This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
That heading is rather scurrilous because there's no evidence whatsoever that JOHANN NEPOMUK HUMMEL engaged in that sort of thing but, my goodness, he could have been the greatest name dropper in musical history if he'd wanted to.
After all, he was taught by Joseph Haydn; he lived for a couple of years with the Mozarts; he was a good friend of both Beethoven and Schubert and he taught Mendelssohn.
He was also good friends with Goethe (but he wasn't known for his musical accomplishments, although a lot of his poems have been set to music by several of the finest composers). Besides all that, Jo had a serious influence on the works of Schumann, Chopin and Liszt.
He really could have given up the composing lark and made a career appearing on TV talk shows chatting about all those. So, it's Hummel and the others today, which gives me a good excuse to play some of my favorite composers (and some others).
I'll start with the man himself, JOHANN HUMMEL.
Jo was born in Pressburg which these days is called Bratislava in what we now know as Slovakia. Back then it was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He showed great promise early on, such that he caught the ear of Mozart who decided to take him on as a pupil, and also invited him to live with the Mozart family for a while (that turned into two years).
The musical piece I've chosen isn't from that early period living with the Mozarts; I'm going to jump ahead and play something from later on, his Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 104, the second movement.
As I mentioned, Hummel lived with the Mozarts (from the age of eight to ten). WOLFGANG MOZART was impressed with his talent and gave him lessons during that time. I imagine Wolfie's father was possibly in the mix as well as he was considered one of the finest music teacher at the time (or since, for that matter).
Wolfie probably taught him a thing or two about piano playing as that turned into the main instrument for which he wrote. I thought that, as all the other selections here are instrumental, I'd have some vocal work from Wolfie who was a master at producing great music for the voice, particularly for female singers.
This is the first movement from his Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165, sung by KIRI TE KANAWA.
After Wolfie, MUZIO CLEMENTI was the next to give Jo some music lessons.
The Muz was born in Italy but spent most of his life in England which is where he met Jo and taught him. He was a teacher to several of the next generation of composers. Besides all that he designed and built pianos and was also a music publisher, which probably paid more than composing.
However, it's his compositions we're interested in, and the one I've chosen is the Violin and Piano Sonata Op.2 No.3 in G Major, the first movement.
All up, Hummel spent about four years in London and he was there when the French Revolution broke out. His next gig was going to be a tour of France but he changed his mind about that.
Coinciding with his stay, JOSEPH HAYDN was on one of his regular London visits.
Papa Jo composed a piano sonata for him and Hummel gave the first performance of it for which Papa Jo thanked him and gave him a guinea (a reasonable sum at the time). They both returned to Vienna after that and more lessons eventuated.
Around this time, the keyed trumpet was invented and Haydn, being an adventurous soul (musically), wrote some music for this new instrument. Here is the third movement of his Trumpet Concerto in E flat major.
Hummel was a bit of a one for lessons, as he also received some more from JOHANN ALBRECHTSBERGER.
He must have been the most educated musician around and considering who gave the lessons, oh my goodness. Besides being a teacher, Albie was a composer of some note as well, demonstrated by his Partita No. 2 in C major, the first movement.
There's some harp in there as well as flute and keyboard.
ANTONIO SALIERI has had the worst press of any composer in history what with all the books, films and plays about him and Mozart.
So, let's set the record straight – he did not murder Mozart, he had no hand in his death. Indeed, they quite liked and supported each other in their musical endeavors. I'm sorry that the truth is a lot less interesting than all that plotting, but that's the way it was.
He's in the mix because he's another who taught our man of the day. So, I'm quite happy to play his music, in this case the first movement of his Chamber Concerto for oboe, two violins, viola and cello in G major. That's really just a string quartet plus oboe.
LUDWIG BEETHOVEN was a friend of Hummel for many years but it probably won't surprise you to learn that they had a falling out.
It's conjectured that this occurred because Ludwig didn't like Hummel's piano transcriptions of his symphonies and other works. This might not have been entirely an artistic difference because copyright didn't exist then and Ludwig didn't see a penny for these.
It might also have to do with the singer Elisabeth Röckel, who was a friend of Beethoven's. More than a friend from his point of view but Hummel raced her off and married her.
Much later, on hearing of Ludwig's serious illness, Hummel rushed to Vienna and visited Ludwig several times before he died. Apparently they reconciled in the last days of Beethoven's life.
Here's something from Beethoven that's a little off the beaten track for him, the sixth movement of his Sextet for 2 horns & string quartet in E flat major, Op. 81B.
FRANZ SCHUBERT dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel. They have the Deutsch numbers 958, 959 and 960.
Some say that these are derivative of Beethoven and who could blame him in the sphere of piano sonatas? However, if you listen with open ears, they are distinctly by Franz. See what you think.
Here is the great Daniel Barenboim playing the third movement of hisPiano Sonata No. 21 in B Flat, D.960.
As I mentioned in the introduction, FELIX MENDELSSOHN was one of his pupils.
Admittedly it was only for a short time. Robert Schumann thought of becoming a pupil too but didn't, although he did practise a lot of Hummel's piano pieces.
Franz Liszt also wanted to become a pupil but his dad wouldn't pay the tuition fee (which was fairly high by all accounts). So, we're left with Felix and his Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, the third movement.
I'll end with the man himself again. HUMMEL is the only person who has ever come close to matching Mozart for writing music for the clarinet.
As an example here is the fourth movement of his Clarinet Quartet.