In love with Hummel’s Piano Trio in E major

Naturally delicate. © Charles Thibo

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was his teacher, Frédéric Chopin his successor. He was a master pianist and an accomplished composer, rooted in the classical Vienna, but looking already beyond the 18th century at the Romantic world of sound. Johann Nepomuk Hummel bridged the two eras and showed contemporary audiences how much brilliance and delicatezza piano music can display without leaving the framework that Mozart and Hummel’s later teacher Antonio Salieri had set. His later compositions expanded considerably in expressive range, harmonic and melodic variety, compared to earlier works, closer to Mozart’s style.

Anticipating Franz Schubert

We have briefly met Hummel in an earlier post on a trumpet concerto composed by Joseph Haydn. This time I will devote an entire, well-merited post to him. The reason is simple: I fell in love with his piano trios, more precisely the Piano Trio in E major. It has all of Mozart’s elegance but it anticipates in its emphasis on emotions already Franz Schubert. Schubert? Oh yes. He was a piano student of Salieri too! The two composers share Salieri’s legacy as a composer and a musician. Schubert was certainly more daring in his chamber music works, especially in the later ones, but I find Hummel’s work totally underrated and I am very glad to have come across that recording by the Trio Parnassus.

Schubert and Hummel met in 1827 – at the funeral of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven had asked that Hummel would improvise on the piano at his memorial service and Schubert was one of the torchbearers. Beethoven and Hummel had been taught counterpoint by the same teacher, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. Vienna’s music scene was a small world, and the different composers would remain in touch with eachother. Social networks are as old as mankind itself.

The Piano Trio in E major, Op. 83 was published in 1819, at a time when Hummel held the post of Kapellmeister at the court of Weimar. “Hummel’s years at Weimar were some of the happiest of his life, and highly productive”, notes Oxford Music Inline. “Through Goethe he met the leading figures of the intellectual world, and became fully involved in the rich cultural environment of the city. Hummel[‘s performances] in fact would soon become one of Weimar’s tourist attractions”

A busy composer and conductor

Hummel’s official duty was to conduct at the court theatre and stage operas by Mozart, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Spohr and Weber. While he was also in charge of organizing a whole range of concerts and strived to improve the working conditions of the musicians, he found sufficien time to compose virtuoso piano works and chamber music for his tours, cantatas and symphonies.

Op. 83 starts on joyous, playful note with the piano, a first sketch of a theme, that the strings uickly pick up and – Schubert quickly comes to one’s mind. Admirable, very pleasing. The andante is a gently rocking tune, more akin to Mozart’s chamber music. The third movement, a rondo, starts with punctuated notes for the piano settingbthevrhythm of this dance-like music, the strings play an accompanying tune. Delightful!

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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