BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, December 27, 1821

Today’s Wiener Zeitung contains ads for six new Waltzes with trios, together with a grand battle coda for the Carneval celebrations at the Apollo Room, composed by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, as his op.91. Beethoven as a young man had written similar dances for the New Year’s festivities, such as the 12 Minuets WoO 7 and 12 German Dances WoO 8 (both 1795). Like Beethoven, Hummel offers his waltzes in a version for piano, as well as for two violins with bass. Hummel also provides versions for two flutes and for two guitars.

Hummel (1778-1837) was friends with Beethoven, and studied under Haydn and Salieri at about the same time. Beethoven’s arrival in Vienna nearly destroyed Hummel’s self-confidence, but they eventually grew to respect and like each other.

True to its subtitle, the middle of the grand battle coda to this set of waltzes contains an extensive quotation from the beginning battle section of Beethoven’s own opus 91, Wellington’s Victory! Hummel had personally played bass drum (along with Giacomo Meyerbeer) for the premiere of that piece in its orchestral version on Wednesday, December 8, 1813, so this quotation appears to be an affectionate homage to one of the pieces that best demonstrates Hummel’s personal relationship to Beethoven, even though today the work is in critical disrepute. In subsequent performances of Wellington’s Victory, Hummel also took charge of firing the cannons that appear during the battle sequence. Beethoven gratefully acknowledged Hummel’s contributions in a punning note, “if one day I can canonize you, I will be at your service with my body and soul.”

After Hummel left Vienna for Stuttgart in 1816, he had no further known contact with Beethoven until Hummel visited the elder composer on his deathbed. Hummel nevertheless continued to champion Beethoven’s music, conducting the first performance of Fidelio in Stuttgart on July 20, 1817, and publishing arrangements of the Septet op.20, the Overtures to Fidelio and The Creatures of Prometheus, and seven of the symphonies.

Hummel’s op.91 waltzes with coda are performed by Sammy G Funx here: