Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hummel - Introduction, Theme And Variations For Oboe And Orchestra

When Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in 1778 his birthplace was in the town of Pressburg in the Kingdom of Hungary which was then a part of the Austrian Empire, which currently is Bratislava in Slovakia. The change in the name of Hummel's birthplace as well as the country which it was in, is a reflection of the changes in Europe within the relatively short time span of a few centuries. Hummel himself was a product of former times. A composer and performer of renown during his lifetime, his music fell victim to changing times and rapidly faded into the background shortly before after his death in 1837.

Hummel moved to Vienna as a child and was a student of Mozart and later was a friend and fellow student of Beethoven (they were both taught by Haydn and Salieri). Hummel suceeded Haydn at the court of Prince Esterházy in Hungary until he was dismissed for inattention to duties in 1811. He went to Vienna, composed and toured Europe and Russia as a virtuoso pianist. He later held the post of Kappelmeister at other places, most notably at the court of Wiemar from 1819 to 1837. While he was at Wiemar he invited the best musicians to play there and made the city a music capital of Europe.

Besides his compositions and performing, his treatise A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte in 1828 was a great influence on young pianists as it revolutionized performance practices that heralded the Romantic era of the composer/pianist. Chopin and Schumann studied Hummel's music. Hummel was also a direct influence as a teacher. Carl Czerny transferred to Hummel after his three years of study with Beethoven. Czerny went on to teach Franz Liszt. Some of Hummel's other students were Sigismond Thalberg, Adolf von Henselt and Felix Mendelssohn.

Although Hummel is most often associated with music for the piano, he composed in all the musical forms of his time except he wrote no symphonies. He wrote eight piano concertos and many others for various solo instruments. His Introduction, Theme And Variations For Oboe is a concerto in all but name, and was written in 1824 during his time in Wiemar. It consisits of two sections:
I. Introduction - The introduction is in F minor as the orchestra sets the stage for the soloist. The music is solemn and reflective. It leads directly to the next section.
II. Theme And Variations - The theme is in contrast to the previous introduction as it is in F major and of a more cheerful disposition.
a) Variation 1 - The first variation sees the theme stated in mostly eighth notes. Each variation is in two sections that are repeated. A short ending of the first variation is played by the orchestra without the soloist.
b) Variation 2 - The theme is transformed into eighth-note triplets. This is also ended by the orchestra.
c) Variation 3 - The next variation slows the theme and is labeled cantabile ed un poco sostenuto (in a singing style, slightly sustained). The orchestra plays a con fuoco (with fire) ending to this variation.
d) Variation 4 - The theme is played in running sixteenth notes as the string s play pizacatto.
e) Interlude - Hummel deviates from the usuual set of variations and writes an extended interlude that includes fragments of the theme, but is not an actual variation on it.
f) Theme - As if to assure the listener that he hasn't forgotten about the theme, Hummel repeats it with a few changes. A fermata at the close of the theme gives the soloist opportunity for a cadenza.
g) Variation 5 - The variations begin in earnest once again as the theme is transformed into a waltz.
h) Variation 6 - The theme takes on a pattern of eighth rest-three eighth notes-quarter note per bar.
i) Variation 7 - Hummel transforms the theme to rapid eighth-note triplets with repeated notes. This variation leads to a short coda that ends the music with a high note from the soloist.

Although Hummel wrote some music that looked ahead to the Romantic era just over the horizon, he was essentially a classically trained musician whose music was rapidly looked on as being old -fashioned in the Europe of the 1830's.  Unlike Beethoven, a composer that was the model for conservative and radical composers alike, Hummel's art was of a less staggering kind but by no means trivial.  With recordings, Hummel's music is once again being heard, and perhaps will be heard more in the concert hall as well. A piece such as the Variations For Oboe, a lesser piece in that it isn't heaven-storming,  shows that he was a wonderful craftsman, could be inspired on ocassion, and a great musician.

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