BMC Artist Faculty III
Monday, July 31, 2017 @ 7:30 PM
Scott Concert Hall at the Porter Center
HUMMEL Septet No. 1
SCHUBERT "Trout" Quintet
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Septet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 74
If you are an eight-year-old boy and Mozart gives you piano lessons free of charge because of your prodigious talent, you know you are good—scary good. If you get to live in the Mozart household and play billiards with Mozart, you know you are special. Now imagine being able to watch Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal, and von Dittersdorf read through their latest string quartets. Obviously, Hummel was in the right place at the right time. He would become one of the most celebrated pianists of his day, touring all over Europe before settling at the Weimar court. As a composer, his accomplishments have been undervalued—as illustrated by tonight’s Septet.
While the Septet was written for a seemingly unusual chamber ensemble with winds, string, and piano, Hummel knew exactly what he was doing. He covered the widest range and timbre possible with the fewest instruments possible. This allowed him to write a quasipiano concerto/symphony/divertimento within the context of chamber music. Clearly the piano takes center stage in this work, showcasing Hummel’s exceptional pianistic abilities. But the wind and string instruments are not just accompaniment, as Hummel uses them in a variety of combinations. The most extensive piano writing happens in the third movement, which is a set of variations.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Quintet in A major, D. 667, “The Trout”
In July 1819 Schubert joined his friend Michael Vogl on his annual vacation trip to his native Steyr in the mountains of Upper Austria. Their vacation included music parties and impromptu concerts. Presumably at one of their musical parties, they met Sylvester Paumgartner, a rich merchant and amateur cellist who loved Schubert’s song Die Forelle. The story goes that they were playing Hummel’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, when Paumgartner proposed a rather odd commission: write a piano quintet like Hummel’s—with the unusual scoring of a double bass replacing the second violin— and somehow include Die Forelle. Schubert’s innovative thinking turned these restrictions into opportunities. The inclusion of a double bass allowed the cello to play a larger role melodically, and the omission of the second violin freed up the middle of the keyboard for the pianist. Paumgartner surely must have appreciated the more prominent role given to the cello. The inclusion of his song meant the addition of a fifth movement, a set of variations on Die Forelle. Given that Hummel had arranged his Septet for the same odd combination a couple of years earlier, it stands to reason that Schubert might have gotten the idea for his added variation movement from Hummel’s Septet.
Conceived as a leisurely divertimento, the work seems to breathe the fresh air of the mountains. Schubert’s happy mood permeates the whole work, making it one of the most popular chamber works in the repertoire. Even though Die Forelle is only the basis for the “added” variation movement, one might argue that its joyous character can be felt throughout the whole work.
- Siegwart Reichwald