Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op31:52

Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op.85 (1816)


(14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837) was born in Pressburg (now Bratislava) and was a virtuoso pianist. His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna.

His teachers include W.A. Mozart, Muzio Clementi, Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri. In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt, and he later held positions of Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1816 to 1819 and in Weimar from 1819 to 1837. The latter is significant because of the friendships formed there with Goethe and Schiller who would later be compatriots of the theatrical and music circle, drawing great musicians to the town which was the focal point of German Enlightenment at the time.

Hummel’s contribution also include active combating intellectual privacy which led to the establishment of piracy laws.

His pedagogical contribution include teachings on fingering and of playing ornaments in his A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte published in 1818.

Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op.85 (1816),_Op.85_%28Hummel,_Johann_Nepomuk%29

During his lifetime, Hummel completed the composition of seven concertos. This A minor concerto is significant after Hummel’s premier of it in Vienna, in 1816 shortly after its publication. Clara Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and many other piano virtuosos of the 19th century débuted their concert career with this Concerto and in the course of next decades it became a prototype of the line of virtuoso-brilliant and lyrical-romantic piano concertos. It had become a part of the required repertoire of concert pianists in Europe until the early Romantic era.


The piano concerto was written by Hummel as a showcase for his virtuosity at the instrument. It is scored for piano, flute, two oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.

There are three movements

Mov.I: Allegro moderato, duration: 16 minutes

Mov.II: Larghettom duration: 14 minutes and 30 sections.

Mov.III: Rondo: Allegro moderato: 10 minutes. The orchestral introduction is Beethoven-like in length, lasting about 3 minutes and 30seconds in the first movement. Hummel shows his mastery of orchestral writing throughout.The piano enters with much in 3:40 with arpeggiated chords and dazzlings trills, and converses with the strings until a cadence at 5:00 before the true first theme appears on the piano.

Throughout the concerto, Hummel also synthesized techniques of variation and ornamentation, developed in the art of bel canto with typical piano figures and patterns in virtuoso passages. In such sections he then often used especially demanding series of ornamental figurations with scales and broken chords. He also includes difficult running thirds and sixths. These also consist of non-harmonic and non-scale tones-a departure from the earlier classical harmonic language which-Chopin, Liszt and the next generations of composers built on.


Chopin’s first concerto in E minor Op.11

One notable similarity from Chopin’s concerto is that the exposition is not based on the dramatic confrontation of two contrast themes. As heard in Hummel’s first movement, Chopin’s thematic sections alternate with the piano virtuosic and brilliant episodes. The main notable difference between Chopin and Hummel’s is the orchestral writing. Hummel’s was greatly expansive while Chopin’s was in some ways more of a vehicle, and a driving force for the soloist.

Other piano concertos that have been likened to this are Robert Schumann’s concerto in A minor and Grieg’s Concerto in A minor Op.54.

The similarities of these concertos extend beyond the key of A minor.

They are:

1) virtuoso entry, based on the broken chords enriched by leading chord tones (in Hummel’s and Chopin’s concertos there is still an initial orchestral exposition)

2) primary theme (alternatively two themes) closed with cadence

3) virtuoso episode (alternatively two episodes).


A visit to Weimar last December sparked an interest in Hummel when I came across his bust while crossing the street, and an entire wing dedicated to him at a Classicism museum. I had been familiar with his piano works in the intermediate level piano repertoire, but not with this concerto. The fluid, expository style of the piano writing showcases Hummel's famed art of improvisation, and the numerous bravura passages appeals to pianists and technical connoisseurs. This concerto is also an important work which highlights Hummel the composer as a harbinger for the Romantic Concertos.


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