Hummel – His Music
There is a strong case for arguing that Hummel’s choral music is his best genre and it is a sad reflection that these great works are so little known.
Hummel doesn’t put a foot wrong in his five concentrated masses, wonderful choral writing, superb orchestration, memorable melodies and taking full advantage of the descriptive possibilities of the words. Exaltation, excitement, exhilaration – those EXs of great musical experiences – abound.
The Mass in D minor (1805)
Hummel’s longest and most original setting. It might be considered a tribute to Mozart as the Kyrie opens with an orchestral introduction that owes much to Mozart’s D–minor piano concerto and the Credo to that of the C–minor piano concerto. After the orchestral opening, the Kyrie has dramatic pleading from the choir with a dying fall that is one of Hummel’s choral trademarks, as are the high soprano registers. It is an extended and innovative setting, almost of the theatre (and Don Giovanni). Trumpets sound immediately in the Gloria and there are delightful touches when the soloists enter – but there are still operatic orchestral tuttis! Qui tollis has a lyrical, gentle setting initially, mainly for the soloists and the Gloria’s concluding fugue ends with exhilarating amens, trumpets and horns in syncopation, thrilling!. The highly original Credo is unusually in ¾ time, it opens with the oboe and is soon swinging wonderfully, choir and orchestra in full flow, but there are some intimate episodes., the tenor and pizzicato strings at Et incarnatus est, with lovely accompaniment from horn and oboe. The remainder is extraordinary, much taken in untypical ¾ time and the concluding Et expecto resurrectionem, with quiet and moving male voices opening, is unique. The Sanctus opens with a stately tempo, then accelerates rapidly, trumpets to the fore. The soloists open the Benedictus, unaccompanied for a long period – again unusual. Sinister drumbeats sound after the orchestral introduction to the Agnus Dei, but soon the music is skipping along, the mood ardent. A horn choir opens the Dona nobis pacem and Hummel builds tension and tempo as he hurtles to the end, but not before the horns intervene interrupt, with just a trumpet.
Recommended recording: Collegium Musicum 90, cond. Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN0724.
Mass in D Op.111 (1808)
The Kyrie opens quietly with winds prominent and a pleading and sometimes urgent chorus, beautiful melodies. The Gloria builds steadily with a great fugue Cum sancto Spiritu to conclude. An unusual horn solo introduces the initially restrained and individual Credo, initially in ¾time. A cello introduces Et incarnatus est, the choir increasingly rapt, then a crescendo into Et resurrexit, swinging dramatically in ¾again. A thrilling conclusion follows. After an enthralling Sanctus the lilting Benedictus is serene and highly memorable, supported by delicious woodwind. Listen in particular to the concluding Hosanna in excelsis with its swelling and dying theme. The concluding Agnus Dei of this choral mass without soloists is initially profound and austere, choir and organ alone, but it brightens with a fugue on Dona Nobis Pacem before concluding gently.
Recommended recording:*** Collegium Musicum 90, cond. Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN0681
Mass in B flat, Op.77
The Kyrie’s choral opening has instant appeal with its rise and fall and should hook you into this great music. This time the Gloria opens exuberantly, the first section has a fiercely joyful rhythmic climax, repeated before a plaintive oboe ushers in (and out) the meditative Qui tollis. The fugal conclusion bustles and surges to an exciting and emphatic end. The Credo is equally emphatic, but inventive too – listen to the pizzicato strings at Et incarnatus est. Trumpets sound at the Et ressurexit and choir and orchestra surge forward in exaltation. Fervour in the brief Sanctus, then a lovely Benedictus, a lovely theme wrapped around the word, keep us in musical heaven, interrupted by a middle section as if reminding of war. The Agnus Dei is an ardent prayer, a most moving adagio. At Dona nobis Pacem the mood switches to joyful, introduced delicately then exploding. Reverence returns to conclude a magnificent choral mass.
Recommended recording: *** Collegium Musicum 90, cond. Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN0681.
Mass in E flat, Op.80
The Kryie opens with a stately march tread, gathering an underlying gentle orchestral drive, building to a climax, then dying away. The Gloria is packed with drama and thrilling choruses, plus a slow movement at Qui tollis. Hummel never fails to provide inspired orchestral accompaniment throughout. The opening statements of Credo have woodwind only, then open into full orchestra in Hummel’s occasional penchant for ¾time. An oboe dominates a symphonic introduction to the tenor’s sorrowful Et incarnatus est. The rest of the Credo is a thrilling ride, soloists fully involved, modulations, trumpets, pounding timpani. The latter is present after the opening cries of the Sanctus, later finishing in a great crescendo. The beautiful Benedictus brings memories of Gluck, beloved of Berlioz. There are glorious fortissimo hosannas at the end. The Agnus Dei opens full voiced and ardent, Dona Nobis Pacem is exultant, stops off, then winds up, soloists first, to a thrilling end.
Recommended recording: *** Collegium Musicum 90, cond. Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN0712.
Missa Solemnis in C (1806)
Dramatic "Kyrie"s launch this Solemn Mass, quickly accelerating into soaring chorus, modulating down and driving on in fervent supplication with dancing violins. Ardent to the extreme, then gently dying! A simple rhythmic motif sets up the ecstatic choir in the Gloria, in which a glorious melody briefly distracts – a touch of genius. In the punchy Credo Hummel keeps you hooked and exaltation is all around – an idyllic oasis appears at Et incarnatus est, so beautiful to make one weep. The Sanctus is inspired, fervent, lilting. There is a steady tread in the supplicating Benedictus, soloists to the fore, with memorable orchestral and choral accompaniment. Brass introduce a rapt Agnus Dei and the Dona nobis pacem is launched by trumpets after which Hummel drives a double fugue to an exultant conclusion, the excitement ratches up and up as he modulates into the final bars – truly sensational!
Recommended recording: *** Tower Voices, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, cond. Uwe Grodd. Naxos: 8.557193
Score from Ataria Editions AE419
The Alma Virgo Mater is a joy, a short work (6 mins.) for soprano, chorus and orchestra, with woodwind – particularly oboe – delighting in the accompaniment. Great melodies, dramatic coloratura singing, and horns blaze at the exciting conclusion.
Recommended recording: *** Gritton, Collegium Musicum 90, cond. Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN0681.
The Oratorio: The Passage through the Red Sea
A thrilling choral work building on the style of Haydn’s Creation. The date of composition of this unpublished work is unknown but likely to have been in Hummel’s early Esterháza years. It is concise, lasting around 50 minutes and has 14 numbers in two Parts, almost all involving male and/or female choruses, which are exceptional. The duet between Aaron (tenor) and Moses (bass) (No.6) is dramatic with great harmonies. It is followed by a recitative with plenty of descriptive opportunities (frogs, locusts, hail, lightning). Part 1 ends with the Destroying Angel, reminiscent of Mozart’s Commendatore. In Part 2 the momentum builds, highly melodic solo parts interspersed with powerful and exhilarating choruses, strongly rhythmic. Of particular note is the coloratura soprano aria describing the crossing of the Red Sea, beautifully orchestrated and succeeded by a thundering chorus as the waters bury Pharaoh’s army. The finale Jehovah is a mighty warrior is a tour–de–force, orchestra and male chorus initially, then the female chorus, finally combining in an exhilarating fugue, a dramatic modulation, before the orchestra, with trumpet fanfares, brings this wonderful work to a triumphant conclusion.
Recommended recording: Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert, Cond. Hermann Max, CPO 777220–2