Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Quintet in E Flat Major, Op.87
For Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello & Bass (Trout Instrumentation)
Your group has just finished playing the Schubert Trout Quintet for piano, violin, viola, cello and bass. Now what? What else is there? One of the answers to this question is the wonderful Piano Quintet in E Flat, Op.87 by Hummel.
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. We owe the transmission of Mozart's pianistic style and technique to him. From early on, Hummel was recognized as a prodigy and not just on the piano. Brought to Vienna from his native Pressburg (today Bratislava) at the age of 4, Hummel auditioned to study with Mozart and became the only full-time student Mozart ever had. After his studies with Mozart, in 1788 Hummel spent the next four years concertizing throughout Germany, Holland and England and was considered the greatest prodigy ever seen after Mozart. After returning to Vienna in 1792, he spent the next decade studying with Vienna's leading composers, taking lessons from Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Haydn.
As he reached maturity, Hummel opted for a more conventional life rather than the vagabond existence of a touring virtuoso. Instead, he spend most of his adult life serving as a music director at various German courts. His last and longest appointment was at the ducal court in Weimar. Surprisingly, in light of the small amount of touring he did (some years none at all, and never more than a month or 6 weeks), Hummel was widely regarded as Europe's leading pianist for more than two decades and most of the next generation's leading pianists at one point or another studied with him. His compositions were widely played during his lifetime and throughout the 19th century. Even in the 20th century, the general opinion has been that Hummel's works reached the highest possible level accessible to someone who was not an ultimate genius. Hence of his generation, only Beethoven's works could be ranked higher. Yet despite this, his marvelous music disappeared throughout much of the 20th century. And though recently it has begun to be recorded with some frequency, the same unfortunately cannot be said for its appearance on the concert stage.
Stylistically, Hummel's music generally represents the end of the Viennese Classical Era and the bridge period between it and Romanticism. Hummel composed this Quintet in 1802, almost 20 years before Schubert wrote the Trout in 1819. It was not published until 1822. The famous chamber music critic, Rudolf Felber, describes the quintet as follows:
"The Quintet Op.87 is a masterpiece; the first movement (Allegro e risoluto assai) at once captivates and impresses the hearer with its power and passion. The peculiar principal theme is of a somewhat martial character...After this follows the Minuetto, Allegro con fuoco, a mixture of animation and exuberance with a melancholy strain...The finale, Allegro agitato, is full of light-hearted merriment and ends with a brilliant and effective close."