Johann Nepomuk Hummel (November 14, 1778–October 17, 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist whose music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era. Hummel was born in Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary, then a part of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, now Bratislava in Slovakia. Young Johann’s first musical studies came on the violin at the behest of his father, a player of string instruments himself, and by the age of five Hummel could play the violin with proficiency. The family moved to Vienna in 1786. His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna and the conductor there of Emanuel Schikaneder’s theatre orchestra at the Theater auf der Wieden. His mother, Margarethe Sommer Hummel, was the widow of the wigmaker Josef Ludwig. He was named after St. John of Nepomuk. At the age of eight, he 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.
When the boy was ten, 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 cancel a planned tour through Spain and France. Instead, he returned to Vienna in 1793, giving concerts along his route. Upon his return to Vienna he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri.
At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and himself 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 mutual respect. Hummel visited Beethoven in Vienna on several occasions with his wife Elisabeth and pupil Ferdinand Hiller. 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. However, since both composers had died by the time of the sonatas’ first publication, the publishers changed the dedication to Robert Schumann, who was still active at the time. Now 14, the young composer largely turned away from the concert stage, in favor of teaching and composing. Among his works were a set of variations for piano in 1794, and, four years later, two sonatas for piano and violin, and one for piano and viola. But he struggled with opera: Il viaggiator ridicolo (1797), and Don Anchise (c. 1800) were left incomplete. He did, however, finish Dankgefühl einer Geretten (1799). He completed another opera Le vicende d’amore in 1804.
His first major appointment came in April, 1804, when Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy’s establishment at Eisenstadt. His 1806 Missa solemnis was written for the marriage of his patron Prince Nicolaus Esterházy II’s daughter. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister because Haydn’s health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the Concertmeister out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister, or music director, to the Eisenstadt court only after the older composer died in May 1809. He then remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years before being dismissed in May 1811. He then returned to Vienna where, after spending two years composing, he married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel in 1813. The following year was at her request spent touring Russia and the rest of Europe. The couple had two sons.
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. This was a most productive period for him, as many of his best works appeared, including the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 83 (1819), the Sonata in A Flat, for piano four hands, Op. 92 (1820), and two “birthday” cantatas for the Duke (1823 and 1827). 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. 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. However, toward 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. 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. As a result, he found himself in partial retirement from 1832 until his death. Hummel died peacefully in Weimar on October 17, 1837.
Hummel’s influence can be seen in the early works of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. Carl Czerny, Friedrich Silcher, Ferdinand Hiller, Sigismond Thalberg, and Adolf von Henselt were among Hummel’s most prominent students. He also briefly gave some lessons to Felix Mendelssohn. Hummel’s main work 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, a “Grand Bassoon Concerto” in F, a quartet for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello, four hand piano music, 22 operas and Singspiels, masses, celebratory cantatas, compositions for the guitar, many songs,, and much more, including a set of variations on a theme supplied by Anton Diabelli for Part II of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. Hummel’s output is marked by the conspicuous lack of a symphony.
My collection contains the following works by Johann Nepomunk Hummel:
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in bm, op. 89 (1819).
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in am, op. 85 (1816).
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources