Johann Nepomuk Hummel
String Quartet No.3 in E flat Major, Op.30 No.3
Some scholars have suggested that in 1803 Hummel wrote his three Op.30 String Quartets as a response to Beethoven's Op.18 Quartets of 1801. This suggestion stems from the fact that in Vienna Hummel was Beethoven's only serious rival both as a pianist and as a composer. Beethoven had studied with Haydn but claimed he had learned nothing from him. Certainly, his Op.18 Quartets owe little or no debt to Haydn who for his part said he could not understand and did not find them pleasing. Hummel, who had studied with Mozart, on the other hand, was not trying to break away from the Vienna Classical style pioneered by Haydn and Mozart but to build on it. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Hummel intended his Op.30 Quartets as some kind of an answer to what Beethoven had done.
This is especially true in Op.30 No.3. The first movement, Allegro con spirito, opens with two loud crashing introductory chords, after which a chromatic, somewhat slinky melody leads to a very Haydnesque second subject which is treated at lenth. The movement clearly builds on the style of Mozart's six quartets dedicated to Haydn and on Haydn's Op.76 quartets. The lovely second movement, Andante, has its anticedents in Mozart's baroque style of slow movement in his Dissonant Quartet. Rather than a minuet or a scherzo, Hummel choose an Allemande, the baroque German dance form. It is a heavy, thrusting and powerful affair and nothing something to which one might typically dance rather than foot stamp, of which there are many such old German dances. It owes nothing to Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. A true Alternativo, and not an ersatz trio section, follows. It is another type of German dance, lighter and even faster than the Allemande. The finale, a Presto, is a bumptious, exciting steeple chase in 6/8 and brings to mind some of Schubert similar finales.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) from early on, Hummel was recognized as a prodigy. He 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. He was perhaps the most important piano teacher of the first decades of the 19th century and virtually every first rate pianist who could afford his fees (Liszt couldn't) studied with him. His compositions, at the time, were held to be the equal of Beethoven.
Our new edition is based on and follows the Riedl Edition of Vienna. Here is a worthy quartet that would make an excellent program choice where an alternative to Mozart or early Beethoven is sought. And it is sure to bring pleasure to amateurs.