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8.557595 - HUMMEL: Concerto for Piano and Violin, Op. 17 / Violin Concerto
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837)
Violin Concerto • Concerto for Piano and Violin
Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in Pressburg, now Bratislava, in the Slovak Republic, and was considered one of Europe’s finest pianist-composers. A child prodigy, he became a pupil of Mozart at the age of eight, the two forming a life-long friendship. His successful début concert as a pianist in 1787 was followed in 1788 by a four-year tour to Germany, Denmark, Scotland and England with his father, the conductor Johannes Hummel. On his return, Johann studied with Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Haydn while he himself taught, performed and composed. It was during this period that he formed a long, stormy friendship with his great rival, Beethoven. In 1804 he was appointed Konzertmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy at Eisenstadt, following the retirement of Haydn, a post he retained until 1811. While at Eisenstadt he composed several concertos, sacred works, including five large-scale Masses, and many works for solo piano. He also composed a number of short theatrical pieces, and minuets and dances for orchestra.
In 1811 Johann Nepomuk returned to Vienna and continued life as a pianist and composer, marrying a wellknown singer, Elizabeth Röckel, with whom he had two sons. After a brief, unhappy period as Kapellmeister in Stuttgart, he and his family settled in Weimar, where his main responsibilities lay in directing operas and special events for the ducal court and he developed a close friendship with Goethe. During the 1820s Hummel travelled extensively, but in 1827 he returned to Vienna to visit the dying Beethoven. He was a pall-bearer at his funeral, and, following Beethoven’s wishes, organized a memorial concert, where he improvised on themes from the dead composer’s works, most movingly on the Prisoners’ Chorus from Fidelio. In 1830 Hummel visited Paris and London, his first visit there for forty years, and the climax of his playing career. Ill health in his last three years reduced his activities, and his death in Weimar in 1837 was regarded as the passing of an era, marked in Vienna by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem.
Hummel composed about a dozen works for piano and orchestra between 1805 and his death, over half of which bore the title ‘concerto’. There are 54 volumes of Hummel’s manuscripts in the British Library in London, which were purchased in 1884, and amongst these is a volume containing an incomplete Violin Concerto, bound together with the famous Trumpet Concerto. Hummel would have spent a great deal of time on the latter, since he wanted to make a good impression as the new Kapellmeister at Eisenstadt, and this was to be performed in his first major concert for the Esterházy family. Therefore it is likely that he abandoned work on the Violin Concerto, intending to take it up at a later date, and preferred instead to compose the Concerto for Piano and Violin. The appearance of the Violin Concerto by his great rival Beethoven in 1806 could easily have dissuaded him from completing his own concerto.
Although the concerto was never completed, all the solo violin part is extant, in two different hands: Hummel’s hand, and a student’s, with the short Adagio being completely in Hummel’s hand. I added orchestral parts to several passages in the outer movements, as well as editing the complete work and composing cadenzas for the first and last movements. Like several concertos of the time, it is composed for a small orchestra, without clarinets, trumpets or timpani. The solo violin part is certainly very virtuosic and compares interestingly with the virtuoso nature of the composer’s works for solo piano and piano with orchestra. Historically this concerto occupies the fascinating interim period between the Haydn/Mozart era and the great violin works of the German romantic composers, Mendelssohn, Bruch and Brahms. Haydn composed three violin concertos in 1765, and Mozart’s five concertos date from 1775. The most prolific composer in this genre was Louis Spohr, who composed fifteen between 1803 and 1846. His second of 1804, and the third and fourth of 1805/6, are closest to Hummel’s, with Beethoven’s following in 1806. Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor was composed in 1844, and this was followed by three concertos by Max Bruch in 1868, 1878 and 1891, and by the Brahms concerto in 1879.
The Concerto for Piano and Violin dates from 1804 and is in the traditional three movements, Allegro con brio, Andante con moto and Rondo. The delightful interplay between the two solo instruments displays less virtuosity than Hummel employs in his solo concertos, but nevertheless many passages are considerably florid. In the opening movement the instruments take it in turns to introduce melodies, with the second instrument often developing the material, frequently introducing more elaborate decoration. It is of particular interest that Hummel should have composed his own cadenza in this movement since it was often left to the soloists or to fellow composers to add these. In the second movement he uses one of his favourite musical forms, the theme and variations, of which there are six, and he completes the concerto with a playful Rondo, for which I have composed a cadenza. In the middle section of this movement Hummel deviates into the minor key, producing a short episode of gravity as a contrast to the high spirits of the original theme. This edition is based on the original Traeg Edition, Vienna, 1805.
As would be expected, the solo violin part in the Violin Concerto is considerably more complex and decorated than the violin part in the Concerto for Piano and Violin. The first movement is typically in sonata form, although the composer varies the format by introducing some new ideas in the final section. The slow movement, where he uses strings only to accompany the soloist, is a beautiful, gentle Adagio where the lyricism of the solo violin would not be out of place in an opera. The thematic material of the final Rondo varies from the jovial opening theme to teasing triplet passages, lyrical music and strident chordal music.
The world première of the Hummel/Rose Violin Concerto was given at St John’s, Smith Square, London on 2nd June 1998, performed by Jaakko Kuusisto and the Jupiter Orchestra, conducted by Gregory Rose.
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