Previous Page

Hummel – His Music


Hummel wrote his Tyrolean Air with Variations (1829) – a yodelling aria – at the request of the great soprano Maria Malibran. In Cecilia Bartoli’s concert tribute to Malibran (captured on DVD) it brings the house down and the audience to its feet. Humour, virtuosity, melody – it has it all! Tailor made by Hummel and surely no composer could have done it better. Recommended recording: Maria, Cecilia Bartoli, Decca DVD 074 3252

Download score of 2–piano reduction from IMSLP


Hummel wrote 15 operas in total, the first in 1797, the last around 30 years later, but most composed in his Vienna and Esterháza days. They include some recycled music, and some are lost, some unfinished. Those that exist are buried in museums and libraries. The most prominent is Mathilde von Guise, first performed in Vienna in 1810 and revised for a performance in Weimar in 1821. Suffice it to say that a concert performance I attended in November 2008 was the first in 175 years, and I was totally bowled over by it! The story is of Mathilde, the sister of the Duke de Guise, whose planned marriage of convenience to the King of Poland is prevented by her secret marriage to Monsieur Beaufort, the Duke’s secretary, providently supported by the passing–by King of France. So, a nice romance! The music is very fine, with Hummel deploying his substantial experience in orchestral, choral and vocal writing. He demonstrates a full absorption of Mozart’s skill in the many ensembles – 12 of 16 numbers – and each of the three acts concludes with full ensemble and chorus. The Overture has an opening adagio theme from three divided cellos, before we are off into a full orchestral tutti, led by the oboe. Then Hummel introduces more of the opera’s prominent themes, interspersed with virtuosic orchestral passages. Magical horns lead into the opening recitative and aria Chi mai saprà spiegar for the hero and tenor Beaufort, Adagio initially. It has memorable melodies and exquisite orchestration and gets the opera off to a great start. Next comes a Terzettino (Trio) for La Baronne (whom the Duke wants to marry off to Beaufort) and Nicolas, the gardener. Concise, witty and sparkling. A chorus of peasants enters with a swinging tune that demands dancing then other characters enter the scene. After an orchestral march the number accelerates, developing a great ensemble. A sublime duet between Mathilde and Beaufort Mi fà felice amor and becomes a trio when they are joined Beaufort’s valet. The Finale to Act 1 is thrilling as the drama unfolds – the Duke announcing his dynastic plans, and giving his blessing to the engagement of Beaufort’s valet, Valentin to Claudine. The music takes us through all the emotions and the number of participants builds until everyone is involved in the concluding Allegro vivace, with blazing trumpets and a high C from Mathilde ringing out in the final bars. Act 2 opens optionally with a delightful love duet for Valentin and Claudine before a magnificent Scena and Aria for Mathilde O ciel, che intensi mai? One of the high spots of the opera, vocally very demanding, it ought to be well known. Next comes a Trio for the Duke, Mathilde and Beaufort, fast and furious, orchestra brimming with additional contributions to the voices. The following Scena and Aria for the Duke is another tour–de–force, with a gorgeous triumphant orchestral postlude. A lilting Trio with Mathilde, Beaufort and La Baronne opens up the possibility of marriage, the conclusion of this number is as if Mozart still lived. Act 2 concludes by celebrating the marriage of Valentin and Claudine, and the future proposed Royal marriage, with Viva il nostro buon signor, with bucolic horns prominent – the pace gathers, chorus and soloists climax, they stop and Hummel catches us out by having an orchestral reprise. Act 3 opens with a Vaudeville: Venite tutti quanti, the swirling peasants choir celebrating. Next comes Mathilde’s Larghetto Romance, L’ombrosa notte, vien. It has two cellos for a highly individual accompaniment, chords of sombre horns and trumpets as if in a Dona nobis pacem of a Mass. Fabulous effect! A truly joyful duet for Mathilde and Beaufort O ciel! Resistere non posso is the climax of the opera. Their marriage is then depicted by a church choir (including sopranos and contraltos) singing an unaccompanied hymn, Padre nostro, gran Signor. The Duke’s outrage is overcome in a penultimate highly dramatic number as Mathilde and Beaufort go head to head with him – much dissonance and a fast and furious ending. The brief Finale, after the intervention of the King of France has ennobled Beaufort, brings the curtain down on a wonderful experience, trumpets and all. What other treasures may exist in Hummel’s other opera scores?

Recording on original instruments due 2009 on Brilliant Classics, cond. Didier Talpain

Scores available from Editions Symétrie, Lyon, France

Next Page