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Johann Nepomuk Hummel

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Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Biography

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778, Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary – 17 October 1837, Weimar) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist. His music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era.

Hummel's father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna. At the age of eight, the younger Hummel was offered music lessons by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was impressed with his ability. Hummel was taught and housed by Mozart for two years free of charge and made his first concert appearance at the age of nine at one of Mozart's concerts.

Hummel's father then took him on a European tour, arriving in London where he received instruction from Muzio Clementi and where he stayed for four years before returning to Vienna. In 1791 Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same time as young Hummel, composed a sonata in A-flat major for Hummel, who gave its first performance in the Hanover Square Rooms in Haydn's presence. When Hummel finished, Haydn reportedly thanked the young man and gave him a guinea.

The outbreak of the French Revolution and the following Reign of Terror caused Hummel to return to Vienna. There he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri. At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and also took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, thus becoming a fellow student and a friend. The two men's friendship was marked by ups and downs, but developed into reconciliation and mutual respect. At Beethoven's wish, Hummel improvised at the great man's memorial concert. It was at this event that he made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel.

In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt. He remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years altogether before being dismissed in May 1811 for neglecting his duties. He then returned to Vienna where, after spending two years composing, he married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel in 1813. The following year, at her request, was spent touring Russia and the rest of Europe.

Hummel later held the positions of Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1816 to 1819 and in Weimar from 1819 to 1837, where he formed a close friendship with Goethe, learning among other things to appreciate the poetry of Schiller, who had died in 1805. During Hummel's stay in Weimar he made the city into a European musical capital, inviting the best musicians of the day to visit and make music there. He brought one of the first musicians' pension schemes into existence, giving benefit concert tours when the retirement fund ran low. Hummel was one of the first to agitate for musical copyright to combat intellectual piracy.

In 1832, at the age of 54 and in failing health, Hummel began to devote less energy to his duties as music director at Weimar. In addition, after Goethe's death in March 1832 he had less contact with local theatrical circles and as a result found himself in partial retirement from 1832 until his death in 1837.

While in Germany, Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte (1828), which sold thousands of copies within days of its publication and brought about a new style of fingering and of playing ornaments. Later 19th century pianistic technique was influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Liszt. Czerny had transferred to Hummel after studying three years with Beethoven. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, and the shadow of Hummel's Piano Concerto in B minor as well as his Piano Concerto in A minor can be particularly perceived in Chopin's concertos. Hummel also briefly gave some lessons to Felix Mendelssohn.

Hummel's music took a different direction from that of Beethoven. Looking forward, Hummel stepped into modernity through pieces like his Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 81, and his Fantasy, Op. 18, for piano. These pieces are examples where Hummel may be seen to both challenge the classical harmonic structures and stretch the sonata form.

His main oeuvre is for the piano, on which instrument he was one of the great virtuosi of his day. He wrote eight piano concertos, ten piano sonatas, eight piano trios, a piano quartet, a piano quintet, a wind octet, a cello sonata, two piano septets, a mandolin concerto, a mandolin sonata, a trumpet concerto in E major written for the Keyed trumpet, a Grand Bassoon Concerto in F, a quartet for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello, four-hand piano music, 22 operas and Singspiels, masses, and much more. Although thought of in terms of the piano in modern times, Hummel was seriously and constantly interested in the guitar, and he was talented with the instrument.

At the end of his life, Hummel saw the rise of a new school of young composers and virtuosi, and found his own music slowly going out of fashion. His disciplined and clean Clementi-style technique, and his balanced classicism, opposed him to the rising school of tempestuous bravura displayed by the likes of Liszt.

Although Hummel died famous, with a lasting posthumous reputation apparently secure, his music was quickly forgotten at the onrush of the Romantic period, perhaps because his classical ideas were seen as old-fashioned. Later, during the classical revival of the early 20th century, Hummel was passed over. Due to a rising number of available recordings and an increasing number of live concerts across the world, his music is now becoming reestablished in the classical repertoire.


Works for Winds


References