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Hummel – His Music

Piano Music – Sonatas

There is a feast of music for solo piano and more still to emerge. It largely consists of formal sonatas, fantasies, and theme and variations.

Piano Sonata No. 6, Op.106 (1824)

Looks forward to Chopin and has an exquisite second theme in the captivating first movement, followed by a scintillating virtuosic passage up and down the keyboard. After a spikey Scherzo there is a lovely Larghetto a capriccio, left hand accompaniment like a boat rocking gently on a lake. The concluding Allegro vivace returns to Hummel’s contrapuntal style, the attractive themes always suggesting fugal treatment but just teasing – clever and successful, with a quiet ending.

alt : Op.106 Sound Sample

Recommended Recording: **** Stephen Hough, Hyperion CDA67390

Score from IMSLP

Piano Sonata No.5, Op.81 in F–sharp minor. (pub.1819)

Considered one of Hummel’s greatest works in his lifetime, it is a highly demanding work to play. From the beginning Hummel’s signature of arpeggios and contrapuntal writing is evident but in a much more romantic and imposing context. The opening Allegro is like a roller–coaster ride, exciting but pausing at times for reflexion before re–launching. Often cascades of notes intersperse. The Largo con molto espressione is demanding, relying on the belief of the interpreter to plumb the depths which are possible. It melts towards its gentle end. The Finale is technically and physically demanding, an almost relentless wild dance with a thrilling end.

alt : Piano Sonata No.5 Sound Sample

Recommended Recording: **** Stephen Hough, Hyperion CDA67390

Score from IMSLP

Piano Sonata No.3, Op.20 in F–minor (pub. ca.1805)

This serious sonata is somewhat in Hummel’s baroque/contrapuntal style as in some of the contemporaneous string quartets in the first movement. The following Adagio maestoso also, although after 2 minutes the theme is lighter and more romantic. The concluding Presto – Ancor pui presto – is virtuosic, almost back to Bach at times.

alt : Piano Sonata No.3 Sound Sample

Recommended Recording: **** Stephen Hough, Hyperion CDA67390

Download score from IMSLP

Piano Sonata No.4, Op.38 (ca.1808)

This is the longest of Hummel’s piano sonatas. It makes a grand entrance –Adagio maestoso – before rushing off in an Allegro, echoes everywhere. The second theme reminds of Mozart, but not the treatment, which gets increasingly virtuosic. A very enjoyable movement. An Adagio con molto espressione by Hummel is always a pleasure, this one is quite florid. The last movement, Prestissimo, is melodic, virtuosic and essentially light–hearted with a punchy conclusion.

Recommended recording: *** Chang, Naxos: 8.553296

Download score from IMSLP

Piano sonata No.2, Op.13 in E–flat (pub.1805)

An attractive early sonata with Mozart’s influence clearly audible in the outer movements. I love the theme that arrives after a minute, it’s like balm. Hummel’s individuality is more to the fore in the musing and rapt Adagio con gran espressione which opens with graceful rising arpeggios. Highly appealing! The finale, Allegro con spirito, is firmly rhythmic at the onset; it has its themes over–ridden regularly by the imposition of the rhythm in the bass.

Recommended Recording: *** Chang, Naxos: 8.553296

Score from IMSLP

Piano Four–hands

Hummel also wrote two mature sonatas for two pianists, four hands. The shorter and lighter Piano Sonata, Op.51 is Hummel at his best, totally entertaining and delightful. It opens with a jaunty march tune evolving into a lyrical variation. I regret to say it is one of those simple viral themes that remain in your head hours later! After various treatments it ends in sombre mood. A very short Andante in ¾ time acts as an introduction to the last and longest movement, the main twinkling theme, closely related to the first movement, again memorable. The march–like opening movement quickly arrives in the background and the fantasia element develops to create a thoroughly entertaining experience with a dying away erupting to a scintillating conclusion. Fun and witty!

alt : Op.51 Sound Sample

Recommended Recording: Steinhöfel, Roth HARMS050902 www.ha–rms.de

Score from IMSLP

Piano Sonata Op.92 (1820)

This is much more serious and ranks with his best. A slow introduction opens into a serious, brooding theme which develops formidable momentum, helped by contrasting lighter second subject. Fugal treatment in the development helps maintain the tension to a majestic ending. An adagio opening hymn–like broadens into declamatory statements from the two pianists before the hymn returns to die away with gentle trills. The concluding movement contrasts a light opening theme with a strongly rhythmic one. The interplay between the two pianists is scintillating and we are swept to a thrilling conclusion where the two subjects are brought together.

alt : Piano Sonata Op.92 Sound Sample

Recommended Recording: Recommended Recording: Steinhöfel, Roth HARMS050902 www.ha–rms.de

Other Piano Music

Here lies some of Hummel’s most attractive piano music. The Rondo quasi una fantasia in E major, Op. 19, opens arrestingly with dramatic chords, then follows a declamatory but gentle theme before a memorable and haunting melody appears. In the second half the music takes off, melodies and virtuosity together. This short work – 9 minutes or so – is a little gem.

alt : Op.19 Sound Sample

Recommended recording: Madoka Inui,Naxos 8.557836

Bagatelles, Op. 107: No. 3 in A flat major, "La contemplazione"(1826)

Another gem, beautiful yet powerful, with a raptness that holds you, particularly the exquisite melody at the heart.

alt : Op.107 Sound Sample

Recommended recording: Madoka Inui, Naxos 8.557836

Download Score from IMSLP

If you want more , listen to Recollections of Paganini (1831)and the Fantasina on Mozart’s Non pui andrai, Op.124 (1833). Fun, fireworks and a sense of what it must have been like when Hummel improvised. These works abound with great melodies and virtuosity and are enormous fun – ideal encore pieces.

Recommended recording: Madoka Inui,Naxos 8.557836

Download score from IMSLP

24 Etudes, Op.124 (1833)

Hummel’s brilliant Etudes are perhaps more for pianists to prove themselves than for listeners, but these short pieces (the etudes, covering every key, last 30 minutes in all, the longest 4 minutes) give the pianist the opportunity to seduce with virtuosity and effects and a wide variety of moods and you will not be bored as these works flash by. Perhaps a connoisseur’s work, but listen to the cascading notes of No.5 (definitely previewing Chopin) and the sombre No.22. This work really grows on you.

Recommended recording: Khouri, Music and Arts Programs of America, CD–1165

Download score from IMSLP

Rondo Brillant, Op.109

Brilliant is the word, virtuosic at times and with a beautiful quiet middle section.

Recommended recording: Khouri, Music and Arts Programs of America, CD–1165

Download Score from IMSLP

There is much more, but this will keep you going for a while!

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