Hyperion monthly sampler – January 2012
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Movement 1: Allegro e risoluto assai
Movement 2: Minuet and Trio: Allegro con fuoco
Movement 3: Largo
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro agitato
He does not seem to have been a very busy composer from the beginning, most of his music dating from his twenties and thirties when his virtuoso concert career was at its height. Yet his compositional output—much of it still awaiting revival—was a significant contribution to that remarkable period in which the Classical style of Mozart and Haydn was gradually transformed into the early Romantic manner of Weber and Mendelssohn, with Beethoven and Schubert the other great links between these two contrasting musical mentalities.
Naturally, as a virtuoso concert pianist, the bulk of his music was composed for his own instrument, including a number of concertos and a sizeable body of solo piano music. Being the extrovert performer he seems to have been, one would have expected his chamber music with piano to be written with a greater degree of public exposure in mind than were the similar works of Schubert. Yet Hummel’s single Piano Quintet, composed in Vienna in October 1802, is as congenial and sociable a piece of chamber music as anything of Schubert’s before the latter’s intensely personal ‘late’ works. It was not published until 1822 (as his Op 87—a number in no way reflecting its place in Hummel’s compositional chronology) so Paumgartner must have known it in manuscript form when he cited it as an example for Schubert to follow in 1819.
It is in fact quite a Schubertian work, anticipating by at least a decade the later composer’s melodiousness (though in a more Italianate vein), and showing quite a contrast to the more intense and thematically concise style Beethoven was then beginning to cultivate in his great series of ‘middle period’ works (Beethoven’s rise to fame at this time was for a while a big blow to Hummel’s self-confidence). The Quintet is nevertheless a relatively short work—particularly in comparison with Schubert’s Quintet—and unusually, despite its major-key designation, E flat minor is the predominant key, and the one in which the work both begins and ends. In each of its four movements (of which the first is a forthright Allegro, the second a fleeting Minuet and Trio, and the third little more than a Largo introduction to the tempestuous Finale) the piano inevitably takes a leading role and at times extends to passages of virtuosic figuration (such as the slow movement’s final, cadenza-like flourish). But, in its own way this overt pianism enhances a work that is as effervescent as Schubert’s own treatment of the same medium.
from notes by Matthew Rye © 1989