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The Consort

David J. Golby

Volume 75, Summer 2019

W. A. Mozart Piano Concerto in C Minor K491,
arr. for solo piano, flute, violin and cello
by Johann Nepomuk Hummel
ed. Leonardo Miucci
Edition HH, HH439.FSP, Launton, 2017 (pbk, £39)
ISMN 979 0 708146 44 5


This publication from Edition HH forms part of their ‘@Mozart’ series. If there were to be an ‘@prodigies’ series, focussing on the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, then the two artists represented here would surely be at or very close to the top of the list for inclusion.

Considering how closely they were associated in Vienna, both personally (including their teacher-pupil relationship) and in reputation, the combination of Mozart (1756-91) and Hummel (1778-1837) is tantalising. This publication is the fourth so far by Edition HH for piano and chamber group from the set of seven Hummel arrangements of Mozart fortepiano concertos (unfortunately, the plan for twelve was curtailed by Hummel’s death). There is a 4-disc set of recordings issued by BIS Records (BIS-9043 CD), featuring pianist Fumiko Shiraga, which includes all seven of these arrangements and that of Symphony no. 40 too.

The Editor, Leonardo Miucci, refers to ‘Hummel’s affinity with Mozart’s musical language’ in his excellent, well-referenced Introduction to this edition. Hummel’s immense reputation across Europe as a pianist was forged largely on the basis of Mozartean rather than Lisztian principles, and his talent for improvisation. A very versatile composer in his own right (curiously, he wrote no symphonies), he was also an expert exponent of the transcription, with around fifty to his name. Therefore, in this ‘elder statesman of Viennese Classicism’ (Sachs & Kroll, New Grove), we appear to have the ideal candidate for arranging Mozart’s piano concertos.

Working with a variation on the standard piano quartet instrumentation, Hummel has cleverly (and with characteristic marketing shrewdness) provided a keyboard part that can be performed without the accompaniment of the other three instruments; but, with all four parts in action, he manages to recreate timbres with a close affinity to the original orchestral sonorities, including some distinctive wind colour.

It is not surprising that most of these transcriptions were published in England, given Hummel’s popularity here (following his success as a performer in the early 1790s) and his good business sense. He had an unrivalled reputation as a piano teacher during his lifetime (perhaps the equivalent of Spohr for the violin), which would have contributed to the demand for publications of this kind among the growing middle class. Again, similarly to Spohr, the original publication of his influential and substantial keyboard treatise in 1828 was quickly followed by an English version entitled A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte.

In Hummel’s treatment of Mozart’s Piano Concerto K491, we encounter his innate ‘affinity’ with the source material referred to earlier, but with some wonderfully adept modifications and ‘updates’. There is far more artistry here than the word ‘transcription’ frequently implies: we encounter the interventions of a master in his own right, who is at pains to communicate the exquisite beauty of this music through a chamber idiom. There are some relatively minor alterations, resulting in the shortening of some passages, and we find some departures from the original solo part in terms of the use of the higher register, to make full use of the extended range offered by the new instruments of the time.

Hummel’s immense skills as an improviser are reflected in his original embellishments and written-out cadenzas, which are a fascinating area of investigation for performers and scholars alike (I like Miucci’s use of the word ‘precious’ in this regard). These arrangements therefore offer us invaluable (perhaps even unique) insights into both the aesthetic and technical approaches and priorities of this crucial transitional period. We should not forget Hummel’s close affinity with Haydn and Beethoven as well as Mozart.

The changes to the originals in these transcriptions reflect both the aesthetic and technical developments of this period and also Hummel’s unique appreciation of how Mozart actually performed these pieces. The question that the editor correctly raises in his Introduction is how do we differentiate between these two different and equally important factors? Not an easy task, but we can all have fun trying!

In the first section of the second movement headed Larghetto, the subtle additions to the original melody encompass both the small-scale (such as turns and the second dotted rhythm on the third beat of the melody), and the more substantial, such as the cadenza prior to the restatement of the theme in bar 16. During this opening section, Hummel also manages to weave the lovely bassoon line into the left hand of the piano.

These delightful details and insights into contemporary performance practices, especially through the embellishments and use of melodic variation, are hugely valuable in their own right, but also, I suggest, have the potential to inform performances within full orchestral contexts. Returning to the edition itself, the ‘notes on performance’ are characteristically excellent, covering issues such as > signs, pedalling, and the improvisational practice discussed above. The Textual Notes are exemplary, providing a comprehensive account of variations between the sources that have contributed to the edition. I look forward to the appearance of the other three Hummel transcriptions of Mozart symphonies, to complete the series.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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