Hummel’s Arrangements of Mozart’s Piano Concertos

It was around 1823 that Hummel first began work on a commission from English music publisher JR Schultz, to produce a series of Mozart piano concerto editions.  Hummel was of course ideally suited to this work: he had been a pupil of Mozart’s, he would undoubtedly have heard Mozart himself play the pieces, and he was deeply in tune with Mozart’s methods.  A level of authenticity was thus most likely from Hummel, although at the same time Schultz desired some degree of modernisation of the pieces.

Hummel in time completed 7 adaptations, for piano quartet (flute, violin, cello and piano): K365, K456, K466, K482, K491, K503 and K537.  The first piece to appear was the arrangement of the Piano Concerto in D minor, K466, which was published in 1827.  The Repository of Arts in 1827 noted, “Genuine melody of the sweetest kind, simple, clear, and perfect in its rhythm… The ‘Romanza’ for instance – what softness, what intensity of musical feeling!  And all this is achieved at the least possible expense of notes.  As Mozart himself once said, there is not one too many!”[1]

The arrangements were written when the classical style was all but replaced by its romantic successor.  Indeed, Hummel was considered amongst his contemporaries as the last remaining ‘true’ classicist and so who better to complete such arrangements than he?  He enriched the concertos with the flavour of romanticism, including extra ornamentation and decorative amendments, but he also allowed for the development of the piano as an instrument in itself.  Thus, he included the full range of additional keys available to him – a full octave more than what Mozart would have had.  In each case, however, he retained Mozart’s style and his spirit.

The arrangements are important for a number of reasons.  Firstly, as mentioned, they represent the workings of one of the last exponents of the classical era as he interpreted the compositions of one of the greatest.  Secondly, they are historically important as they help us to understand the development of music through these years, both stylistically but also practically in the development of the very instruments used to play the pieces.  Finally, they are important because many of Mozart’s works were not in fact published with his direct involvement as they were published posthumously owing to financial necessity by his widow, Constanze.  Thus, it was from Mozart’s often very sparse manuscripts that sense had to be made of the works and of the music which Mozart had formed in his head but not translated onto paper.  Who better, then, than to undertake this work than Hummel, who had not only studied with Mozart, but who had lived with him and immersed himself in the life and work of this creative genius?


MaryAnn Davison
@madavison
www.maryanndavison.com

 

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.