An American Premiere

October 29th at 4:00pm

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Past Concerts

In our debut concert on October 29, 2023, Musica Tevere performed the American premiere of Hummel’s oratorio, Der Durchzug durchs Rote Meer (The Passing through the Red Sea,) along with the Lotti’s glorious Missa Sapientiae. We will post videos and more on the concert here soon. In the meantime, here is background information on the music and a link to the concert program.

Bringing to Life a "New" Oratorio

Hummel’s only oratorio, The Passing Through the Red Sea (Der Durchzug durchs Rote Meer) is a work of many mysteries. It had sat forgotten in the London British Library since the late 1800’s, apparently never performed until the early 2000’s, when it caught the interest of a conductor and was given its first performance, in Germany. Its date of composition and librettist are unknown, as is the impetus for Hummel to write it. The oratorio is in the sparkling Viennese Classical tradition and clearly pays homage to Haydn’s The Creation, but it is extraordinary in for its day in several ways.

Guitar and bass drum are striking additions to the orchestra for the time. The work even includes the first known orchestral bass drum role, an innovation previously attributed to Liszt. Performance requires highly skilled soloists. The coloratura soprano fireworks surpass those in famous roles such as Mozart’s Queen of the Night. The work concludes with a flashing trumpet fanfare. Why it apparently was never performed in Hummel’s lifetime is one of the mysteries surrounding this recently unburied masterwork.

The oratorio’s libretto, based on Exodus and Psalm 130, recounts the story of Moses, the ten plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites, and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army. Hummel’s expertise in opera and theatre come to bear as he engages vivid text painting to musically describe the continually progressing drama, drawing on chromaticism, sequence, vigorous rhythms, imaginative motifs, occasions of fioratura, instrumentation, and quite an expansive vocal range. His exceptionally inventive modulations and surprising innovations with the fugue form are distinguishing compositional features. Yet amid all of the color and variety, the work has a central keystone, a plan that gives it a satisfying cohesion. At the center of it all sits the Würgeengel, the Angel of Death, with his oboe and bass drum companions.

Hummel’s Impact on Today’s Musicians

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born of Austrian lineage in 1778. A prominent part of the Viennese and European musical scenes, Hummel knew and worked with many of the musicians and artists of his time. Conductor, virtuoso concert pianist, composer, traveller, businessman, entrepreneur, family man – all of these describe Hummel.

Going beyond the musical achievements expected of a fine musician, Hummel made major and lasting contributions to the advancement of the music profession itself. He developed the professional models for concert touring and for orchestra management that are essentially still used today. He supported benefits for full-time musicians, and ardently advocated for copyright law to protect composers’ rights. Through his efforts and struggles, Hummel led reforms that gave artists greater control of their lives, work, and pay.

As the Romantic style replaced the Classical, Hummel’s work fell into a relative state of neglect. Interest and admiration revived in the second half of the 20th century, and continues to grow today. Musica Tevere’s performance of Der Durchzug durchs Rote Meer marks an important milestone in bringing Hummel’s choral legacy to life.

Keeping a Philadelphia Music Tradition Alive

Musica Tevere’s American premiere of this work continued a long and important Philadelphia tradition that reaches back to premieres of other classical monuments: the 1793 performance of The Marriage of Figaro by Hummel’s teacher Mozart, and the 1811 performance of the Eroica Symphony by Hummel’s friend and sometime rival, Beethoven. This tradition continued into the 20th Century with the famous premieres of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (1916) and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1922). The American premiere of Hummel’s Der Durchzug durchs Rote Meer (2023) renewed the longstanding reputation of Philadelphia and its classical music supporters in the current century

Antonio Lotti and the Missa Sapientiae

Antonio Lotti (1667 – 1740) worked in Venice during the Baroque glory of the city. Typical of the time, the Missa Sapientiae consists only of a Kyrie and a Gloria, perhaps not even composed as a set, but joined together later. The work was given some new colors when Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) added orchestration to it for the court of Dresden, another hotspot for magnificent music. In the crowd of brilliant musicians with which their age overflowed, both of these musicians have been rather lost to today’s more general audiences in favor of a few Baroque greats. Their combined contributions to this mass setting betray musical sensibilities that today’s audiences deserve to encounter. Like the Hummel oratorio, Lotti’s Missa Sapientiae is little performed – it is a demanding work requiring excellence from every musician and special resources including extra violists and solo vocalists. We are delighted that Musica Tevere’s musicians were more than equal to the challenge and that we were able to present this work with Zelenka’s orchestration for your ears and spirit to enjoy. – Rebecca Ostermann, Artistic Director & Conductor

Image credits:

Musical Scores: Hummel holograph manuscript, Public Domain. Der Durchzug durchs Rote Meer excerpt, Rebecca Ostermann. 

Photograph of Hummel bust, René & Peter van der Krogt

Painting, Premier at the Academy (detail), oil, Charles Cushing

Painting, Piazza San Marco (detail), Canelletto, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Open Access