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