REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » HUMMEL: Piano Trios / Piano Quartet in G major / Cello Sonata
By Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
By Peter M. Knapp
Second son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) did things his way in a distinguished career as court harpsichordist in Berlin and Potsdam to Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Live-in pupil of Mozart, successor to Haydn, friend of Goethe, teacher of Mendelssohn, Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) in his day was one of Europe�s most admired musicians.
Both Bach and Hummel were considered the greatest keyboard virtuosos of their time. Both wrote important treatises on the art of playing keyboard instruments. And both were biographically linked to the German city of Weimar: Bach was born there; Hummel died there. Although the fame of both men has undeservedly faded, their worth is demonstrated on new recordings.
After serving the Prussian king for nearly 30 years, C.P.E. Bach spent the last 20 years of his life in Hamburg, succeeding his illustrious godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as cantor of the Johanneum. No one else wrote like this boldly original composer. Moving away from his father�s baroque style, Emanuel was an exponent of the so-called ��emfindsamer Stil�� (very sensitive style). Instead of the harpsichord, he preferred the clavichord, which gave the player greater control over tone and volume.
Among his many works, Emanuel Bach wrote about 150 keyboard sonatas, five of which, along with two rondos, are admirably performed by Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber on a Naxos CD.
Bach�s highly (if not occasionally hyper) expressive style included violent contrasts in material, speed and volume, dramatic pauses, exploratory harmonies, sometimes bizarre excursions. For example, in the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor, Wq.52/4, a plaintive, soft-voiced melody is continually interrupted by stern, agitated outbursts, like Orpheus confronted by the Furies. The CD ends serenely with the beautiful Cantabile in B minor from the Sonata Wq.55/3.
Hummel is perhaps best known today for the greatest of all trumpet concertos and the brilliant Septet in D minor. Born in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia), he was a child prodigy who began studies with Mozart in Vienna at age seven. A few years later, after a European tour, Hummel studied with Haydn and Salieri before becoming Prince Esterhazy�s konzertmeister, more or less assuming Haydn�s duties. Moving on, he took charge of the opera in Weimar, becoming about as much a local celebrity as Goethe. Hummel also became a star teacher with such pupils as Felix Mendelssohn and Adolph Henselt.
Hummel�s creativity as a composer is amply demonstrated on excellent recordings by Warner Classics and Naxos featuring his piano trios and other works. Classical in nature while looking forward to the romantic period, these poised, tuneful, well-fashioned pieces provide very enjoyable listening.
. . . On the Naxos CD, New York City native Susan Alexander-Max is the fortepianist for the unnamed group of international musicians that includes the famous English violinist Simon Standage.
Largely neglected by posterity, Johann Nepomuk
Hummel in his own time enjoyed the highest reputation
both as a composer and as a virtuoso performer. The
increasing availability of his music, whether in print or
in recordings, is evidence of the unjustified nature of the
posthumous neglect of his work, although neither the
bicentenary of his birth nor the 150th anniversary of his
death in 1987 aroused the interest that his compositions
Hummel was born in 1778 in Pressburg, the modern
Slovak capital Bratislava, the son of a musician. At the
age of four he could read music, at five play the violin
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 the boy and his
father embarked in 1788 on an extended concert tour.
For four years they travelled through Germany and
Denmark and by the spring of 1790 they were in
Edinburgh, where they spent three months. There
followed 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 time of
revolution, so that father and son made their way back
through Holland to Vienna.
The next ten years of Hummel’s career found him
occupied in study, in composition and in teaching in
Vienna. When Beethoven had settled in 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 to study with
the same teachers, the most distinguished Vienna had to
offer. Albrechtsberger provided a sound technical basis
for his composition, while Salieri gave instruction in
writing for the voice and in the philosophy of aesthetics.
Haydn, after his second visit to London, gave him some
organ lessons, but warned him of the possible effect on
his touch as a pianist. It was through Haydn that
Hummel in 1804 became Konzertmeister to the second
Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, effectively doing the work
of Kapellmeister, a title that Haydn held nominally until
his death in 1809. He had Haydn to thank, too, for his
retention of his position with the Esterházy family when
in 1808 neglect of his duties had brought dismissal. His
connection with the family came to an end in 1811 but
his period of service had given him experience as a
composer of church and theatre music, while his father,
as director of music at the Theater auf der Wieden and
later of the famous Apollo Saal, provided other
Hummel had impressed audiences as a child by his
virtuosity as a pianist. He returned to the concert
platform in 1814, at the time of the Congress of Vienna,
a year after his marriage, but it was the Grand Duchy of
Weimar, home of Goethe, that was able to provide him,
in 1818, with a basis for his career. By the terms of his
employment he was allowed leave of absence for three
months each spring, a period spent in concert tours. In
Protestant Weimar he was relieved of responsibilities
for church music but presided at the opera and was, with
Goethe, one of the tourist attractions of the place,
although in speech his homely Viennese accent sorted
ill with the speech of the resident literati.
In 1828 Hummel published his study of pianoforte
performance technique, a work that enjoyed immediate
success and has proved a valuable source for our
knowledge of contemporary performance practice.
Towards the end of his life his brilliance as a player
diminished. This was the age of Liszt and a new school
of virtuosity, while Hummel represented a continuation
of the classical style of playing of his teacher, Mozart,
now carried into the age of Chopin, Liszt, Kalkbrenner
The two-movement Piano Quartet in G major was
published posthumously in 1839. The first movement
casts principal light on the piano, which proposes the
principal theme, before the excitement of the G minor
central section, with its rapid piano octaves. The
following D major Allegro con spirito again offers
virtuoso material to the piano, with a repeated
exposition, an exciting development, and a conclusion
with all the power of a concerto.
Hummel’s Piano Trio in G major, Op. 35, dates
from 1811. The piano proposes the first subject, with the
second subject entrusted to the violin, in a repeated
exposition. The characteristic snap rhythm of the first
subject is heard at the start of the development, which
soon moves into B flat major, with the piano recalling
the first subject and the cello the closing theme of the
exposition. The triplet figuration of each player in turn
is followed by the violin leading into the recapitulation.
The second movement is a C major Tempo di Menuetto,
with an F major trio section that gives some prominence
to the strings. The last movement is a Rondo, marked
Vivace e scherzando. Its main theme offers a
momentary surprise in a sudden pause, framing an
episode in D major before returning with a further
surprise to the listener. A fugal C major episode is
followed by varied forms of the second theme, before
the return of the main subject and a reminder of the
second superimposed, before the emphatic conclusion.
The Grande Sonate in A major for cello and piano,
Op. 104, was composed in 1826. A lyrical first
movement is introduced by the cello, before the piano
offers the first subject. There is an energetic transition
before secondary material is proposed, leading to a
gentle theme in C major, with a return to the dominant
of the original key before the repetition of the
exposition. Other tonalities are explored in the central
development, before the return of the principal theme to
start the recapitulation. The slow movement is a C major
Romanza, with the principal melody entrusted first to
the piano, followed by the cello. A hint of agitation is
suggested by dotted rhythms, before a dramatic change
to C minor, mollified by a further lyrical shift to E flat
major. The original key is restored, with the main theme
given to the cello, echoed by the piano. The latter
instrument starts the final A minor Rondo, a movement
that continues the virtuoso treatment of the piano. The
movement includes a C major episode, marked
innocente, and an episode in A major, framed by the
main theme in a work of the soundest craftsmanship.
Hummel’s Piano Trio in F major, Op. 22, dates
from 1807. In contrast with the preceding work, this is
very much of its period, suggesting a musical language
familiar from Haydn. With a less demanding piano part,
the first movement starts with a sonata-form exposition,
duly repeated. After a brief development, it is the
secondary theme that forms the substance of the
recapitulation, bringing a fugal treatment of the melody
before the final section. The B flat major Andante con
variazioni has the piano introduce the theme, capped by
the cello and then the violin. The piano has the first
variation, followed by a version for the cello, with
plucked chords from the violin. There follows a
variation in which the violin assumes prominence, while
the cello leads the final version of the material. The
fashionable Rondo alla Turca preserves the features
borrowed from the janissary band, with the piano doing
much to provide the essential percussive element of
what was then known as Turkish music, with its
standard harmonies and figuration.
Last Albums Viewed
HUMMEL: Piano Trios / Piano Quartet in G major / C...