HUMMEL: Fantasies

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Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)


Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in 1778 inPressburg, the modern Bratislava, where his father,Josef Hummel, served as conductor at the theatre and asa military bandmaster. In 1786 the family moved toVienna and Josef Hummel took there the position ofconductor at the Theater auf der Wieden, managed byEmanuel Schikaneder, librettist of Mozart's DieZauberflote and the first Papageno in 1791. Like hisfather, Johann Nepomuk had originally learned theviolin, but in Pressburg his destiny as a pianist becameapparent. In Vienna, at the age of eight, he played forMozart, who for two years generously gave him freelessons and lodged him in his house, finally advising theboy's father to take his son on a concert tour of Europe.

After four celebrated years of travel in Bohemia,North Germany, Denmark, Scotland and London,Hummel and his father returned to Vienna, the FrenchRevolution having prevented them from going to Franceand Spain. In Vienna he took lessons from GeorgAlbrechtsberger in counterpoint, and in aesthetics, thephilosophy of music and musical dramatic techniquefrom Salieri. He had already taken lessons withClementi and Haydn in London. The latterrecommended him as his successor at the head of theEsterhazy musical establishment in Eisenstadt, and in1803 Hummel took the nominal position of concertmaster,while Haydn retained his title as director for life.

His employment there came to an end in 1811, as hegave more time to composition and began to neglect hisduties as director of the orchestra. Recently discovereddocuments reveal, besides, the dissatisfaction of thePrince at the endless financial demands of his concertmaster.

Hummel had already given up his career as avirtuoso and intended to establish himself as a composerand teacher in Vienna. There he met the Burgtheatersinger Elisabeth Rockel, sister of the tenor who hadsung Florestan in the second version of Beethoven'sopera Fidelio. They married in 1813, with Salieri astheir witness, although Beethoven had also showninterest in her. The daughter of a hosier from thePalatinate, she had made her debut as a singer in 1810 atthe age of seventeen. In three years she had made hername at second class German opera houses, as DonnaAnna in Mozart's Don Giovanni in Bamberg, where theconductor E.T.A. Hoffmann, a married man, butsusceptible to young women, was so captivated by heras to make her the principal character in his eroticdecadentnovel Don Juan. After their marriage ElisabethHummel took over the management of her husband'scareer, persuading him to resume his activity as avirtuoso pianist.

In 1819, after two unfortunate years as director ofthe opera in Stuttgart, Hummel became ArchducalKapellmeister in Weimar, a position he retained until hisdeath. There he finally joined the freemasons, as histeacher Mozart and Haydn had done, an influence on histhinking since childhood. His brother and friend in thefamous Amalia Lodge was Goethe, who wrote with himthe song Zur Logenfeier (For a Lodge Festival), 'Lasstfahren hin das Allzufl??chtige' (Let the all too fleetingjourney there).

Hummel was a leading figure of his time.

Beethoven wrote his Hammerklavier Sonata as areaction to Hummel's Sonata in F sharp minor and theFantasie, Op. 77, was very likely a response toHummel's Fantasie, Op. 18, included here. For theyoung Hummel was a figure larger than life. Schubert'sTrout Quintet was commissioned on the model ofHummel's quintet for the same instruments. TheWanderer Fantasy is evidently influenced by Hummel'sOp. 18. Liszt valued him highly and saw to the erectionof a Hummel monument, standing today in front of theGerman embassy in Bratislava. Chopin, who found faultwith Schubert, Schumann and even Beethoven, putHummel next to Mozart. As a young man Schumannhad wanted to study with Hummel. A first letter withenclosed compositions remained unanswered, thesecond brought a refusal together with therecommendation that he moderate and give some orderto his creative chaos. Schumann was in a fever ofexcitement at the appearance of Hummel's Ausf??hrlichtheoretisch-praktische Anweisung zum Piano-forte Spiel(Comprehensive Theoretical and Practical Instruction inPiano Playing), and was not alone. The three-volumework was a best-seller of the day.

Whatever the character of his other works,Hummel's main piano compositions were revolutionaryand in fantasias he was the ruling world master. Hisfacility in improvisation rested on his own unrivalledtechnique. His book on piano-playing is the key to hiswork, with 2,200 examples for all imaginableeventualities, with new fingerings and treatment of tonecolours that influenced later music. At the heart ofHummel's creative world is the Fantasia, the \peak andkeystone of virtuoso performance". But his vast output,concertos and sonatas, Masses, operas, chamber music,and songs, includes only six piano fantasias. At first inhis book he gave only one general page to the subject,but after protests from dealers and critics he extendedthis in the second edition to three. Yet here too there isfound no real guidance: one must first imprint the themeon one's memory and not depart from it again too earlyon is the very limited advice given. Hummel was notgoing to share his artistic capital with anyone.

When his Fantasie in E flat major, Op. 18, wasannounced in 1805 in the Vienna press, Hummel was 27and had been in the employ of Prince Esterhazy for twoyears. Eight years his senior, Beethoven brought out hisSymphony No. 3 and Appassionata Sonata. ThePastoral Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata, withwhich the first part of Hummel's Op. 18 shows someassociation, date from 1808 and 1818 respectively. In1805 Schubert was eight years old. Chopin andSchumann were born in 1810. The musicologistHelfried Edler identified in Op. 18 the form of a grandsonata. The work is in three main sections, first theAllegro con fuoco, that develops from an introductioninfluenced by C. P. E. Bach to romantic storm music.

Then an Adagio, suggesting the world of Chopin, andthe final Allegro assai, exciting and disruptive, pointingto the work as a companion to Schumann's Kreislerianaof 1838. The work also suggests Schubert, or is it theWanderer Fantasy that rather suggests Hummel?Only one year later, also while he was at Eisenstadt,came Hummel's Rondo quasi una fantasia in Emajor, Op. 19, a composition from quite another world,suggesting the musical language of Donizetti or Bellini,or the future work of Rossini. This may be attributed tothe influence of Antonio Salieri, a composer, likeHummel, long undervalued, but today winning respectagain, with whom Hummel had studied song-writing.

The work is apparently dedicated to a young expert, a'Madamigella Catrina Kozeluh' from the influentialcomposer and publisher family in Vienna.

Fantasie: 'La contemplazione' in A flat majorcomes from the Six Bagatelles, Op. 107, fromHummel's years in Weimar, like the other worksfollowing here. Published in 1826 and dedicated toPrincess Auguste of Weimar, it is the best known of thefantasies, recorded several times and serving as asuccessful example of Biedermeier tranquillity. Yetagainst that is the key of A flat major, identified byDaniel Christian Schubart with the grave, death, decay,judgement and eternity, and the ornamentation, bringingan uncomfortable tone to the idyll, a phenomenonnoticeable also in Op. 124.

The Fantasie in G minor, Op. 123, brings apleasant surprise. The title Fantasie f??r das Pianoforte??ber beliebte Melodien von S.Neukomm und eigeneThema (sic) (Fantasy for the Pianoforte on FavouriteMelodies by S. Neukomm and an Original Theme)seems to promise nothing much, but the work iseffective and invites further research. This concerns twolesser figures from the nineteenth century, the poetBarry Cornwall (1787-1874), or
Item number 8557836
Barcode 747313283620
Release date 10/01/2005
Category Classical
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Inui, Madoka
Inui, Madoka
Composers Hummel, Johann Nepomuk
Hummel, Johann Nepomuk
Disc: 1
Fantasina in C major on Non piu andrai, Op. 124
1 I. Introduzione
2 II. The Hunter’s Song
3 III. March
4 IV. The Bloodhound
5 V. The Roaming Mariners
6 I. Lento - Allegro con fuoco
7 II. Larghetto e cantabile
8 III. Allegro assai
9 IV. Presto
10 Rondo quasi una fantasia in E major, Op. 19
11 Bagatelles, Op. 107: No. 3 in A flat major, "La co
12 I. Caprice
13 II. Quartet
14 III. Rondo
15 IV. Campanella
16 Fantasina in C major on Non piu andrai, Op. 124
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