Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 - 1837)
Flute Sonatas (Complete)
Sonata in G major for flute and piano, Op. 2a, No.2
Sonata in D major for flute and piano, Op. 50
Sonata in A major for flute and piano, Op. 64
Grand Rondeau Brillant in G major for flute and piano,Op. 126
Trio in A major for flute, piano and cello, Op. 78
Johann Nepomuk Hummel has been largely neglected byposterity, yet in his own time he enjoyed the highest reputation both as acomposer and as a virtuoso performer. Recent years have brought a chance, atleast, for some re-assessment of his music, with an increasing number ofrecordings, although neither the bicentenary of his birth nor the 150thanniversary of his death stirred the interest that his music seems to deserve.
Hummel was born in 1778 in Pressburg, the modern Bratislava,the son of a musician. At the age of four he could read music, at five play theviolin 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 theboy and his father embarked, in 1788, on an extended concert tour, reflectingMozart's own childhood experience. For four years they travelled through Germanyand Denmark. By the spring of 1790 they were in Edinburgh, where they spentthree months, and there followed visits to Durham and to Cambridge before theyarrived, in the autumn, in London. Plans in 1792 to tour France and Spainseemed inopportune in a time of revolution, so that father and son made theirway back through Holland to Vienna.
The next ten years of Hummel's career found him occupiedin study, in composition and in teaching in Vienna. When Beethoven had settledin 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 tostudy with the same teachers, the most distinguished Vienna had to offer. Albrechtsbergerprovided a sound technical basis for his composition, while Salieri gaveinstruction in writing for the voice and in the philosophy of aesthetics.
Haydn, after his return from his second London visit, gave him some organlessons, but warned him of the possible effect on his touch as a pianist. Itwas through Haydn that Hummel became, in 1804, Konzertmeister to Prince NikolausEsterhiizy, effectively doing the work of Kapellmeister, a nominal title thatHaydn held until his death in 1809. He had Haydn to thank, too, for hisretention of his position with the Esterhiizy family when, in 1808, neglect ofhis duties had brought dismissal. His connection with the Esterhiizys came toan end in 1811, but had served to give him experience as a composer of churchand theatre music, while his father, as director of music at the Theater auf derWieden and later at the famous Apollo Saal, provided him with other musicalopportunities.
Hummel had, as a child, impressed audiences by hisvirtuosity as a pianist. He was to return to the concert platform in 1814, atthe time of the Congress of Vienna, a year after his marriage, but it was theGrand Duchy of Weimar that was able, in 1818, after brief tenure of a similarposition in Stuttgart, to provide him with a basis for his career. He wasallowed, by the terms of his employment as Kapellmeister, leave for threemonths each spring, a period to be spent in concert tours. He now had noresponsibility for church music, as he had had for the Esterhiizys at Eisenstadt,but presided at the opera and, with old Goethe, became one of the touristattractions of the place, although in speech his homely Viennese accent, thathad alienated him in Stuttgart, sorted ill with the relative refinement of theresident literati.
In 1828 Hummel published his study of pianoforteperformance technique, a work that enjoyed great success and has proved avaluable source for present knowledge of earlier performance practice. Towardsthe end of his life his brilliance as a player diminished. This, after all, wasthe age of Liszt, and Hummel repre-sented a continuation of the classical styleof playing of his teacher Mozart. As a composer he extended that classicalstyle into the age of Chopin.
Hummel was a prolific composer in a variety of genres,reflecting the responsibilities of his career. His Sonata in G major, Opus2a, No.2, for flute or violin and piano or harpsichord, was published in Londonin 1792. It has all the clarity that might be expected in its three movements,classical in form and texture, and was published with a companion Trio for thesame instruments, with the addition of a cello. By the time of the Sonata inD major, Opus 50, written in Vienna and dated between 1810 and 1814, thepiano has definitively replaced the harpsichord, but the alternative of violinto flute is allowed, a commercial concession, although the music is well suitedto the wind instrument. The Sonata in A major, Opus 64, is dated to 1814or 1815, a period in which Hummel, at the urging of his new wife, the singerElisabeth Rockel, had returned to a career as a performer, profiting from thesocial and musical demands of those attending the Congress of Vienna thatmarked the end of Napoleonic ambitions. After a brilliant first movement, thisthird sonata brings some surprises in its second movement, in which afragmented flute line is supported by the continuing activity of the piano, ina mood that has elements of the operatic. The sonata ends with an opera buffafinal movement, with contrasting episodes of some passing poignancy.
The Grand rondeau brillant in G major, Opus 126,was written in September 1834 and published in the following year in London, Parisand Vienna, testimony to Hummel's contemporary standing. The opening of the introductionis dramatic, allowing the flute an extended and melancholy aria and the piano asubsequent opportunity for a degree of elegant virtuosity, to which the flutefurther adds, exploiting its full range, before the opening of the rondoproper, with its suggestions of lyricism worthy of Rossini.
The Trio in A major, Opus 78, for piano, flute andcello, was published in Vienna about 1818, at the time when Hummel had resignedfrom his position at Stuttgart to move to Weimar. It is also known under thetitle Adagio, Variations and Rondo on Schiine Minka. There is aneffective and dramatic introduction before the piano announces the theme, theRussian song of the title, joined by flute and cello. The piano launches intothe first of the seven variations, joined in conclusion by the cello and theflute. It is this last that dominates the second variation, while the briefthird variation calls for a burst of activity from the piano, before the celloand flute join in, the former now given more exposure. All share in a lyricalfourth variation, before the virtuosity of the piano in the fifth. Traditionalclassical tranquility dominates the sixth variation, in which Hummel, as sooften in his chamber music, allows each instrument its chance to sing. The Trio
ends with a last derivative of the theme that allows a lyrical moment beforethe definitive final cadence.