Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Piano Trio No.4 in G Major, Op.65
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. While Mozart accepted the occasional day student for the odd hour or half hour lesson, he refused to take on full-time students because he was too busy. In Hummel's case, immediately recognizing the extraordinary talent, Mozart not only made an exception, but insisted that Hummel live with him so that he could supervise every aspect of the his musical education. In fact, Hummel was the only full-time student Mozart ever had. When, in 1788, the press of affairs made it impossible for Mozart to continue such intensive instruction, Mozart told Hummel's father it was time to take the boy on tour and to make his name. This was done and Hummel spent the next four years concertizing throughout Germany, Holland and England. The general consensus was that Hummel was the greatest prodigy ever, save 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. His Fourth Piano Trio dates from 1814, and like all of Hummel's piano trios, is in three movements. The clever and catchy main theme to the opening Allegro con spirito is characteristic of Hummel's middle period and exhibits all of the grace and elegance one associates with the Vienna Classics. The slow movement, Andante grazioso, is a lovely set of variations, mostly calm and peaceful except for one (heard in our sound bite). The exciting finale, Rondo, vivace assai e scherzando, is a doff of the hat his teacher Mozart as it quotes from the final movement to K.387.