1837, vol. 2: Hummel, Lortzing, Chopin

If I could have seen the world from the perspective of any one classical musician, if it were for the sake of being able to meet as many of Europe's legendary musicians as possible, I think I'd choose Johann Nepomuk Hummel. […] Click here to continue reading a transcript of this podcast.

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Shop for CD Recordings Recommended on This Episode:

Hummel, Ballet Music for Das Zauberglöcken
Lortzing, Zar und Zimmermann
Chopin, Impromptu in A-flat, op. 29
Chopin, Nocturnes op. 32
Chopin, Moja Pieszczotka, op. 74 no. 12
Chopin, Mazurkas op. 30 & 33
Chopin, Scherzo no. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 31

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2 Responses to 1837, vol. 2: Hummel, Lortzing, Chopin

  1. Hi Brian,
    Please excuse my tardiness in responding to Vol. 2 of 1837. What I’ve been doing is reading the text of each volume first and then listening to the podcast. Two lesser and one great in this installment. I had a recording of a Hummel piano concerto back in the 60’s and while pleasant it never moved me. You were very kind in your assessment of why he isn’t remembered or regarded as one of the greats. Certainly very competent and skillful, his music lacks the “lightning” strike of inspiration to endure for posterity. Just out a curiosity, since you have listened more studiously, if you had to name his most enduring or memorable “tune” or melody, what would it be? (probably the Trumpet Concerto?)
    I would also ask the same of Lortzing. Most of the memorable composers have their “calling cards” as to what comes to mind when their names are mentioned. In my younger years I would often listen to minor composers to see if they had a good tune that had been overlooked – but in vain! I still occasionally do this.
    Forgive me for a little nit-picking – not Die Freischutz but Der Freischutz. And did Liszt really have a wife? I never thought so but am willing to be corrected.
    It’s no mystery why Chopin is so universally loved – his essence is poetry in sound. He is one of few composers where it is difficult to think of not liking anything he wrote. Of course, some of it is better than others, but the 1837 compositions are near 100% inspiration. I have listened to and enjoyed the first Impromtu but never realized that is basically just two voices. I checked out the printed score on IMSP while listening and was fascinated at the genius of it all. The two Nocturnes, Op. 32 are pure gems – pearls dropping on the keys! The Mazurkas have remained the least accessible to me and for no good reason. You motivated me to listen to them again and I found your description of them as “tone poems” to be very apt. The Bb Minor Scherzo is a familiar “knuckle buster” and conducive to many varied interpretations. An anecdote that I heard concerning this Scherzo: I think I have the right names of two pianistic giants of the late 19th, early 20th centuries, Vladimir de Pachmann and Leopold Godowsky. It seems de Pachmann boasted that he could identify any piece Chopin wrote by hearing just two measures of it. Godowsky challenged him and took his place at the piano, bowed his head and played nothing. After a few minutes de Pachmann became impatient and asked when he was going to play. Godowsky replied that he already had – it was the two measures of rests that occur several times in the Bb Minor Scherzo!
    I appreciate your recommendations on various recordings and find that you are very perceptive and astute in your critiques. Thanks for your efforts, I do enjoy them. I usually get my music from iTunes and am going to check out your Nocturnes suggestion.
    Thanks again. Prayers and blessings.
    William Block

    P.S. Let me be so bold as to share an article from the mid 70’s – supposed to be humorous.
    It is titled IT’S ORFFAL!
    Is the world of classical music ready for this? We’re speaking of a Letter to the Editor in a recent issue of “Notes,” the eminently respectable quarterly journal of the Music Library Association. Absolutely outrageous! James W. Pruett of the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina sent it in, alleging that the following essay arrived in his mailbox unsigned, although he hinted it was the work of a distinguished music librarian from Connecticut, Harold Samuel. If Pruett (and Samuel) are diffident about claiming authorship, it’s understandable – what conscientious music lover would admit to patching together such a far out collection of puns, using names of about 80 famous composers and musical artists in four brief paragraphs? The item is headed, “A Musician Makes Himself Gliere,” and goes on in this rollicking fashion:

    “You can Telemann by where he wants to live. I just Toch a trip Orff into the Beethoven spaces Faure Wieck, and to be Franck, it drove Menotti. Within a few days I was Messiaen the city so Munch that, even though the weather wasn’t Clementi, I couldn’t resist my Honneger to Galuppi right Bach home early Satie. I know opinion Varese; but Vivaldi noise of the Bizet traffic, de Falla engines, and knowing there are Mennin in the streets Callas enough to knock your Bloch off, I Haieff to say I still prefer the Mitropoulos. The Boyce were Sor I couldn’t stand the Riegger out in the Field, but I didn’t give a Schuetz. I thought I’d loose my Saint-Saens in the country. Let me Liszt the sounds: the Rorem of the wind, the Lipatti, Patti, Tippett, Glinka, Poulenc of the rain on the roof; the Massenet of the horses, the Menuhin of the cats, the Gluck-Gluck of the woodpeckers Chopin holes in the Bartok, and the incessant Tcherpnin of a Byrd in a nearby Grofe, and every morning Lecoq crows. I got poison Ives when a Wolf chased me into a brio Partch. I’m no Robeson Caruso. I could have died of Borodin talking to the Babbitt. A friend said the country was the best place to live; Abegg his pardon. Another friend said he didn’t like it in those Gotterdammerung hills; I agree, only Morceau. Not for all the Gould and Diamond would I go back. I don’t Cherubini for the Ruggles life. I like a full Mehul three times a day, a dry Martinu and Szegeti at Joe’s. I like to Locatelli in the evenings. Is that asking for Egk in Meyerbeer? Nono! In fact, I Ravel in the Bliss of urban existence. So many Weber under a Holst of problems they feel they can’t Handel. Their answer is to Offenbach to nature – into Haydn, I call it. I carry on a d’Indy life in this Berg. Delibes me.”

    Whoever you are – Pruett, Samuel or Anon – you should be kept in a Cage and taken off Dallapiccola for life. Oh, oh, here come the Mennin White Coates!

    • Brian Linnell Comment by Brian Linnell made on March 6, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Hello, William!

      As for Hummel, I actually have heard very little of his music besides the Trumpet Concerto. I understand there’s been a resurgence of interest in his work in the past 20 years or so; some marvelous sacred pieces of his have been given excellent recorded performances. But I haven’t listened to any of that yet, so yes, if you’re looking for one melody to associate with Hummel, what I’d suggest is the middle movement of the Trumpet Concerto. It a beautiful, minor-key essay in a comic opera style — it could be an instrumental version of an “I’m lonesome” aria by Rossini.

      You know, I actually think a strong case can be made that Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto is better than Haydn’s, despite that fact that the Haydn Trumpet Concerto and Mozart Clarinet Concerto are generally considered to be the two great wind instrument concertos of the Classical period. Hummel’s might not be the masterful essay in sonata form that Haydn’s is, but, again like a comic opera, it’s livelier and more entertaining — and a better virtuoso showpiece for the soloist. I recommend Rolf Smedvig’s recording, if you can find it (Smedvig played principal trumpet for the Boston Symphony for about 5 seasons — he won the job when he was only 19, if I remember correctly). (As for the Haydn, to my ears, by far the best recording is by Mark Bennett with The English Concert under Trevor Pinnock, on period instruments.)

      As for Lortzing, I’ll be of no help there! Zar und Zimmerman is the only work of his that I know.

      I do recommend that you explore Pires’s more recent recordings of the Nocturnes. Comparing her set to Rubinstein’s, there are some in which I prefer Rubinstein and some in which I prefer Pires. With op. 32 it was definitely Pires, but it makes for a great hour or two of listening to pick 3 or 4 of the nocturnes and compare the two performers.

      Like you I had tended to neglect the Mazurkas, and for no good reason. Honestly, I think it was probably only because “mazurka” seemed a less attractive word than “nocturne” or “fantasy!” But they are marvelous works, and as no less a Chopin than Rubinstein said, they’re Chopin’s most definitive compositions.

      I love the Pachmann and Godowski anecdote! I’ll have to remember that one. The puns are great, too. So glad you enjoy these podcasts, William!

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