Recorded on 06/17/1998, uploaded on 03/25/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Oboe Concertos of the
notes by Andrea Lamoreaux
"All roads lead to Rome"; or so it was said
in ancient days when the Roman Empire encompassed all the lands surrounding
the Mediterranean Sea, plus a good chunk of Western Europe and the British
Isles. Rome fell from its pre-eminent position under pressures both internal
and external, but the idea of "empire" persisted in European history for
centuries - not dying out entirely until the end of World War I in 1918. From
the early Middle Ages onward, many nations were at least nominally part of the
Holy Roman Empire, founded by Charlemagne.
By the 18th century, imperial power had
become consolidated in the Hapsburgs, the dynasty that ruled Austria-Hungary
from the city of Vienna. And although the Vienna of the Hapsburgs was not the
political colossus that Rome under the Caesars had been, it became true that
virtually all roads led there, especially for musicians. The emperor's court
and chapel, plus the smaller but no less music-loving households of the
Viennese nobility, were magnets drawing composers, instrumental virtuosos, and
singers from provincial capitals and remote villages to find work, sell their
scores, and make a name for themselves in the most musical city on earth.
Of the great Classical-Romantic "Viennese"
composers, only one, Franz Schubert, was actually born there. Haydn and Mozart
came from smaller Austrian towns, Beethoven from the German city of Bonn,
Brahms from Hamburg. There were others: around the turn of the 19th century
many successful composer-performers migrated to Vienna from what is now the
Czech Republic, then a province of the Empire known as Bohemia. Their names -
Leopold Kozeluch, Anton Reicha, Johann Vanhal, Jan Vorisek, the brothers Anton
and Paul Wranitzky - are not terribly well remembered today, but they held
important posts in their adopted city, made a good living, served their patrons
well, and left behind a wealth of music that is worth hearing....
Johann Nepomuk Hummel was a
composer, performer, and teacher who definitely achieved international stature,
and though music-lovers of today are aware of much more than just his name, he
still tends to be dismissed as second-rate. A few minutes actually spent
listening to his music dispel this attitude right away. No, he was not another
Mozart or Beethoven: very few artists in any generation are endowed with that
degree of genius. Even with a lesser spark of genius, though, he left a legacy
well worth reinvigorating. To judge from recent recordings, it appears that his
works are indeed undergoing a bit of a revival.
A child-prodigy pianist, he briefly
studied with Mozart, and like his master, embarked with his violinist-father
(shades of Leopold Mozart!) on a youthful recital tour that took him all over
Germany, and to Denmark, Scotland, and England. (The family originated in the
city of Bratislava, now in the Republic of Slovakia, but like so many other
ambitious musicians, his father perceived opportunities in Vienna and moved
there in 1786 when the future composer was 8 years old.)
After his prodigy years, the young
Hummel returned to Vienna, undertook studies with the city's leading musical
names - including Albrechtsberger, Salieri, and Haydn - and supported himself
by giving piano lessons. In 1804, he succeeded Haydn as music director for
Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, at the splendid estate in rural Austria where
concerts and opera productions were on a level with those in Vienna. Hummel
returned to the capital seven years later; though he continued to make his
reputation as a composer, he also resumed his pianistic career and made many
concert tours. He became music director for the ducal court in the German city
of Weimar in 1818, remaining there - except for tours, and frequent returns to
Vienna - until his death in 1837.
The supreme musical figure of
Hummel's time was Ludwig van Beethoven. The two were for the most part friendly
rivals, though there were occasional conflicts. Taking the Weimar position, and
continuing to appear as a pianist - a role Beethoven was forced to abandon
because of his deafness - effectively removed Hummel from the other man's
orbit. Writing about Hummel's student years in the Vienna of the 1790s, his
biographer Joel Sacks notes, "The most momentous event of the period was
Beethoven's emergence... which nearly destroyed Hummel's self-confidence."
Well it might have, but he seems to have avoided any permanent inferiority
complex. "Despite constant partisan warfare among their disciples,"
Sacks writes, "the two began a long, but stormy, friendship."
"As a composer, Hummel stands
on the borderline between epochs," in Sacks's view. "His reputation
now is that of a virtuoso specialist in piano music - something of a 19th-century
trait. This view of him, however, is grossly incorrect. When his little-known
unpublished works and the bulk of his printed ones are placed beside his
better-known compositions, it becomes clear that his work embraced virtually
all the genres and performing media common at the turn of the century: operas,
Singspiels, symphonic masses and other sacred works, occasional pieces,
chamber music, songs, and of course, concertos and solo piano music, as well as
many arrangements. Only the symphony is conspicuously absent (and this fact
alone testifies to his deeply-felt rivalry with Beethoven)."
The list of Hummel's works for solo
instrument with orchestra encompasses, naturally, many piano concertos, plus
works for trumpet, mandolin, bassoon, and the unusual pairing of viola and
guitar. His 1820s Variations for oboe and orchestra are arranged from a
Nocturne he originally composed for piano duet.
Although the work's Adagio
introduction is in F Minor, the sprightly main theme and its variations are in
the major mode. Few better examples could be found of Hummel's position on the
cusp of the Classical and Romantic eras. The Adagio is darkly dramatic and very
expressive, but after a suspenseful chord the curtains are drawn open and we
are in a brighter world, where a tuneful, eminently cheerful theme is
ingeniously elaborated with many changes of harmony, pace, and figuration. Not
a profound piece, perhaps, but a miniature gem of musical craftsmanship to
charm both players and listeners.
The performances on this CD deliberately
seek to replicate the bright, open, high-volume sound that Classical-era
composers desired, according to Mr. Klein. It is a mistake, he believes, to
produce a delicate tone-color in music from this time. With Baroque music, the
sound ideal for the oboe is a mellow, softer tone, but that is because the instrument
known to Bach and Handel had a different type of bore, and thus a much
different timbre. "The Baroque oboe is analogous to the viola," Mr. Klein says,
"the Classical oboe, to the violin: brighter and higher. All three works on
this CD provide excellent examples of Classical oboe writing."
Mr. Klein also comments on the ornamentation
practices appropriate to concertos from the Classical period. "Ornaments, and
ornamentation opportunities, come less frequently in Classical compositions
than in Baroque ones, but the practice was still favored," he tells us.
"Ornamentation is especially appropriate when motives and phrases are repeated,
in the variation passages of the finale of the first Krommer Concerto, for
example. This movement provides a perfect opportunity for the performer to add
something new." In the Baroque period, ornamentation was a regular feature of
slow movements, which were notated very sparingly by Bach and his
contemporaries, in the expectation that the artist would create his own
elaborations. By the Classical era, Mr. Klein points out, composers were
expressing their own thoughts in slow movements, and performers were not
expected to add much ornamentation.
Mr. Klein has added cadenzas to the first
Krommer concerto and to the Hummel Variations, neither of which included
cadenzas in their original versions. His ornaments and additions present a
couple of notes, including a high G and a low A, that were not common or even
possible on oboes of the early 19th century. Mr. Klein believes that if those
notes had been available to performers of the time, they would have used them
in their own interpolations of the basic scores. "Ornaments must fit the style
of the music," he says, "but as long as an artist keeps the style of the composer's
time in mind, he should feel free to play the music in the way he thinks it
Andrea Lamoreaux is
Programming Executive at Fine Arts Station WFMT-FM in Chicago.
Simply breathtaking. Both the oboe playing and Hummel's music. Thank you for sharing such great music.
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