Motta composed his trio without ever having heard it played with violin and cello, and that he was anxiously awaiting that occasion. This wish seems to have been realized for the first time on October 13 of the same year, when Vianna da Motta played his work with Carl Hali? and perhaps Arthur Rösel and a second time the following month with Adalbert Gülzow and perhaps Gotthold Böttcher. It was probably after these occasions that Vianna da Motta corrected his work, striking out several bars of the third movement. A piece of paper (where bar 57 and its anacruse were written) pasted over some of these crossed out passages does not allow us to completely reconstruct the past of this work, which is why it was decided not to present these passages in this edition.
Although the Trio em Si menor does not contain any nationalistic element, it is in the period when Vianna da Motta composed this work that he expresses himself for the first time in his diaries about "nationalist music" (see entries of February 2 and 7, 1889). In the following years, after the British Ultimatum of 1890, these considerations would have had an impact on his artistic creation, in particular in the Cinco Rapsódias Portuguesas for piano inspired in Portuguese popular melodies. Thus, the Trio em Si menor can be considered as one of the highlights of the creative period begun with the composition of solo piano pieces – such as the Barcarola, op. 1 or the Fantasiestück, op. 2 – and strongly marked by the influence of the German musical culture.
João Costa Ferreira