Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello in E flat Major
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was not only considered one of the most important composers of his time but was also widely regarded as the greatest piano virtuoso of his era. From early on, Hummel was recognized as a prodigy and was brought to Vienna from his native Pressburg (today Bratislava) at the age of 4 where Mozart took him on as his only full-time student. in 1788 at the age of 10, he was taken by his father on a tour Europe where he was widely regarded as the greatest prodigy ever. In 1792, he returned to Vienna where he studied with Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Haydn. He then began touring again and was widely regarded as Europe's leading pianist for more than two decades. But he also composed and his compositions were widely played throughout the 19th century and even in the 20th century, the general opinion has been that Hummel's works reached the highest possible level surpassed only by Beethoven. Stylistically, Hummel's music generally represents the end of the Viennese Classical Era and the bridge period between it and Romanticism.
The Clarinet Quartet in E flat Major dates from 1807. It is quite unusual, for its time, because the clarinet, as in Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, does not dominate as a soloist, but is a true member of the ensemble. The first movement, Allegro moderato, has two engaging themes. The first contains a short, partial quote, given out by the clarinet, from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet although Hummel alters it considerably. The second movement is entitled La Seccatura, which in Italian means the annoyance. Highly original, each part is written in a different time signature. In this quick, lively piece, the parts appear to move independently but are, in fact, closely interwoven. The third movement, though not so marked is a minuet with trio in which the cello is given an important role. The finale, a gay Rondo, perfectly illustrates Hummel's style as an amalgam of late Viennese Classical with early Romanticism.
The work remained unpublished until the 20th century when manuscript copies were discovered in England and Germany. This is a work which should be of interest to professionals and amateurs alike.