Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 85
edited by Andrew Brownell [pno,orch]
solo: pno – 18.104.22.168. – 22.214.171.124. – timp – str
Written in 1816, this momentous work “between the times” is often performed, and repeatedly printed.
EB 8900 is printed in score form; two copies are needed for performance.
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Hummel picks up where Dussek left off, and clearly seeks the vicinity of Beethoven, who by then had already written his fifth and last piano concerto. Yet let it be said that Hummel also left his mark on Schumann and Chopin. The Polish composer’s E-minor Piano Concerto op. 11 shows up glaring similarities with Hummel’s piece. Here the composer reveals his status as a wanderer along the interface of two eras, who succeeds in crossing borders in his A-minor Piano Concerto, thus putting him on a par with Weber and Schubert.
|1. Allegro moderato|
|3. Rondo: Allegro moderato|
Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s A minor concerto was written in 1816 in Vienna, before the composer had departed for his difficult tenure in Stuttgart. The existence of a manuscript in the hand of Jan Václav Voříšek, who studied with him in Vienna, undoubtedly places it in this period. However, the work was not published until 1821, by which time Hummel had assumed his more auspicious duties as Kapellmeister in Weimar. The title page of the first edition (by Steiner of Vienna, 1821) mentions this new post and bears a dedication to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar.
The concerto enjoyed considerable popularity in its day, receiving numerous reprints throughout the nineteenth century. It was one of the first pieces Robert Schumann studied with Friedrich Wieck, and Schumann later told Hummel that he worked on the concerto for an entire year. It is also impossible to imagine that the work was unknown to Chopin, who kept some of Hummel’s concerti in his active repertoire and whose own Concerto in E minor, Op. 11, bears many striking similarities to it.
The A minor concerto may be ‘proto-Romantic’ in that it presages certain stylistic traits of the Romantic piano concerto, particularly those of Chopin, but its structural features are firmly rooted in the Classical and reveal strong Beethovenian influences. The rondo finale owes much in the way of form, if not the character of its principal themes, to the finale of Beethoven’s third piano concerto; both movements have lyrical second episodes in which the piano adopts a largely accompanimental role, which are then followed by a developmental fugue. The martial, dotted rhythms of the main themes in the first movement also recall the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ concerto. The note-spitting codas to the first and last movements eliminate any need for a cadenza as an opportunity for virtuosic display, yet in refraining to provide a place for a cadenza, Hummel seems not to be following Beethoven’s example in the ‘Emperor’ but rather a Classical tradition first established by the concerti of Dussek in the 1790s.
It is perhaps only in the Larghetto that one searches in vain for a Classical precedent. The rippling fioritura writing belongs very much to a later age, and it is in this ornamental mode that Hummel’s formative influence on Chopin is most explicit.
Andrew Brownell, London, Spring 2015