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 theater 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 led him on a European tour, arriving in London, where he received instruction from Muzio Clementi and 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 for Hummel, who played its premiere 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 took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, becoming a fellow student and a 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, the mutual friendship developed into reconciliation and respect. Before Beethoven’s death, Hummel visited him in Vienna on several occasions, with his wife Elisabeth and 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 by the time of the sonatas’ first publication, the publishers changed the dedication to Robert Schumann, who was still active at the time. More…