The Trio is in four movements:
A full performance of the piece lasts about 21 minutes.
The Trio was a turning point in Ligeti’s career. It is considered to be the watershed moment that opened up his "third way," a style that Ligeti claimed to be neither modern nor postmodern. Though the piece is marked as an homage to Brahms, Ligeti said, “the only thing reminiscent of Brahms is perhaps a certain smilingly conservative comportment – with a distinctly ironic distance.” The composition explores the use of major and minor harmonies without the syntax of common practice tonality. In addition it explores the out of tune upper partials available on the horn, asymetric bulgarian rhythms in the second movement, and the Ligeti Lamento motif in the fourth movement. The first three movements are each in a ternary form - a notable look back towards traditional forms. The final movement is an example of a passacaglia using as its ground bass a similar theme as that of the opening movement. It has been pointed out that the opening theme of the first movement is reminiscent of the opening theme of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 26 Opus 81a "Les Adieux."