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8.557193 - HUMMEL: Missa Solemnis / Te Deum
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Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

Missa Solemnis in C • Te Deum

 

By 1803 it had become apparent to Joseph Haydn that he was no longer capable of fulfilling his duties as Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court. Accordingly, he recommended the appointment of Mozart’s former pupil Hummel for the post of Concertmeister and divided his existing duties between Hummel, Johann Nepomuk Fuchs, the Vice-Kapellmeister, and the Kammer-musikdirektor Luigi Tomasini. Hummel’s contract became effective from 1st April 1804 and in a resolution signed by Prince Nicolaus II on 23rd June 1804 his responsibilities were outlined in some detail: “... the Concertmeister Hummel is to have the direction of cantatas, oratorios and such music pieces as do not fall under the genre of church music, and altogether in rehearsals and productions of his own works”. The general divisions of responsibility - Fuchs church music, Tomasini instrumental music and Hummel secular vocal music including opera - were not adhered to rigorously and this created a good deal of tension within the prince’s musical establishment. Although Fuchs appears as a rather pedantic individual in the historical record, it is impossible not to feel a measure of sympathy for him, given Hummel’s arrogant and inconsiderate behaviour at times. Hummel seems to have been a very casual disciplinarian and there is no doubt that the overall standard of the Esterházy Kapelle declined as a result. He was summarily dismissed after a chaotic performance on Christmas Day 1808 and it was only after repeated requests to be taken back into service that Prince Nicolaus II relented.

 

Prince Nicolaus II Esterházy (1765-1833) succeeded his father as the reigning prince in 1794. He was a difficult man, severe and uncongenial by nature and thoroughly debauched in his private life. Although music did not occupy a central place in his life, he did have a strong and genuine interest in church music. He began to build up his library’s holdings in this area, which had languished since the death of Haydn’s predecessor, Gregor Werner, and perhaps as a consequence of the wide-sweeping church music reforms introduced by Joseph II in 1783. More importantly, he instigated the tradition of having a new Mass performed annually on the name-day of his wife, Princess Maria Hermenegild. In the first fifteen years of his reign Fuchs, Hummel and Beethoven all wrote Masses for the occasion, in addition to Haydn’s six magnificent settings which ended in 1802 with the Harmoniemesse. These performances generally took place in September on the Princess’s name-day in the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt.

 

Hummel’s five settings of the Mass were composed between 1804 and 1808. The Mass in E flat, Op. 80, the second of Hummel’s Masses to be published, was almost certainly composed before the Mass in B flat,

Op. 77. The D minor Mass was begun in August 1805, the Missa Solemnis in C, composed for the wedding of Princess Leopoldina Esterházy, was completed in March 1806 and the final work, the Mass in D, Op. 111, the so-called Third Mass, was written in 1808. It was perhaps to this work - or conceivably the Missa Solemnis in C, which is known to have been performed in April 1808 - that Haydn was alluding when he remarked to the composer during Hummel’s visit to his home in Vienna the following month: ‘Well, dear Hummel, I’ve already heard that you’ve written such a beautiful Mass and was pleased about it. I often said to you that you would be somebody. Continue like this and consider that everything beautiful and good comes from above’.

 

Hummel’s autograph score of the Missa Solemnis in C was completed in March 1806, three months after the Te Deum. Hummel carefully noted on the last page of the autograph that the work had been composed for the wedding of Princess Leopoldina Esterházy [Marzo 806 / composta all’occasione / dello sposalizio di S. Alt. / la Principessa Leopoldina / d’Esterhazy; eseguito ai Aprille 808.] Hummel’s reference to a performance in April 1808 is puzzling, since surely the work was performed as intended during the wedding celebrations in 1806. It appears, after all, to have been completed in good time for the occasion. Princess Maria Leopoldina Josepha Aloysia Esterházy von Galantha (1788-1846), the daughter of Prince Nicolaus II and Princess Marie Hermenegild Esterházy, married Moritz Joseph Johann Baptist Viktor von Liechtenstein (1775-1819) in Eisenstadt on 13th April 1806. It must have ranked as the Society Wedding of the Year, given the enormous wealth, power, influence and prestige of the two families. That Hummel was invited to compose the work for the occasion is a clear indication of his high professional standing with the Prince. Perhaps the failure of Beethoven’s C major Mass the following year (the Prince felt compelled to write to a friend: “Beethoven’s Mass is unbearably ridiculous and detestable, and I am not convinced that it can ever be performed properly. I am angry and mortified”) should be viewed as much in the context of Hummel’s personal triumph in 1806 as in terms of the poor performance and challenging nature of the work. It is unlikely that Haydn attended the ceremony, given his poor state of health, but he was fond of Princess Leopoldina and doubtless took a close personal and professional interest in her wedding celebrations.

 

The composition of the Missa Solemnis seems to have caused Hummel a great deal more trouble than the Te Deum. It is clear from the autograph that after Hummel completed the work, presumably in March 1806 as indicated on the score, he revised it at a later but unspecified date. The evidence for this comes not only in the form of numerous cancellations and re-workings in the main body of the score, but also in the presence of interleaved pages in the hand of a copyist. The auxiliary score (the instrumentation was too large for Hummel to write a complete system on a single page) largely escaped this process of revision and thus preserves the original form of the bassoon, trumpet and timpani parts.

 

The Missa Solemnis is a worthy successor to the late Haydn Masses. Its brilliant orchestration, inventive and flexible choral writing and technical resourcefulness are the work of an experienced and gifted composer. While the work obviously owes much to the example of the late Haydn Masses it is no pale, bloodless imitation. The Kyrie is a deeply satisfying movement. The Grave opening is at once highly dramatic and yet firmly rooted in the long and distinguished Viennese tradition of C major festive Masses. In contrast, the quiet opening of the succeeding Allegro moderato, scored for winds alone, is an astonishingly modern touch. The choral writing is lyrical but not without its moments of drama; the accompaniment, which benefits enormously from Hummel’s brilliant handling of his orchestral forces, infuses the Kyrie with tremendous drive and verve.

 

The Gloria is a highly original movement. Shunning the conventional division of the Gloria into three or more interlinked sections, Hummel sets the text in a single large-scale movement unified by the use of a recurring theme which is developed as the movement unfolds. Given the length of the text, Hummel’s preference for homophonic choral textures is hardly surprising, but his employment of blocks of

a cappella writing is startling and with their pseudo-modal harmonies he successfully creates a sense of timelessness and even of mystery which is highly effective.

 

The Credo is another singularly impressive movement with much to commend it. At its heart lies a sublimely beautiful setting of the Et incarnatus (in the radiant key of A major) which slips seamlessly into the intense, concentrated Crucifixus, which is remarkable for its unstable chromatic harmonies and nervous, shuddering string figuration. Not unexpectedly, there are strong thematic links between the outer sections of the Credo although little in the way of bald, literal repetition. Hummel again eschews formal counterpoint but the choral writing is varied and animated nonetheless. He also uses the voices in pairs which lends a new element of variety to the musical texture.

 

Unusually, the Sanctus-Benedictus is the longest movement in the entire Mass, owing, one assumes, to the occasion for which the work was composed. It also presents an interesting performance problem in that the autograph calls for vocal soloists in the twenty-bar Sanctus (with a brief flourish in the Osanna) but not in the Benedictus. This is a wasteful use of musical resources by any stretch of the imagination and it seems highly likely that the soloists were also intended to sing the Benedictus, the vocal writing of which is in many respects quite different in character to that found in the remainder of the work. The martial opening of the Benedictus is again reminiscent of Haydn, although its more relaxed continuation is perhaps more appropriate to a nuptial Mass.

 

The Agnus Dei, like the earlier Et incarnatus, displays once again Hummel’s ability to write outstandingly beautiful music within the rather severe restrictions of convention, a gift surely remembered by Prince Nicolaus when he encountered Beethoven’s Mass the following year. The Dona nobis is ushered in with a blaze of C major before settling down into an impressive double fugue. The Mass ends in an exultant, almost savage surge of power that must have thrilled its first audience and, one hopes, the newly-married Princess Leopoldina.

 

The autograph score of the Te Deum is dated 1st January 1806. In the inventory of the Esterházy music library, prepared by Hummel at the Prince’s behest, the Te Deum is described as having been composed for a Friedensfeyer, or celebration of a Peace Treaty. The most likely candidate for this is the Treaty of Pressburg, signed on 26th December 1805, which marked the end of the war between the Austro-Russian Alliance and France following Napoleon’s brilliant victory at Austerlitz on 2nd December. Given his interest in church music and the magnitude of the event, one can imagine Nicolaus instructing Hummel to compose a grand Te Deum to mark the occasion. John Eric Floreen, however, the leading authority on Hummel’s church music, questions whether the work was ever performed in Eisenstadt. Not only is there no mention of the work in the diary of Joseph Rosenbaum, a close friend of Haydn and a valuable primary source of information from this period, but more significantly there is no record of a set of parts for the work in the Esterházy archives. This lack of evidence is not in itself conclusive but it does raise questions as to whether Hummel actually composed the work for the Prince. After all, one need only look as far as Haydn’s great Te Deum of 1799-1800 for the precedent of an Esterházy musician responding to an external commission for a work of this type.

 

Unlike the problematic autograph score of the Missa Solemnis, which also exists in the form of a score and appendix, the Te Deum is relatively straightforward. There are occasional corrections, changes in text underlay and, of course, the inevitable minor uncorrected errors which are to be found in any manuscript source. There are, however, a number of other annotations and deletions which are a good deal more troublesome and indeed ‘revisions’ which appear in many respects to be inferior to the original text and wholly lacking in corroborative support in the form of instrumental doubling. This recording is based where possible on the original readings.

 

Unlike Haydn’s Te Deum which sets the text sequentially with no repetition of earlier material, Hummel reintroduces short phrases late in the work (from bar 425) before the text ‘ ... nomen tuum in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi’. This marks a rather interesting departure from the usual practice in Viennese church music, although one not without precedent, and in a small way it anticipates Beethoven’s surprise reintroduction of ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ after the monumental ‘In gloria Dei Patris’ fugue in the Missa Solemnis.

 

The Te Deum is an immensely attractive work. The orchestration blazes with bright primary colours and the choral writing is fluid and attractive. Although relatively short in duration, the Te Deum contains moments of great emotional gravity as well as pure transcendent joy. If indeed Hummel did compose the work to celebrate the Peace of Pressburg, one might argue that the Alliance’s defeat at Austerlitz received a far greater musical memorial than did Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Vittoria a few years later.

 

Allan Badley


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