La Contemplazione

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Hummel: Sonata op.106 III. Larghetto a capriccio

In the late 1820s, European music was at a fascinating crossroads: the musical style that had dominated the old continent since 1780 (commonly known as “Viennese Classicism”) was in crisis and entering its final phase. At a time when tradition and innovation coexisted, emerging expressive needs pushed composers to seek alternatives to classical canons. La contemplazione offers a glimpse into this period through two authors who, while almost antagonistic, were also complementary and contemporary: Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

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The Program

The monumental Grande sonate brillante op. 106 (dedicated to his student Eugénie Beer) is the composer’s last sonata and symbolizes a tribute to the end of Viennese Classicism. Theatrical and luminous in character, the first movement displays the elements of virtuosity typical of Hummel’s language. It is followed by a Scherzo all’antica with a clear nod to the past due to its imitative character. In pure Bellini style, the Larghetto cantabile presents a rolling accompaniment that supports a richly ornamented, elegant melody. The finale is marked by a Presto, in which Hummel once again looks to the past by inserting a fugue.

In his piccola fantasia, Hummel’s ‘Mozartian’ legacy is clear. The grace, expressiveness, and elegance of the themes, flavored with vocal-inspired coloratura, create a little gem.

Musicology is certain that the composer’s legacy can be found in the music of Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt. Without a doubt, his significant method for the piano (Ausführlich theoretisch-praktische Anweisung zum Piano-forte Spiel. T. Haslinger, 1827) was for years a mandatory reference text in piano pedagogy and a best-seller. The principles outlined in the method have been used to shape my interpretation of his works.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel composed his 24 preludes between 1814 and 1815, and in this recording, they act as a bridge between the two composers. Generally, the tradition of “preluding” or performing (usually improvised) a prologue that introduces the key of the work was a common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries. This tradition remained alive in Germanic areas throughout at least the entire 19th century, and it is worth noting that figures like Hummel and Beethoven were sensational as improvisers. Inspired by this and the episode where Hummel “honoured” Schubert by sitting at the piano and improvising on one of his lieder, I have decided to introduce each Schubert piece with a small prelude by J.N. Hummel.

The Klavierstücke D 946 were composed six months before the composer’s death and nowadays hold a more discreet place than his last three sonatas in terms of recordings, concert performances, etc. It was his brother, Ferdinand Schubert, who first attested to these works, mistakenly cataloging them as “sonata for piano in E flat.” It would be over 40 years before the three pieces were published by Johannes Brahms.

Each of these pieces constitutes a diverse and intimate microcosm full of enigmatic poetry. As a result, the listener encounters dreamy worlds in which euphoria, despair, and feverish paroxysm alternate.

The restlessness reigns in the first piece in E flat minor (Allegro assai). The perpetual triplets and dotted rhythms establish a very turbulent romantic ballad atmosphere that contrasts with a section B (in B major) where serenity reigns. The hypnotic repetition of rhythmic patterns that interrupt abruptly is a very marked resource in this piece. It’s noteworthy that Schubert initially conceived it in rondo form, but later corrected it into ternary form (in this recording, Schubert’s correction is respected).

The second piece is presented in the form of a Rondo in 5 parts: ABACA. The A section unfolds an extremely lyrical theme in the style of a barcarolle, interspersed with episodes ranging from the dramatic episode in C minor to the heartbreaking declamation (in B minor).

The third and last of the Klavierstücke is also structured in ternary form ABA. The jovial freshness of the syncopated theme in C major contrasts with a central, enigmatic section in an extremely distant tonality: D flat major. Could this section evoke a distant memory of Bohemian folklore?

The Instrument

Fortepiano Graf 1826/1827 (Edwin Beunk collection)

In an environment of fierce competition among various piano manufacturing houses, Conrad Graf emerged as the reference brand in Vienna, even being named the official constructor of the empire. Graf built the piano used in this recording in 1826 or 1827 with a range of six and a half octaves.

Compared to a modern piano, Viennese mechanics are characterized by the lightness of the materials used, a very thin soundboard, and a short distance between the hammers and the struck strings, which, in turn, support much less tension. Thus, the performer feels a very close and subtle touch on the sound production that favours nuances in piano and pianissimo.

Eloy Orzaiz

Endowed with a curious and versatile spirit, Eloy is a pianist, fortepianist and harpsichordist. 

After obtaining a solid piano education in his hometown (Pamplona) and in Musikene (San Sebastián), Eloy is awarded a scholarship by the Government of Navarra, the Humboldt Foundation (Hezekiah Wardwell Prize) and the Nuffic Foundation (Excellence Programme), continuing his studies at the Hague and Groningen Conservatories, the Hochschule für Musik in Trossingen (Germany) and at the Schola Cantorum in Basel (Switzerland). Guided by teachers such as Johan Hofmann, Paul Komen, J.A. Bötticher, Jesper Christensen and Edoardo Torbianelli, Eloy Orzaiz graduates with the highest marks in various Master’s studies. These studies not only provide him with a remarkable technical and artistic basis, but also bring with him the deepening of his knowledge of the various styles, aesthetics and repertoires ranging from the Renaissance to the present day.

In the 2012-2013 season Eloy is the harpsichord player of the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) and in 2014 he is named lauréat of the Royaumont Foundation. In fact, he is capable of playing a wide variety of historical keyboard instruments from the harpsichord to English, Viennese and French models, instruments to which he feels a special affinity.

Chamber music is another of his passions. He regularly performs on stage with artists such as Amandine Beyer and Naaman Sluchin. His last CD (Casals: Miralls-Reflets) has been highly praised in the reviews (5 stars CLASSICA Magazine. Golden Melomano). He also founded together with the violinist Marta Martínez ¨El Parnasillo¨, a duo specialized in the rediscovery of the repertoire for violin and historical keyboards of the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2019 Marta and Eloy were finalists in the International Competition of Early Music in York (England).

Eloy Orzaiz teaches historical keyboards at the Conservatoire of Boulogne-Billancourt.

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