HUMMEL: Bassoon Concerto / Clarinet Quartet
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Johann Nepomuk Hummel(1778-1837)
Concerto in F majorfor Bassoon and Orchestra
Introduction, Themeand Variations in F major for Oboe and Orchestra
Quartet in E flatmajor for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello
Largely neglected by posterity, Johann Nepomuk Hummel enjoyed thehighest reputation in his own time as both composer and virtuoso performer. Theincreasing availability of his music, in print and in recordings, is evidenceof the unjustified nature of the posthumous neglect of his work, although neitherthe bicentenary of his birth nor the 150th anniversary of his death havearoused 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, atfive play the violin and at six the piano. Two years later he became a pupil ofMozart in Vienna, lodging, as was the custom, in his master's house. OnMozart's suggestion the boy and his father embarked in 1788 on an extended concerttour. For four years they travelled through Germany and Denmark and by thespring of 1790 they were in Edinburgh, where they spent three months. Therefollowed 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 timeof 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, incomposition and in teaching in Vienna. When Beethoven had settled in Vienna in1792, the year after Mozart's death, he had sought lessons from Haydn, fromAlbrechtsberger and from the CourtComposer Antonio Salieri. Hummel was to study with the same teachers, the mostdistinguished Vienna had to offer. Albrechtsberger provided a sound technicalbasis for his composition, while Salieri gave instruction in writing for thevoice and in the philosophy of aesthetics. Haydn, after his second visit toLondon, gave him some organ lessons, but warned him of the possible effect onhis touch as a pianist. It was through Haydn that Hummel became Konzertmeisterto the second Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy in 1804, effectively doing the workof Kapellmeister, a title that Haydn held nominally until his death in1809. He had Haydn to thank, too, for his retention of his position with theEsterhazy family when in 1808 neglect of his duties had brought dismissal. Hisconnection with the family came to an end in 1811 but his period of service hadgiven him experience as a composer of church and theatre music, while hisfather, as director of music at the Theater auf der Wieden and later of thefamous Apollo Saal, provided other opportunities.
Hummel had impressed audiences as a child by his virtuosity as apianist. He returned to the concert platform in 1814, at the time of theCongress of Vienna, a year after his marriage, but it was the Grand Duchy ofWeimar, home of Goethe, that was able to provide him, in 1818, with a basis forhis career. By the terms of his employment he was allowed leave of absence forthree months each spring, a period spent in concert tours. In Protestant Weimarhe was relieved of responsibilities for church music but presided at the operaand was, with Goethe, one of the tourist attractions of the place, although inspeech his homely Viennese accent sorted ill with the purer speech of theresident literati.
In 1828 Hummel published his study of pianoforte performance technique,a work that enjoyed immediate success and has proved a valuable source for ourknowledge of contemporary performance practice. Towards the end of his life hisbrilliance as a player diminished. This was the age of Liszt and a new schoolof virtuosity, while Hummel represented a continuation of the classical styleof 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 whathad become the usual form, the work opens with an orchestral exposition thatintroduces the two subjects, before the entry of the solo bassoon with its ownversion of the first of these. This is briefly developed, before a dramaticbridge-passage leads to the re-appearance of the second subject, which iseventually allowed its traditional key, the dominant of F, C major. There is acentral development in which there is continued passage-work for the soloist,before the final recapitulation. The B flat major slow movement allows theorchestra to introduce the principal theme, followed by the soloist. A secondelement is introduced, modulating from the key of G minor and exploring otherground, before the return of the main theme and moments of soloistic display ina cadenza. The bassoon opens the final rondo with a cheerful melody thathas about it something of a village dance. This frames a series of contrastingepisodes, 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 thecomposer 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 Introductionis in a solemn F minor, imposing in its use of dotted rhythms. The themeitself, in F major, offers an immediate contrast in both key and mood. Thefirst variation introduces running notes, while the second is in triplets andis again concluded by the orchestra. There is a third variation, marked Cantabile,a gentle slow movement, capped by the orchestra con fuoco. Thedemanding fourth variation is in semiquavers, leading through dramaticpoignancy to the return of the theme and then to a version of the melody as a Tempodi valse, a waltz that is then varied in rapid triplets, before the workcomes to an end.
It seems, from the single surviving manuscript of Hummel's Quartet inE flat major for clarinet, violin, viola and cello in the BritishLibrary, that the work was written in 1808, at a time when the composer wasemployed by the Esterhazys at Eisenstadt. The first of the four movements is intripartite sonata-allegro form and allows an element of display to each of theplayers, in whatever r??le, as the two subjects of the exposition are dulypresented. The repeated exposition is followed by a central development that isdramatic in its contrasts. The recapitulation duly returns to the thematicmaterial, the second subject now with a triplet accompaniment from the clarinetand then from the viola. A curiously hushed passage, first heard in theapproach to the end of the exposition, again causes surprise when it returns,now leading to the conclusion of the movement. The E flat major secondmovement, with the title La seccatura (The Nuisance), is in the form ofa musical joke, with each instrument given a different time-signature. Theclarinet part is in 2/4, the violin in 12/8, the viola in 3/4 and the cello in6/8, an arrangement that taxes the players more than it does the listener, astime-signatures change in each part in the course of the movement. The music isdriven forward by a pervasive rhythm, through the outer framework as well as ina central section of some textural contrast. The A flat major Andante entruststhe opening principal theme to the clarinet. The movement is in broadly ternaryform, its principal theme, almost suggesting a Beethoven slow movement in itscontour, framing a contrasting central section. The clarinet introduces themain theme of the final rondo,