Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 89
Stephen Hough, piano
English Chamber Orchestra
Bryden Thomson, conductor
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (November 14, 1778 — October 17, 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist. His 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). 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. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart offered the boy music lessons at the age of eight 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 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 staying there 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 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, 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. Beethoven’s arrival was said nearly to have destroyed Hummel’s self-confidence, though the latter recovered without much harm. The two men’s friendship was marked by ups and downs, but developed into reconciliation and 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.
In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy’s establishment at Eisenstadt. 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 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 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. 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 in order 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.
Hummel’s influence can 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. This is unsurprising, considering that Chopin must have heard Hummel on one of the latter’s concert tours to Poland and Russia, and that Chopin kept Hummel’s piano concertos in his active repertoire.
Hummel’s output is marked by the conspicuous lack of a symphony. Of his eight piano concertos the first two are early Mozartesque compositions (S. 4/WoO 24 and S. 5) and the later six were numbered and published with opus numbers.
- Carl Czerny (mixoalex.wordpress.com)