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Hummel – His Music

Chamber Music

With his Piano Trios Hummel provides guaranteed entertainment, with a template that consists of a fund of uncomplicated melodies, balanced writing for the instruments, not a little humour and brevity. It is difficult to pick favourites!

Piano Trio No.2 in F, Op. 22 (1799)

The piano opens, then ushers in the violin and cello to a dancing 2/4 melody, playfully treated. Next comes a jaunty Andante con variazione, the melody memorable, the treatments full of humour. You won’t forget the finale Rondo alla Turca, either. Its fast march and fierce rhythms should bring the house down.

alt : Piano Trio No.2, Op.22 Sound Sample

Score available from Breitkopf & Härtel

Piano Trio No.3 in G, op.35 (pre1804)

This work has an opening Allegro con brio of great ardour, a principle theme with a leap at the end, the violin prominent. A swinging Minuet is the middle movement, much violin ornamentation around the theme. The concluding Rondo dances along, very rhythmic, with a joyful ending.

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Piano Trio No.4 in G, Op.65

Opens with a gracious theme – a bow and a curtsey, the second more meandering. The piano opens the Andante grazioso, the opening style continuing. The Rondo: vivace assai e scherzando bustles along but has a yearning theme too. All participants thoroughly enjoy themselves and the final bars are exuberant.

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Piano Trio No.5 in E, Op.83

Starts with piano solo, before a memorable theme appears with the violin and cello, their harmonies superb. The piano writing is at times virtuosic in contrast to the simplicity of the strings. The Andante is beautiful, a simple four note theme is developed in intimacy. The opening theme of the Rondo will bring a smile to your face, it’s bouncy, memorable. Superb entertainment!

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Piano Trio No.6 in E flat, Op.93

A quirky opening rhythm that becomes part of an extended theme, the second theme is an attractive yearning melody. The development is unusually forceful. Next comes, a beautiful song for piano, Un poco larghetto, with sighs from the violin and cello before they each take their own turn. A second lovely theme arrives on the violin, sadness, making this a very special movement right through to the final ebbing away. Normality returns with a happy Rondo.

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Piano Trio no.7, Op.96

Exudes humour in its opening theme, the mood is light–hearted throughout. The Andante quasi allegretto has a slow march–like pace and a very appealing set of variations, the piano concluding with witty decorations. The concluding Andante alla russa: Allegro vivace is another dancing movement, memorable and fun.

Recommended recording:*** Trio Parnassus, MDG 3307/8

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Piano Quintet in Op.87 (1802)

A very attractive early work, scored with double–bass. It opens with a short but memorable motto and considerable momentum is built up. The piano part is particularly fine. The minuet is quirky, rhythmic and effective. The relative shortness of the work is largely due to a beautiful, sombre and brief adagio (it lasts just two minutes) which I always think should have a repeat, but it serves to lead into a jolly finale that cannot fail to please, particularly as the piano lets rip towards the end. Recommended recording: Klavierquintett Wien, Camerata CM–28055 (also has Quintet version of the Septet)

alt : Op.87 Sound Sample

Piano Septet in D minor, Op.74 (1816)

Arguably Hummel’s greatest chamber work, whether in its original form (piano, flute, oboe, horn, viola, cello and double bass,) or in the much more practical Piano Quintet arrangement he made – scored as for his Op.87 – which inspired the commissioning of Schubert’s Trout Quintet for the same instruments. The Septet was a favourite of Liszt, who played it often and made a 2–piano transcription. It is around forty minutes long, nearly twice the length of Op.87. Loud chords open the Allegro con spirito, unleashing a strong forward momentum that characterises the movement, together with a true virtuoso piano part. Soon the cello drops down, the flute too, then the horn takes on a new theme, followed by the other instruments – jolly, jaunty, exciting. The Menuetto is jagged and playful, the piano accompanying but trying to jump in amongst the other instruments that have the melody – the horn call prominent. The Andante con variazone has a wistful, memorable theme, triumphant at the end. The Finale is driven forward by the piano, there is a fugue, then a release of tension with the cello leading the other instruments. Then the original momentum takes charge again, continuing the drive to a powerful conclusion in a long home straight.

alt : Op.74 Sound Sample

Recommended recording: Capricorn, Hyperion Helios CDH55214

Military Septet (1829)

Hummel responded to contemporary fashion for a military dimension in chamber music and composed his Military Septet (piano, flute, trumpet, clarinet, violin, cello and double bass). The strident trumpet is banned from the adagio and the work is a fascinating example of its time. It is a bit like having a coarse country cousin join the party! The trumpet announces its presence immediately, but then is allowed only some simple interjections. Everything is masterly when the trumpet is not playing. A beautiful, quiet Adagio, instruments blending beautifully, is followed by a rhythmic Menuetto, trumpet calls in the trio and at the playful end. The Finale is a jolly affair with a delightful later theme and a witty quiet end. I wonder what it would be like with a horn replacing the trumpet? Sacrilege?

Recommended recording: Capricorn, Hyperion Helios CDH55214

Download score from IMSLP

The Viola Sonata Op.5, No.3 (Pub. ca.1798)

This work has much Mozartian influence. It opens with a memorable and jaunty theme and the viola is soon prominent. The Adagio cantabile opens like a slow march, the viola sings simply and expressively, though the piano has a prominent section on its own. The Rondo con moto is dramatic and concludes a pleasurable early work.

Recommended recording: Bianchi, Orvietto, Dynamic CDS 192

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Cello Sonata, Op.104

Highly appealing. It opens Allegro amabile e grazioso with a quietly yearning theme on the cello, quickly taken over by the piano. The pace quickly picks up and the rhapsodic cello is matched by a formidable piano part. Beautiful music, which is surpassed in the following Romanze where a memorable but simple theme is introduced gently by the piano, which in turn introduces the cello in aria mode. Raptness is the mood, disturbed briefly by a stormy middle section before returning even more ardently before dying away. The concluding Rondo is the most virtuosic movement, almost playful until building to its exciting conclusion.

alt : Op.104 Sound Sample

Recommended recording: Bonucci, Orvietto, Dynamic CDS 286

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The Flute Trio, Op.78

The proper title is Adagio, Variations and Rondo on "Schöne Minka". This is a beautiful short work, a great melody and a wide variety of treatments and moods in the seven variations for the great combination of piano, flute and cello. The final Rondo has a sublime – if simple – ending.

Recommended recording: Daoust, Dolin, Picard. naxos 8.55347.

Download score from IMSLP

String Quartets Op.30 (pre 1804)

Hummel wrote his quartets at an age younger than Beethoven and Mozart. Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartets were published in 1801 and Hummel too dedicated his to Prince Lobkovitz. The three are his only examples of this genre, a little surprising given their accomplishment and attractiveness. They are outside nearly all quartets’ repertoire but are very fine works!

No.1 in C major opens with a pregnant adagio in the minor key, then sets in motion an energetic rising theme that alternates with a lyrical one. The treatment is masterly, momentum maintained. The following short Menuetto’s opening theme is a descending one. The Adagio e cantabile comes third and is a gorgeous meditative movement, a high spot. The concluding Allegro vivace’s opening theme rises and falls and there is plenty of opportunity for each instrument to shine in a fugal treatment.

alt : Op.20 No.1 Sound Sample.

Score available from S J Music, 23 Leys Road, Cambridge CB4 2AP, England

No.2 in G major. Firm chords resonate in the opening theme of the allegro con brio. This time the slow movement, Andante grazioso comes second, as usual, opened by the cello, commented on by the first violin. The second theme is soulful and the melodies are passed from instrument to instrument – graciously of course, particularly at the end. The menuetto is stately, with a delicious trio, a swinging waltz. The concluding Vivace skitters along, some fugal passages, a joyful second theme, all the instruments having fun to a perfect conclusion.

alt : Op.30 No. 2 Sound Sample

Score available from S J Music, 23 Leys Road, Cambridge CB4 2AP, England

No.3 in E flat major An arresting opening then a bouncy accompaniment from the cello as the gentle theme is passed from the viola upwards, then it is Allegro con spirito, with much interplay. The Andante opens like a gentle prayer, then we have the theme of Comfort ye from Handel’s Messiah briefly introduced. Sublime and very moving. The Allemande will stick in your head with its motor rhythm. The trio is very baroque in contrast. The Presto finale zips along, again fugal passages frequent, all very good–natured. Recommended recording: *** Delmé Quartet, Hyperion Helios CDH55166

alt : Op.30 No.3 Sound Sample

Score available from S J Music, 23 Leys Road, Cambridge CB4 2AP, England

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