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8.550837 - HUMMEL: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778- 1837)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778- 1837)

Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 85

Piano Concerto in B Minor, Op. 89


Johann Nepomuk Humrnel has been largely neglected by posterity, yet in his own time he enjoyed the highest reputation both as a composer and as a virtuoso performer. That subsequent neglect has been largely unjustified must be clear from recordings of his music now available, although neither the bicentenary of his birth nor the 150th anniversary of his death have stirred the interest that his work seems to deserve.


Hummel was born in 1778 in Pressburg, the modern Bratislava, the son of a musician. At the age of four he could read music, at five play the violin and at six the piano. Two years later he became a pupil of Mozart in Vienna, lodging, as was the custom, in his master's house. On Mozart's suggestion the boy and his father embarked, in 1788, on an extended concert tour. For four years they travelled through Germany and Denmark. By the spring of 1790 they were in

Edinburgh, where they spent three months, and there followed visits to Durham and to Cambridge before they arrived, in the autumn, in London. Plans in 1792 to tour France and Spain seemed inopportune at a time of revolution, so that father and son made their way back through Holland to Vienna.


The next ten years of Hummel's career found him occupied in study, in composition and in teaching in Vienna. When Beethoven had settled in Vienna in 1792, the year after Mozart's death, he had sought lessons from Haydn Albrechtsberger and from the Court Composer Antonio salieri. Hummel was to study with the same teachers, the most distinguished Vienna had to offer. Albrechtsberger provided a sound technical basis for his composition, while

salieri gave instruction in writing for the voice and in the philosophy of aesthetics. Haydn, after his second visit to London, gave him some organ lessons, but warned him of the possible effect on his touch as a pianist. It was through Haydn that Hummel in 1804 became Konzertmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterhclzy, effectively doing the work of Kapellmeister, a nominal title that Haydn held until his death in 1809. He had Haydn to thank, too, for his retention of his position with the Esterhazy family when in 1808 neglect of his duties had brought dismissal. His connection with the Esterhazys came to an end in 1811, but had served to give him experience as a composer of church and theatre music, while his father, as director of music at the Theater auf der

Wieden and later of the famous Apollo Saal, provided other musical opportunities.


Hummel had impressed audiences as a child by his virtuosity as a pianist.

He was to return to the concert plat from in 1814, at the time of the Congress of Vienna, a year after his marriage, but it was the Grand Duchy of Weimar that was able to provide him, in 1818, with a basis for his career. He was allowed, by the terms of his employment, leave of absence for three months each spring, a period to be spent in concert tours. In Protestant Weimar he was relieved of the responsibilities of church music, but presided at the opera, and joined Goethe as one of the tourist attractions of the place, although in speech his homely

Viennese accent sorted ill with the purer accents of the resident literati.


In 1828 Hummel published his study of pianoforte performance technique, a work that enjoyed immediate success, and has proved a valuable source for our knowledge of contemporary performance practice. Towards the end of his life his brilliance as player diminished, and this, after all, was the age of Liszt and a new school of piano virtuosity. Hummel represented, rather, a continuation of the classical style of playing of his teacher, Mozart. As a composer he seems to extend that style into the age of Chopin.


The Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 85, was written in Vienna probably in 1816 and published in 1821. The work is skilfully orchestrated, marked by happy melodic invention, with tireless demands on the brilliance of the soloist, reminding us at times of Hummers contemporary Beethoven, with whom he enjoyed a varying relationship. Hummel, of course, offers a more predictable concerto, leading to a final sparkling conclusion.


The Piano Concerto in B Minor, Opus 89, was written in 1819, after Hummel’s appointment to Weimar, following a brief spell as Kapellmeister at Stuttgart, and published in Leipzig two years later. It opens with the ominous accompaniment of timpani and again presents in its three movements startling demands on the skill of the soloist, within a musical idiom that is always felicitous and never vapid.

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