Zurich’s First Showing of “Der Durchzug durchs Rote Meer”
by Johann Nepomuk Hummer
Johann Nepomuk Hummel. You might only barely be aware of this musician and composer, perhaps because he is not counted as part of the ‘First Viennese School’ despite the fact that he worked during this period, was supported by Mozart and Salieri, and was the successor of Haydn at the Esterházy court. Undeservingly, his clerical works never circulate in concert halls and churches as often as the masses of Mozart or the oratorios of Haydn. Walter Riethmann, of the Cantus Zürich, has adopted a recent ‘excavation’: the only Hummel oratorio, entitled ‘Durchzug durchs Rote Meer’ (The Passage Through the Red Sea), which was written between 1800 and 1810. This piece was never performed during Hummel’s lifetime and lay undiscovered for 100 years, hidden away in the British Library in London until Hermmann Max discovered it in 2007, and later performed it with the Rheinische Kantorei.
We are performing the first showing in Zurich on November 4th, 2012, in the Neumünsterkirche. What can you expect?
The music is clearly oriented on Haydn’s “Schöpfung”, and the lyrics read as though they were taken from a work by Mendelssohn.
But it quickly becomes apparent that Hummel created his own, independent, powerful language for his melodies with a tendency to be dramatic and with long choir passages. What may seem elegantly archaic in passages from the Old Testament can also be found in Hummel’s music. He does not hesitate to lead the choir, solo artists and the orchestra into dynamic dimensions of sound, similar to Beethoven’s 9th symphony. In contrast, you also find moments of classical grace and spherical airiness. This is how you would imagine the work of a student of Mozart.
For me as a singer the challenges are diverse. Some passages demand the airiness of Belmonte or Ferrando. Others demand a real Florestan Tenor. In long passages Hummel does not make a large distinction between the choir and the solo voice; which can make it a difficult part to sing. The strength and clarity of the lyrics, however, help manage the demands placed on the singer.
It definitely is an adventure to apply yourself to this music, and this adventure can be shared by everyone at the concert in Zurich.
I am looking forward to it.