HUMMEL: Concerto for Piano and Violin, Op. 17 / Violin Concerto (Alexander Trostianski/ Gregory Rose/ Polina Osetinskaya/ Russian Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.557595)
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Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Violin Concerto Concerto for Piano and Violin
Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in Pressburg, nowBratislava, in the Slovak Republic, and was consideredone of Europe's finest pianist-composers. A childprodigy, he became a pupil of Mozart at the age of eight,the two forming a life-long friendship. His successfuldebut concert as a pianist in 1787 was followed in 1788by a four-year tour to Germany, Denmark, Scotland andEngland with his father, the conductor Johannes Hummel.
On his return, Johann studied with Albrechtsberger,Salieri and Haydn while he himself taught, performed andcomposed. It was during this period that he formed a long,stormy friendship with his great rival, Beethoven. In 1804he was appointed Konzertmeister to Prince NikolausEsterhazy at Eisenstadt, following the retirement ofHaydn, a post he retained until 1811. While at Eisenstadthe composed several concertos, sacred works, includingfive large-scale Masses, and many works for solo piano.
He also composed a number of short theatrical pieces, andminuets and dances for orchestra.
In 1811 Johann Nepomuk returned to Vienna andcontinued life as a pianist and composer, marrying a wellknownsinger, Elizabeth Rockel, with whom he had twosons. After a brief, unhappy period as Kapellmeister inStuttgart, he and his family settled in Weimar, where hismain responsibilities lay in directing operas and specialevents for the ducal court and he developed a closefriendship with Goethe. During the 1820s Hummeltravelled extensively, but in 1827 he returned to Vienna tovisit the dying Beethoven. He was a pall-bearer at hisfuneral, and, following Beethoven's wishes, organized amemorial concert, where he improvised on themes fromthe dead composer's works, most movingly on thePrisoners' Chorus from Fidelio. In 1830 Hummel visitedParis and London, his first visit there for forty years, andthe climax of his playing career. Ill health in his last threeyears reduced his activities, and his death in Weimar in1837 was regarded as the passing of an era, marked inVienna by a performance of Mozart's Requiem.
Hummel composed about a dozen works for pianoand orchestra between 1805 and his death, over half ofwhich bore the title 'concerto'. There are 54 volumes ofHummel's manuscripts in the British Library in London,which were purchased in 1884, and amongst these is avolume containing an incomplete Violin Concerto, boundtogether with the famous Trumpet Concerto. Hummelwould have spent a great deal of time on the latter, sincehe wanted to make a good impression as the newKapellmeister at Eisenstadt, and this was to be performedin his first major concert for the Esterhazy family.
Therefore it is likely that he abandoned work on the ViolinConcerto, intending to take it up at a later date, andpreferred instead to compose the Concerto for Piano andViolin. The appearance of the Violin Concerto by his greatrival Beethoven in 1806 could easily have dissuaded himfrom completing his own concerto.
Although the concerto was never completed, all thesolo violin part is extant, in two different hands:Hummel's hand, and a student's, with the short Adagiobeing completely in Hummel's hand. I added orchestralparts to several passages in the outer movements, as wellas editing the complete work and composing cadenzas forthe first and last movements. Like several concertos of thetime, it is composed for a small orchestra, withoutclarinets, trumpets or timpani. The solo violin part iscertainly very virtuosic and compares interestingly withthe virtuoso nature of the composer's works for solo pianoand piano with orchestra. Historically this concertooccupies the fascinating interim period between theHaydn/Mozart era and the great violin works of theGerman romantic composers, Mendelssohn, Bruch andBrahms. Haydn composed three violin concertos in 1765,and Mozart's five concertos date from 1775. The mostprolific composer in this genre was Louis Spohr, whocomposed fifteen between 1803 and 1846. His second of1804, and the third and fourth of 1805/6, are closest toHummel's, with Beethoven's following in 1806.
Mendelssohn's Concerto in E minor was composed in1844, and this was followed by three concertos by MaxBruch in 1868, 1878 and 1891, and by the Brahmsconcerto in 1879.
The Concerto for Piano and Violin dates from 1804and is in the traditional three movements, Allegro conbrio, Andante con moto and Rondo. The delightfulinterplay between the two solo instruments displays lessvirtuosity than Hummel employs in his solo concertos,but nevertheless many passages are considerably florid. Inthe opening movement the instruments take it in turns tointroduce melodies, with the second instrument oftendeveloping the material, frequently introducing moreelaborate decoration. It is of particular interest thatHummel should have composed his own cadenza in thismovement since it was often left to the soloists or tofellow composers to add these. In the second movementhe uses one of his favourite musical forms, the theme andvariations, of which there are six, and he completes theconcerto with a playful Rondo, for which I havecomposed a cadenza. In the middle section of thismovement Hummel deviates into the minor key,producing a short episode of gravity as a contrast to thehigh spirits of the original theme. This edition is based onthe original Traeg Edition, Vienna, 1805.
As would be expected, the solo violin part in theViolin Concerto is considerably more complex anddecorated than the violin part in the Concerto for Pianoand Violin. The first movement is typically in sonataform, although the composer varies the format byintroducing some new ideas in the final section. The slowmovement, where he uses strings only to accompany thesoloist, is a beautiful, gentle Adagio where the lyricism ofthe solo violin would not be out of place in an opera. Thethematic material of the final Rondo varies from the jovialopening theme to teasing triplet passages, lyrical musicand strident chordal music.
The world premi?¿re of the Hummel/Rose ViolinConcerto was given at St John's, Smith Square, Londonon 2nd June 1998, performed by Jaakko Kuusisto and theJupiter Orchestra, conducted by Gregory Rose.Gregory Rose