About this Recording
8.553473 - HUMMEL: Flute Sonatas / Flute Trio / Grand Rondeau Brillant

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 - 1837)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 - 1837)

Flute Sonatas (Complete)

Sonata in G major for flute and piano, Op. 2a, No.2

Sonata in D major for flute and piano, Op. 50

Sonata in A major for flute and piano, Op. 64

Grand Rondeau Brillant in G major for flute and piano, Op. 126

Trio in A major for flute, piano and cello, Op. 78


Johann Nepomuk Hummel 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. Recent years have brought a chance, at least, for some re-assessment of his music, with an increasing number of recordings, although neither the bicentenary of his birth nor the 150th anniversary of his death stirred the interest that his music 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, reflecting Mozart's own childhood experience. 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 in 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, from 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 return from his second London visit, gave him some organ lessons, but warned him of the possible effect on his touch as a pianist. It was through Haydn that Hummel became, in 1804, Konzertmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterhiizy, 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 Esterhiizy family when, in 1808, neglect of his duties had brought dismissal. His connection with the Esterhiizys 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 at the famous Apollo Saal, provided him with other musical opportunities.


Hummel had, as a child, impressed audiences by his virtuosity as a pianist. He was to return to the concert platform 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, in 1818, after brief tenure of a similar position in Stuttgart, to provide him with a basis for his career. He was allowed, by the terms of his employment as Kapellmeister, leave for three months each spring, a period to be spent in concert tours. He now had no responsibility for church music, as he had had for the Esterhiizys at Eisenstadt, but presided at the opera and, with old Goethe, became one of the tourist attractions of the place, although in speech his homely Viennese accent, that had alienated him in Stuttgart, sorted ill with the relative refinement of the resident literati.


In 1828 Hummel published his study of pianoforte performance technique, a work that enjoyed great success and has proved a valuable source for present knowledge of earlier performance practice. Towards the end of his life his brilliance as a player diminished. This, after all, was the age of Liszt, and Hummel repre-sented a continuation of the classical style of playing of his teacher Mozart. As a composer he extended that classical style into the age of Chopin.


Hummel was a prolific composer in a variety of genres, reflecting the responsibilities of his career. His Sonata in G major, Opus 2a, No.2, for flute or violin and piano or harpsichord, was published in London in 1792. It has all the clarity that might be expected in its three movements, classical in form and texture, and was published with a companion Trio for the same instruments, with the addition of a cello. By the time of the Sonata in D major, Opus 50, written in Vienna and dated between 1810 and 1814, the piano has definitively replaced the harpsichord, but the alternative of violin to flute is allowed, a commercial concession, although the music is well suited to the wind instrument. The Sonata in A major, Opus 64, is dated to 1814 or 1815, a period in which Hummel, at the urging of his new wife, the singer Elisabeth Rockel, had returned to a career as a performer, profiting from the social and musical demands of those attending the Congress of Vienna that marked the end of Napoleonic ambitions. After a brilliant first movement, this third sonata brings some surprises in its second movement, in which a fragmented flute line is supported by the continuing activity of the piano, in a mood that has elements of the operatic. The sonata ends with an opera buffa final movement, with contrasting episodes of some passing poignancy.


The Grand rondeau brillant in G major, Opus 126, was written in September 1834 and published in the following year in London, Paris and Vienna, testimony to Hummel's contemporary standing. The opening of the introduction is dramatic, allowing the flute an extended and melancholy aria and the piano a subsequent opportunity for a degree of elegant virtuosity, to which the flute further adds, exploiting its full range, before the opening of the rondo proper, with its suggestions of lyricism worthy of Rossini.


The Trio in A major, Opus 78, for piano, flute and cello, was published in Vienna about 1818, at the time when Hummel had resigned from his position at Stuttgart to move to Weimar. It is also known under the title Adagio, Variations and Rondo on Schiine Minka. There is an effective and dramatic introduction before the piano announces the theme, the Russian song of the title, joined by flute and cello. The piano launches into the first of the seven variations, joined in conclusion by the cello and the flute. It is this last that dominates the second variation, while the brief third variation calls for a burst of activity from the piano, before the cello and flute join in, the former now given more exposure. All share in a lyrical fourth variation, before the virtuosity of the piano in the fifth. Traditional classical tranquility dominates the sixth variation, in which Hummel, as so often in his chamber music, allows each instrument its chance to sing. The Trio ends with a last derivative of the theme that allows a lyrical moment before the definitive final cadence.


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