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Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Johann Nepomuk Hummel or Jan Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist of Slovak origin. His music reflects a transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era.
Hummel was born in Pressburg (now Bratislava), Slovakia and died in Weimar, Germany. His father, Josef Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music and the conductor of the Theater Orchestra.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart offered Johann music lessons at the age of seven after being 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. He then embarked on a European tour before receiving instruction from Muzio Clementi in London, where he stayed for four years before returning to Vienna. The outbreak of the French Revolution and the following Terror canceled Hummel's planned tour through Spain and France.
In 1791, Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same time as young Hummel, wrote a beautiful sonata in A flat for Hummel, who played its premier in the Hannover Square rooms in Haydn's presence. When Hummel finished, Haydn reportedly thanked the young man and gave him a Guinea.
Upon Hummel's return to Vienna he was instructed by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri. At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, becoming a fellow student and friend. Beethoven's arrival was said to have nearly destroyed Hummel's self-confidence, though he recovered without much harm. Despite the fact that Hummel's friendship with Beethoven was often marked by ups and downs, and that their admirers hated each other, the mutual friendship ended in reconciliation and respect. Before Beethoven's death, Hummel visited him in Vienna on several occassions, with his wife Elisabeth and with Hummel's pupil Ferdinand Hiller. Following Beethoven's wishes, Hummel improvised at the great man's memorial concert. It was at this event that Hummel became good friends with Franz Schubert. Schubert dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel. However, since both composers were dead at the time of their first publication, the publishers decided to change the dedication to Robert Schumann, who was still active at the time.
In 1804, Hummel succeeded Haydn as kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment. He held this post for seven years before being dismissed. Following this, he toured Russia and Europe and married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel and they had two sons. He later held the position of Kapellmeister at Stuttgart and Weimar.
While in Germany, Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte. This popular piano method taught a new style of playing. Modern piano music has been influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann, and the shadow of Hummel's B Minor Piano Concerto as well as his A Minor Piano Concerto can be particularly felt behind Chopin's concertos. This is unsurprising, considering that Chopin must have heard Hummel on one of Hummel's concert tours to Poland and Russia, and that Chopin kept Hummel's piano concertos in his active reperatoire. Schumann also practiced Hummel (especially the F sharp minor sonata, Hummel's op. 81). He later applied as a pupil to Hummel, but was rejected for his neurotic instability. Liszt would have liked to study with Hummel, but Liszt's father Adam refused to pay the high tuition fee Hummel was used to charging (thus Liszt ended up studying with Czerny). Ferdinand Hiller, Carl Czerny, Sigismond Thalberg, and Felix Mendelssohn were among Hummel's best pupils.
In Weimar, Hummel became acquainted with Goethe and Schiller, colleagues from the Weimar theatre. During Hummel's stay in Weimar, he made the city a European musical capital, inviting the best musicians of the day to visit the city and make music there. He started one of the first pension programs for fellow musicians, giving benefit concert tours when the musicians' retirement fund ran low. In addition, Hummel was one of the first to fight for musical copyright against intellectual pirating.
Hummel's music took a different direction than that of Beethoven's. Looking forward, Hummel stepped into modernity through pieces like his F sharp minor sonata op. 81 and his fantasy op. 18 for piano. These pieces both overstep Romanticism, reaching into something closer to 20th century atonality, challenging the classical harmonic structures and breaking the sonata form. In these two pieces, Hummel showed himself innovative and daring, especially considering that Op. 18 was composed 5 years before Beethoven's Hammerklavier. However, Hummel's vision of music was not aimed at shocking the public or outraging the ear. Hummel's philosophy was "Enjoy the world by giving joy to the world", and he applied this to everything he ever touched.
His main oeuvre is focused on the piano, on which instrument he was probably the best virtuoso of his day. He wrote 8 piano concertos, 10 piano sonatas (of which 4 are without opus numbers, and one is still unpublished), 8 piano trios, a piano quartet, a piano quintet, a wind octet, a cello sonata, 2 piano septets, a mandolin concert, a mandolin sonata, four hand piano music, 22 operas and singspiels, masses, and much more. The conspicious lack of the symphony among Hummel's works can be best explained by the fact that he was puzzled by Beethoven's innovations in that field.
At the end of his life, Hummel saw the new school of young composers and virtuosi appearing, and found himself slowly going out of fashion. His disciplined and clean Clementi technique, his balanced classicism opposed him to the rising school of tempestuous bravura displayed by the likes of Liszt and Giacomo Meyerbeer. Composing less and less, but still highly respected and admired, Hummel died peacefully in Weimar in 1837, closing an era that had been the Vienna Classic.
Although Hummel died famous and (to all appearances) secured of immortality, his perfection condemned him to oblivion at the onrush of the Romantic period. Later, during the classical revival of the early 20th century, Hummel was forgotten. Like Haydn (who was more or less forgotten until the second half of the 20th century), Hummel was cast into the shadow of Mozart. Today, a world wide rensaissance is in the making thanks to a rising number of recordings available on the market, and an increasing number of live concerts across the world. Hummel-fans continue to grow in number, and more and more, their voices are to be encountered in the musical world.
List of works
For a complete list of works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel:
This compiled and formated by Mr. Mikio Tao of Japan. His sources were the New Grove Dictionary of Music, as well as Zimmerschied's Thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Johann Nepomuk Hummel.
A Short Bibliography:
- Kapellmeister Hummel in England and France. Joel Sachs, Detroit: Information Coordinators 1977.
- Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Der Mensch und Künstler. Karl Benyovszky, Breslau: Eos-Verlag 1934.
- Thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Dieter Zimmerschied, Hofheim am Taunus: Hofmeister 1971.
- Die Kammermusik Johann Nepomuk Hummels Dieter Zimmerschied, Mainz: 1966.
- Johann Nepomuk Hummel und Weimar. Komponist, Klaviervirtuose, Kapellmeister 1778-1837. Kurt Thomas, Weimar: Rat der Stadt 1987
- Zwischen Klassik und Klassizismus. Johann Nepomuk Hummel in Wien und Weimar. Anselm Gerhard, Laurenz Lütteken (editors), Kassel: Baerenreiter 2003.
- The Great Pianists: From Mozart to the Present. Harold Schonberg, New York: Simon & Schuster 1963. (Chapter VII:"From Irland to Bohemia").
External links and references
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