About this Recording
8.572841 - MOZART, W.A.: Symphonies Nos. 38, 39, 40 (arr. J.N. Hummel for flute, violin, cello and piano) (Grodd, Eichhorn, Rummel, Krüger)
English 

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Mozart’s Symphonies Nos 38 ‘Prague’, 39 and 40 arranged by Hummel for flute, violin, cello and piano

 

In 1786, at the age of eight, Hummel went to live and study with Wolfgang Amadé Mozart in Vienna. During his two years as a lodger in the family’s apartment in the Domgasse, he would have listened many times to his teacher singing, humming and trying out the odd phrase from the music composed and performed during those years, which included Mozart’s two operatic masterpieces Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. On leaving the Mozarts, Hummel began his own career as a virtuoso pianist. His first concert tour was surprisingly successful, lasting some four years. Touring with his father, Johannes Hummel, provided a means of developing and establishing his reputation to an extent unimaginable even to his well-travelled teacher. That touring should become such a major part of Hummel’s life was testament to his immense skill as a pianist. He was especially renowned for his breathtaking improvisations. In the middle of one performance, the pealing of church bells resulted in a spontaneous harmonisation and an extempore fugue.

At the turn of the century improved road conditions and communication made visiting distant cities easier and touring more reliable. This was just as well for Hummel, as freelancing meant his income was not entirely reliant on the patronage of a single city or court. Nevertheless he did manage to maintain several important court positions between touring schedules. His first permanent post was at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in Eisenstadt in 1804, supporting Joseph Haydn, who was nearing the end of his career. Despite his having been recommended for the post by Haydn, Hummel’s appointment was not entirely successful. His responsibilities included conducting and composing, and during his tenure he wrote five Masses for the Esterházy court, including the Missa Solemnis for the wedding of Princess Leopoldina Esterházy in 1806 (Naxos 8.557193). His position provided him with opportunities to conduct several Mozart operas, including Le nozze di Figaro sung in German for his début performance, Die Zauberflöte, Der Schauspieldirektor, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Hummel’s lack of diplomacy, however, combined with his disregard of dress codes, “loud and pushy” manner and devotion to his own performing career meant his seven years at the Esterházy court were unhappy ones. The Prince even dismissed him after a particularly disastrous Christmas Day performance in 1808 but relented when Haydn asked for him to be reinstated. Some years later, having thrown a lavish and very expensive party in the Prince’s absence, Hummel was again sacked, this time without redress.

From 1811 Hummel established himself successfully as a freelance pianist, teacher and composer following in the footsteps of his teacher. His marriage to the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel two years later no doubt added impetus to his second attempt in 1816 at full-time employment. Despite his experiences, his time as Kapellmeister in Stuttgart was even more disastrous. Hummel had come highly recommended to the court and was able to dictate his terms of employment, including generous remuneration and being put in sole charge of music at the court. His first performance at Württemberg was conducting a popular opera and met with general approval. Unfortunately King Friedrich, who had hired Hummel, died just one week later and his son Wilhelm was fond of neither music nor Hummel. Baron Karl von Wächter, an incompetent and arrogant former music and theatre director, complained to the King at every opportunity, ensuring that the Kapellmeister faced obstacles at every turn. Hummel ended up continually fighting either for his salary or his wife’s reputation as a singer. In the end he asked to be released from his contract and, as it became clear he intended leaving regardless, the court dismissed him in 1818.

The following year Hummel finally settled at the Ducal Court at Weimar where he was appointed Kapellmeister and continued conducting and composing in this position until his death eighteen years later. Weimar was rich in artistic traditions, particularly art, poetry and music. One of the first appointments Archduke Carl August had made to his privy council, after acceding to the throne in 1775, was that of poet, artist and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The court theatre immediately became the central focus of city life and the addition of the new Hoftheater in 1791 ensured the predominance of music. Hummel’s dedication of his arrangement of the Prague Symphony reads “This Symphony is respectfully dedicated to His Excellency Baron von Goethe, Minister of State to His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Saxe Weimar by JN Hummel”.

While in Weimar, Hummel was extremely busy conducting and composing, fulfilling his duties to the Duke, as well as participating in an array of musical activities that brought the court closer to the community. He instigated a series of benefit concerts, which continued after his death, for the widows and orphans of deceased court orchestra members, bringing much needed income to the families of these musicians. He also had the privilege of conducting many famous travelling musicians, including violin virtuoso Nicolò Paganini in a notable concert at the Hoftheater in 1829.

Hummel died a wealthy and famous man, the last of the great Viennese line that embraced Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. His works fell into obscurity after his death, swept away by changes in musical fashion.

Hummel’s triumphs as a conductor, composer and virtuoso pianist did nothing to ease his feelings of obligation and reverence towards Mozart as he arranged his celebrated teacher’s most famous works. The commissions from JR Schultz in 1823 and 1824 for arrangements of Mozart’s symphonies were completed during his time as Kapellmeister at the Court of Weimar. Hummel cared deeply for these symphonies and his arrangements demonstrate a profound understanding of Mozart’s art. In a review of the London editions of these works, it is stated that Hummel “never bestowed upon any arrangement, not even his own compositions, so much care as upon these symphonies, and he says he did so out of a tribute of respect due to his immortal master”. That Hummel might have heard his “immortal master” at the fortepiano writing some of these symphonies nearly four decades earlier makes it clear why these arrangements reveal such heartfelt appreciation and understanding.

The arrangements were lucrative for Hummel, although pirated copies of his original manuscripts were always a threat. Hummel was suspicious of editions published on the continent. In a letter to a friend he wrote: “How come…you do not find a single note from an honourable German publisher?” The editions for this recording were made using Hummel’s English publications from Chappell and Co (1823–4) for which JR Schultz acted as intermediary in London. While England and France had regulations governing copyright, this was not the case in Germany. Hummel’s German editions of these works are thought to be pirated copies.

Schultz, who was working as a musician in England at the time, asked that the arrangements make some changes to harmonies and extend or alter cadenzas to suit the “current market”. Hummel remained uncomfortable at the thought of tampering with his teacher’s works despite the gentle insistence of his friend and fellow composer Ignaz Moscheles. The arrangements for piano, flute, violin and cello saw Hummel give the lion’s share of melodies to the piano, with the other instruments frequently accompanying. They also formed part of his repertoire as a soloist on concert tours. He subsequently arranged more than fifty works for piano, flute, violin and cello.

Hummel’s respect for Mozart’s compositions prevented him from varying a single harmony. He did, however, make many changes to accommodate contemporary tastes, as well as his virtuosity as a pianist. He changed the occasional rhythm to imitate effectively the intensity of orchestral colour, for example, string double stopping or full tutti crescendi. He also made numerous changes to articulations, modernising the dynamics in line with the tastes of the early romantic period, and frequently using indications such as fortissimo, pianissimo, and sforzando. This is something Mozart reserved only for special moments. Hummel constantly inserted crescendos, a common device at the beginning of the nineteenth century but not often found in Mozart’s original compositions. The use of ornamentation had also changed dramatically over the years. Hummel’s piano treatise asks for all trills to be executed from the note and not from the note above as was common in Mozart’s day. Hummel gave every movement a precise metronome marking and, at times, these markings ask for extremely fast tempos. It is not clear whether he conducted the symphonies at these speeds and early metronomes were not yet reliable. It is obvious, however, that these metronome markings are there to explain Hummel’s reading of his teacher’s works on the piano. The metronome markings, dynamic changes and accents are all retained in the new edition used for this recording which intends to convey Hummel’s unique understanding of these symphonies whilst cleverly imprinting on them his own personality.

One noteworthy difference between Hummel’s arrangement of Symphony No 40 in G minor and the original with which we are familiar concerns the inclusion of eight additional bars in the Andante. These eight bars have a fraught history because of confusion in Mozart’s original manuscript. They appear to have been written by Mozart at a later date but until recently it has been unclear what was intended. We know now that “the eight revised bars in the slow movement are not to be understood as an alternative version of the text but…as a replacement for the original.” (Eisen, 1997.) The replacement eight bars are included in the first Chappell and Co print, as well as in the edition used here.


Uwe Grodd


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