About this Recording
8.554280 - HUMMEL: Bassoon Concerto / Clarinet Quartet

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Concerto in F major for Bassoon and Orchestra
Introduction, Theme and Variations in F major for Oboe and Orchestra
Quartet in E flat major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello

Largely neglected by posterity, Johann Nepomuk Hummel enjoyed the highest reputation in his own time as both composer and virtuoso performer. The increasing availability of his music, in print and in recordings, is evidence of the unjustified nature of the posthumous neglect of his work, although neither the bicentenary of his birth nor the 150th anniversary of his death have aroused the interest that his compositions clearly deserve.

Hummel was born in 1778 in Pressburg (the modem Slovak capital, 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 and by the spring of 1790 they were in Edinburgh, where they spent three months. 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 father and son made their way back through Holland to Vienna.

The next ten years of Hummers 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 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 became Konzertmeister to the second Prince Nicolaus Esterházy in 1804, effectively doing the work of Kapellmeister, a title that Haydn held nominally until his death in 1809. He had Haydn to thank, too, for his retention of his position with the Esterházy family when in 1808 neglect of his duties had brought dismissal. His connection with the family came to an end in 1811 but his period of service had given 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 opportunities.

Hummel had impressed audiences as a child by his virtuosity as a pianist. He returned 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, home of Goethe, that was able to provide him, in 1818, with a basis for his career. By the terms of his employment he was allowed leave of absence for three months each spring, a period spent in concert tours. In Protestant Weimar he was relieved of responsibilities for church music but presided at the opera and was, with Goethe, one of the tourist attractions of the place, although in speech his homely Viennese accent sorted ill with the purer speech 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 a player diminished. This was the age of Liszt and a new school of virtuosity, while Hummel represented a continuation of the classical style of playing of his teacher, Mozart, now carried into the age of Chopin, Liszt, Kalkbrenner and Thalberg.

The Bassoon Concerto in F major was written about the year 1805, at a time when the instrument itself was undergoing various changes. In what had become the usual form, the work opens with an orchestral exposition that introduces the two subjects, before the entry of the solo bassoon with its own version of the first of these. This is briefly developed, before a dramatic bridge-passage leads to the re-appearance of the second subject, which is eventually allowed its traditional key, the dominant of F, C major. There is a central development in which there is continued passage-work for the soloist, before the final recapitulation. The B flat major slow movement allows the orchestra to introduce the principal theme, followed by the soloist. A second element is introduced, modulating from the key of G minor and exploring other ground, before the return of the main theme and moments of soloistic display in a cadenza. The bassoon opens the final rondo with a cheerful melody that has about it something of a village dance. This frames a series of contrasting episodes, including a D minor episode of rapid passage-work.

Hummel’s Introduction, Theme and Variations in F major, Opus 102, for oboe and orchestra, has been conjecturally dated to about 1824, when the composer was in Weimar. It was published at the time in Leipzig and in Paris, with the suggestion of alternative instrumentation for a solo clarinet. The Introduction is in a solemn F minor, imposing in its use of dotted rhythms. The theme itself, in F major, offers an immediate contrast in both key and mood. The first variation introduces running notes, while the second is in triplets and is again concluded by the orchestra. There is a third variation, marked Cantabile, a gentle slow movement, capped by the orchestra con fuoco. The demanding fourth variation is in semiquavers, leading through dramatic poignancy to the return of the theme and then to a version of the melody as a Tempo di valse, a waltz that is then varied in rapid triplets, before the work comes to an end.

It seems, from the single surviving manuscript of Hummel’s Quartet in E flat major for clarinet, violin, viola and cello in the British Library, that the work was written in 1808, at a time when the composer was employed by the Esterházys at Eisenstadt. The first of the four movements is in tripartite sonata-allegro form and allows an element of display to each of the players, in whatever rôle, as the two subjects of the exposition are duly presented. The repeated exposition is followed by a central development that is dramatic in its contrasts. The recapitulation duly returns to the thematic material, the second subject now with a triplet accompaniment from the clarinet and then from the viola. A curiously hushed passage, first heard in the approach to the end of the exposition, again causes surprise when it returns, now leading to the conclusion of the movement. The E flat major second movement, with the title La seccatura (The Nuisance), is in the form of a musical joke, with each instrument given a different time-signature. The clarinet part is in 2/4, the violin in 12/8, the viola in 3/4 and the cello in 6/8, an arrangement that taxes the players more than it does the listener, as time-signatures change in each part in the course of the movement. The music is driven forward by a pervasive rhythm, through the outer framework as well as in a central section of some textural contrast. The A flat major Andante entrusts the opening principal theme to the clarinet. The movement is in broadly ternary form, its principal theme, almost suggesting a Beethoven slow movement in its contour, framing a contrasting central section. The clarinet introduces the main theme of the final rondo, a pert little melody redolent of the Austrian countryside. This is used as a framework for a series of contrasting episodes, the movement and quartet ending in a coda that allows brief contrapuntal imitation of the opening of the principal theme between the clarinet and the viola.

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