Honouring Hummel

The pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel is something of a puzzle – a child prodigy who was highly celebrated and lauded during his lifetime, however his music has not thrived in popularity over time. Yet, with a catalogue of over 175 compositions, many of which were highly influential to Hummel’s classical contemporaries and Romantic successors including Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt, there is surely more to Hummel than perhaps modern audiences realise?

Child prodigy

Hummel was born in 1778 in Pressburg, then part of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy but now in Bratislava. His father, Director of the Imperial School of Military Music and Conductor of the Theatre Orchestra, was himself a string player and organised Johann’s first lessons. Johann became proficient on violin by the age of 5. He favoured the piano, however, and demonstrated a highly accomplished technique at the age of just 6. When he was 8 he was given the opportunity to live and study with Mozart in Vienna for two years. Hummel travelled with his father in 1787 and gave numerous concerts throughout Europe at the age of only 9 before settling for a short time in London. Haydn was in London at the same time and, having met Hummel, composed a sonata for him. Hummel performed the piece in Hanover Square Rooms in Haydn’s presence and when the performance was over Haydn reportedly thanked Hummel and gave him a guinea.

Education/Career

Returning to Vienna in 1793, Hummel received tuition in counterpoint and composition with Salieri and Clementi and he also had the opportunity to study the organ with Haydn; in addition, he studied with the Austrian musician and composer, Albrechtsberger. Around the same time, Beethoven also arrived in Vienna and studied with Haydn and Albrechtsberger; so began a friendship (and rivalry) which would last until Beethoven’s death in 1827.

In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister at the court of Prince Esterházy. He had in fact taken over many of the duties of the Kapellmeister, Haydn, owing to Haydn’s ill health, but out of respect to Haydn, Hummel assumed the title of Konzertmeister. On Haydn’s death in 1809 Hummel received the title Kapellmeister; he remained in this post until 1811 when he was dismissed for neglecting his duties. Over the next two years Hummel devoted his time to composition, and married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel in 1813.

Latterly, Hummel held the position of Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1816 to 1819 and then in Weimar from 1819 until his death in 1837.

Selected Works/Recordings

With such a vast repertoire to choose from, this is a necessarily concise selection!

Piano Works

  • Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 81 (published 1819)
  • Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1827)
  • Theme and Variations, Op. 97 (1820)
  • Bagatelles, No. 3, ‘La contemplazione’, Op. 107 (1826)

Choral

  • The Mass in D Minor (1805)
  • Mass in E flat, Op. 80
  • Missa Solemnis in C (1806)
  • Mass in D, Op. 111 (1808)

Chamber Music

  • Piano Trio No. 2 in F, Op. 22 (1799)
  • Piano Quintet, Op. 87 (1802)
  • Cello Sonata, Op. 104
  • Military Septet (1829)

Opera

  • Mathilde von Guise (first performed 1810)

If you get to listen to some of the compositions above, then surely you’ll agree with me that Hummel deserves the attention & enjoyment of a modern audience.

MaryAnn Davison

@Madavison

PS I can thoroughly recommend a listen to Hummel’s arrangement of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Overture by Pocket Sinfonia by CLICKING HERE.

Celebrating Szymanowski

Life

Karol Szymanowski was born into a wealthy family in Tymoszówka, Ukraine, in 1882, and received his first musical tuition from his father (who played piano and cello).  He entered the Elizavetgrad School of Music at the age of 7, where he studied under Gustav Neuhaus before going on to study harmony, counterpoint and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory between 1901 and 1904.  During his time in Warsaw he came into contact with prominent musicians such as Artur Rubinstein and Pawel Kochański as well as the writer, photographer, painter and playwright Ignacy Witkiewicz (affectionately known as Witkacy).  It was with Witkacy that Szymanowski first travelled to Italy in 1905, the first of many international trips which would heavily influence his works.  1905 was a significant year for him, as it was also in this year that he established the modernist movement group that became known as ‘Young Poland’, a group which thrived in the years leading up to the First World War.

The onset of the War did not hamper Szymanowski and he travelled extensively – to Italy, Sicily, South Africa, Paris and London in 1914, and in 1915-16 he visited Kiev, Moscow and St Petersburg.  It was the Bolshevik’s October Revolution in 1917 which caused major disruption to Szymanowski as he was forced leave Tymoszówka after the family lost their estates; he never returned, instead settling in Warsaw in 1919.

When the independent state of Poland was created in 1918, Szymanowski became increasingly interested in and influenced by Polish culture and folk tradition. In the early 1920s he successfully performed his works throughout the world, including in the United States and Paris.  He continued to travel and perform into the 1930s, even after accepting the position of Director of the Warsaw Conservatory in 1927.  He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1928, a disease which affected his work and life in the ensuing years.

Widely considered one of the foremost Polish composers of the 20th century, during his lifetime Szymanowski received many national honours, including the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.  He died in 1937, at a sanitorium in Lausanne.

Influences

There are generally considered three key periods in Szymanowski’s career:

The first covers the period 1899-1913 and is marked by his general maturation.  At this stage he was heavily influenced by the late Romantic period, closely following the model of Chopin.  Coupled with this, however, was a nod towards modernity with elements of Scriabin present.

In the second stage of his career (1914-1919) he demonstrated great originality, possibly aided by his extensive studies of Islamic culture and Greek drama and philosophy.

The final stage (1920-1937) sees a re-evaluation of earlier ideas coupled with the influences of his newly acquired nationalism and interest in Polish folklore.

Selected Chronology 

Preludes for piano, Op. 1 (1899-1900)

The Swan, Op. 7 (1904)

Hagith, Op. 25 (1912-1913)

King Roger, Op. 46 (1918-1924)

Twenty Mazurkas, Op. 50 (1924-1925)

Symphony No. 4 (Symphonie Concertante), Op. 60 (1932)

PS Worth listening to: http://eleanorcorr.com/szymanowski-mythes-i-la-fountaine-darethuse/


MaryAnn Davison
www.maryanndavison.com
@madavison