Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major

Born in Pressburg, now Bratislava, Slovakia, November 14, 1778; died in Weimar, Germany, October 17, 1837

Living roughly during the same period as Beethoven, Johann Nepomuk Hummel occupied an intriguing niche in the pantheon of the great. A piano prodigy, he studied for a time with Mozart—who thought highly of his talent—and then became a touring child performer who visited nearly as many European courts as Mozart had in his legendary youth. Hummel succeeded Haydn as head musician at Prince Esterházy's court in Hungary and later held a similar position at the grand ducal court in Weimar, where he and the poet/novelist Goethe reigned together as Weimar's world-class celebrities. He was sometimes viewed by Beethoven as a rival although the two had reconciled by Beethoven's death in 1827. Hummel was one of the greatest pianists of his day, a brilliant improviser, and perhaps the finest piano pedagogue of the early 19th century, with a piano method still in use today. As a composer, his music sums up the aesthetic principles of late Classicism without attaining the heights of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

While he wrote prolifically for his own instrument, Hummel is best known today for his only trumpet concerto, composed in 1803 for Anton Weidinger, the virtuoso of the newly invented keyed trumpet. (Seven years earlier, Haydn also wrote a concerto for Weidinger; today both the Hummel and Haydn concertos are mainstays of any trumpet virtuoso's repertoire.) At the end of the 18th century, the trumpet was undergoing a series of refinements to allow it to play all pitches, not just those in its natural harmonic series. First, keys — like those on a clarinet — were added to enable trumpeters to play a full chromatic scale. By 1814, the more reliable system of valves we use today was introduced.

Hummel exploited the capabilities of Weidinger's keyed trumpet, especially in the concerto's second movement: an aria over a triplet-rhythm accompaniment in which the trumpet displays its newfound ability to sing a melody as compellingly as any soprano — delighting in the expressive half-steps now at its command. The lengthy sonata-form opening movement emphasizes brilliant fanfare writing, while the fast-tempo rondo finale revolves around a jaunty, off-to-the-races trumpet theme.

Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2018