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Hummel – His Music

Concertos – The Piano Concertos

The early concertos are like discoveries of lost Mozart concertos, the mature ones are formidable, you will be reminded of the later Chopin, but Hummel’s orchestral writing is far greater.

Piano Concerto No.3 in B minor, Op.89 (1819)

This piece opens with timpani and wind throwing the simple theme around, building to a climax. The relaxed second theme, flutes and violins, provides the ideal foil. The orchestration is masterly and the ebbing away before the piano enters with timpani is like laying down a red carpet. The mood is intimate initially but develops dramatically and virtuosically – a movement with magic and magnificence. The highly original Larghetto opens with a long passage for four horns ushering in a hushed and musing piano. A movement of genius. The concluding playful Vivace brings us back to the real world, Hummel the virtuoso and entertainer at his best driving to a rousing conclusion.

alt : Download a sample of Op.89

Recommended recording: **** Stephen Hough, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Bryden Thomson, Chandos CHAN8507

Full score plus parts, also chamber version available from Orpheus&Bacchus.

Piano Concerto in E, Op.110 (1814)

Uplifting, a favourite of mine. It has an opening movement marked Allegro pomposo e spirito that is particularly joyful and festive – perhaps influenced by his marriage – if less strong thematically than its immediate successors. The Andante con moto is also more exuberant in its orchestral opening, and its later interaction with the piano. There is a superb passage for horns, one of a number of accompaniments that makes this a beautiful and original slow movement. The concluding Allegro moderato ma con brio is full of fun, again Hummel showing his ability in exploiting the instruments of the orchestra, which join in enthusiastically. In the middle there is a change of mood for a beautiful love song, the most intimate part of the concerto. The conclusion is a riot, horns, full orchestra, the piano producing fantastic effects, as if to say "I am so happy!"

alt : Download a sample of Op.110

Recommended recording: Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9687.

Download score from IMSLP

Piano Concerto in A flat, Op.113 (1827)

Opens quietly but builds into a passionate and powerful movement, Hummel in peak form, with classical and romantic styles meeting in contrast. Think Mozart meets Chopin, but of course it is Hummel! You are swept along by the first movement, the following Romanze has a declamatory orchestra answered and easily tamed by a very gentle piano. The cello section then memorably goes into raptures. The last movement is a Rondo alla Spagniola – the Spanish flavour in fashion at the time. It makes for a different, light and enjoyable conclusion, with a long home–straight of virtuosity.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9558.

Hummel’s last Piano Concerto in F (1833)

This piec has a mellow reflective and intimate mood. A connoisseur’s piece with much that is beautiful. It’s opening twinkles, and has a touch of a martial flavour. Bassoon and cello open the curtain on an extended piano solo in the middle movement, the main melody delayed. Musings follow, then the concluding Allegro is introduced, the spirit playful.

alt : Download a sample of the Piano Concerto in F

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9886.

Piano Concerto in A (London manuscript S4)

An early work from the 1790s, revisited at least once by the composer. Inevitably very Mozartian, but very well crafted. The problem of a missing middle movement has been solved practically with a later Romanze, beautiful in itself. The well–judged Finale has an extended and attractive orchestral opening, concluding an attractive, derivative work – but derived from a genius.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9886.

alt : Download Sample of the Piano Concerto in A

Piano Concerto in A (Florence manuscript S5 ca.1798)

Another early concerto. Again Mozartian, but more assured and attractive, it opens exuberantly and confidently, with a stately second theme, orchestra beautifully scored, particularly for wind. Playfulness and seriousness together. The Romanze (essentially the same referred to above) is rapt, the piano rhapsodic. The concluding Rondo is related (not for the first time in Hummel’s compositions) to the last movement of Mozart’s last piano concerto and wraps up a highly appealing work, which shows how gifted Hummel was while still in his late teens.

Recommended recording: **** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN10374.

Piano Concerto Op.34 (1809)

Opens in a martial mood, trumpets prominent in their warnings. The spirit of Mozart is not far away. The piano on entry is in a much happier mood, playful and virtuosic. The Adagio is Hummel’s longest amongst the concertos, and I find it the most beautiful, starting with the melody given out initially by the orchestra. With arpeggios the piano enters and a rapt song quietly unfolds. Contemporaneous with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, perhaps it is here that Hummel is closest to his great rival. The concluding Vivace assai brings a light–hearted mood, a jaunty and viral theme, a delicious street–band of wind–players in the middle of the orchestra. There are lots of jokes to enjoy, led by Pied–Piper Hummel – listen for the timpani roll – right up to the last bars. Fabulous entertainment, just what was needed to try take the Viennese minds off Napoleon’s occupation!

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN10216.

Other Piano and Orchestra works.

There are a number of works outside the traditional concerto structure. The Rondos are like a concerto without the opening movement, thus a slow introduction and a main fast rondo, typically lighter material.

Concertino in G, Op.73. (1799/1816)

This is the piano version of the early Mandolin concerto and works extremely well in this form. It is so easy to delight in this vigorous, happy and melodic work. A little gem.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9558.

Download score from IMSLP

Rondo Brillant in A, Op.56 (1814)

Opens with a Larghetto maestoso, majestic orchestra, intimate piano, horns leading into a bubbling and light Allegro, dominated by piano with a wide variety of accompaniment from the instruments of the orchestra, much like chamber music.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN10216.

Download the 2–piano reduction from IMSLP

Rondo Brillant in B flat, op.98 (ca.1824)

A solo clarinet, then bassoon, then oboe gently usher in orchestral arpeggios, and finally the piano in a memorable and soulful aria. The Allegro is elegant and bouncy, the piano scampering along much of the time.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN10216.

Theme and Variations, Op.97 (1820)

The seven variations on a Mozartian theme make an attractive work, the penultimate larghetto being the highlight and leading gently into a scintillating conclusion – beautiful and fun, a little gem.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9886.

Gesellschafts (Society) Rondo, Op.117 (1829)

This is a short work, less than 15 minutes. A declamatory opening from the orchestra introduces the piano in conversation, increasingly beautiful, always Adagio. At the end of these musings there is a pause and the orchestra then modulates away into a sparkling and playful Rondo, sparkling repartee between orchestra and piano now, gossip with a fugue, flirtations from the piano and a happy conclusion, all instruments applauding.

Recommended recording: *** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN9558.

L’Enchantment d’Oberon, Op.116 (1829)

This work is a Fantasie for piano and orchestra, effectively a Konzertstück with links to Weber’s opera Oberon. It has four sections, the second an impressive Larghetto leading into a stirring march. Next comes a gathering storm, a thundering piano, growing waves of sound exploding into the storm, itself brief then led by a flute into Oberon’s horn call. The orchestra gathers into a climax and a swinging ¾ finale leading to the required bring–the–house down virtuoso ending.

Recommended recording: **** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN10374.

Le Retour à Londres, Op.127 (1833)

A Largo introduction, rhapsodic, beautiful, intense, which leads, after a cadenza into the main rondo, a twinkling melody. It is fun from now on, there is a wind band passage and a hymn like orchestral theme en route to the jaunty conclusion.

Recommended recording: **** Howard Shelley, London Mozart Players, Chandos CHAN10374.

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