Hummel, Johann Nepomuk

views updated May 29 2018

Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) enjoyed immense fame during his lifetime, and critics of the day termed him the equal of Ludwig van Beethoven. The Austrian pianist and composer's musical legacy was eclipsed, however, by the romantic composers who immediately followed, and his works were largely forgotten a century later. Hummel, noted New York Times critic Howard Klein, "produced much music in a style between Mozart and the early romantics—good music, not great, possibly, but with much intellectual and musical content."

Hummel was born on November 14, 1778, in Pressburg, as Bratislava—later the capital city of Slovakia—was known at the time. Pressburg was one of the great cities of the Austro–Hungarian empire, the vast conglomeration of Central European and Slavic lands that dominated the European political landscape of the time. His musical gifts were likely inherited from his father Josef, who served as director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Bratislava. Hummel began on the violin and the piano under his father's instruction at an early age, and when he was eight years old, his father was offered the post of music director of the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna.

Talent Emerged in Childhood

The Hummel family relocated to the glittering Austro–Hungarian capital city, with its flourishing cultural climate, and young Hummel emerged as a child prodigy there. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the pianist and composer who was then enjoying the height of fame in Vienna, soon heard of the boy's talents, and personally instructed him for two years. Hummel made his professional debut in the city in 1787, quickly followed by a lengthy tour that included stops in Bohemia, Germany, Denmark, Scotland, the Netherlands, and England. He was feted as the next musical genius to emerge from Vienna, and his first piece, a string quartet, debuted in Oxford, England.

In 1793, after spending nearly five years on tour, Hummel went back to Vienna to continue his studies. He did not play again in public for nearly a decade, but developed his talents under a roster of well–known names, including Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Antonio Salieri—Vienna's exalted opera composer and a rival of Mozart's—and Josef Haydn, under whom he studied the organ.

The contact with Haydn proved fruitful: Haydn was a famed composer in traditional classical vein that was the precursor to the romantic style, and had served as Kapellmeister, or resident composer and musical supervisor, for the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, one of the Austro–Hungarian empire's royal families, for many years. Hummel would spend several years at the Esterházy court in Eisenstadt, near the border of Austria and Hungary, and gradually took over more and more duties as Kapellmeister there. A Kapellmeister post was a prestigious and well–paid position that allowed a composer time to write after his duties as the director of music for the royal household were finished. When Haydn died in 1809, Hummel became the main composer at the court, during which time he produced his only opera, Mathilde von Guise, which premiered on March 26, 1810, in Vienna.

Endured Piano Concerto

Hummel stayed in Eisenstadt until 1811, and taught in Vienna thereafter. His talents as a pianist had sharpened, and he won much acclaim for performances given during the Congress of Vienna, the major 1814–15 gathering of diplomats in Vienna that redrew the map of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. "This time he was a mature artist, and his clean, Classical, elegant piano playing was the talk of Europe," noted Harold C. Schonberg in the New York Times. His compositions did not stand the test of time, but one of them, noted Klein in the New York Times, survived the ages. The A Minor Piano Concerto, Klein wrote, features "three movements . . . full of lovely, simple themes which are richly ornamented in Hummel's flowing piano style. The orchestration shows great understanding of the resources of the instruments. In all, the concerto is easily the equal of Mendelssohn's and Chopin's concertos, and is a worthy companion of the majority of Mozart's."

After a tour of Germany in 1816, Hummel settled in Stuttgart to serve as Kapellmeister for the Duchy of Württemberg's royal seat. In 1819, he took a similar position as the Grand Ducal Kapellmeister in Weimar, a position he held until his death nearly 20 years later. Weimar was also a center of culture in Central Europe, and there Hummel became friends with the esteemed German Romantic writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He continued to tour regularly, however, and earned a rather good income from this. He was a particular favorite with French and English concertgoers, and made stops in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1822, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1826, and Warsaw in 1828. Paris and London served as his mainstay, however, and he toured both in 1830, and in London again in 1831 and 1833.

As a composer, others claimed Hummel was the equal of Beethoven, perhaps even more gifted. It is known that in 1827, he went to pay his respects to Beethoven when the esteemed figure was deathly ill, and took a lock of his hair. But by the 1830s, musical tastes had begun to change, and Hummel's reputation suffered somewhat in Germany and Austria. German romantic composer Robert Schumann, who published the Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik, reviewed a Dresden concert in April of 1834 and asserted, "Hummel should make no further concert tour, at least not in Germany and France, where piano playing has reached the pinnacle of culture and only the most extraordinary can please," according to Joel Sachs' Kapellmeister Hummel in England and France. "He significantly debases his well–earned fame thereby. His palmy days are long gone. His art has declined, as his years have increased."

A Bridge Between Musical Styles

Hummel's health deteriorated in his later years, and he died on October 17, 1837, in Weimar, Germany. His works were soon forgotten in the subsequent era, though there have been periodic predictions of a revival for his reputation. Various musical societies in Europe and America occasionally performed his work, among which an 1803 Trumpet Concerto and some chamber music survive as his best examples. The Trumpet Concerto was performed on New Year's Day of 1804, and features references to two significant musical styles. According to an essay in Music & Letters by John A. Rice, "Hummel's references in the opening Allegro con spirito of the Trumpet Concerto to the first movement of Mozart's 'Haffner' Symphony are obvious and have been pointed out more than once." Yet near the end, Rice found a reference to Cherubini's Les Deux Journees, a very popular opera at the time that had recently made its way from Paris to Vienna. There is a comic moment in it when some hoodwinked soldiers march off, and "Hummel obviously liked it, and his courtly audience must have immediately recognized the march and enjoyed its unexpected appearance near the end of the Trumpet Concerto," noted Rice. "By introducing Cherubini's march from Les Deux Journees into the finale of his 'New Year' Concerto, Hummel made sure that a work largely concerned with the glories of Vienna's musical past ended with a celebration of its musical present."

Hummel's compositions were largely forgotten in the wake of the new romantic composers who emerged in the 1830s, among them Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt. As Schonberg noted in the New York Times, Hummel "was the last of the true Classicists, and yet his piano music prefigures some of the techniques and actual ideas that went into Romanticism." The critic also commended the same concerto praised by his predecessor at the newspaper in 1966, noting on the occasion of some renewed interest in Hummel in 1982 that that "what, above all, makes his piano music fascinating to scholars is the virtuoso writing that often breathes the very world of Chopin. Hummel's A minor Piano Concerto is an example, and Chopin's two piano concertos betray an obvious indebtedness."

"A Sharp Businessman"

Hummel was a decidedly unassuming celebrity for one who had once been the musical toast of Vienna at the age of ten, Schonberg conceded. "He was not a prepossessing figure. He was corpulent, had a pockmarked face, had rather crude manners and dressed ostentatiously. Yet he must have had intellectual qualities of a high order," citing his friendships with leading names of the day, including Goethe. "He was reputed to be a sharp businessman, and he led the fight for copyright laws in Germany and Austria. At his death he left a good–sized estate."

From his years as a teacher, Hummel wrote an important instruction book that remained a standard text for many years, A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, which appeared in 1828. He married an opera singer, Elisabeth Röckl, with whom he had two sons. One became a pianist, the other a painter. A grandson, Wilhelm, became a wealthy industrialist in Germany in the early twentieth century, and made a small fortune from supplying a certain formula of paint to the navies of Russia and Britain. Wilhelm collected much of grandfather's work, papers, and various memorabilia, including the lock of Beethoven's hair, at his Italian villa. The cache has been preserved by Hummel's heirs.


Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial edition, Nicolas Slonimsky, Editor Emeritus, Schirmer, 2001.

Sachs, Joel, Kapellmeister Hummel in England and France, Detroit Monographs in Musicology, No. 6, Information Coordinators, 1977.


New York Times, March 20, 1966; April 25, 1982. Opera News, October 1997.

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk

views updated May 18 2018

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk, celebrated Austrian pianist, composer, and pedagogue; b. Pressburg, Nov. 14, 1778; d. Weimar, Oct. 17, 1837. A child prodigy, he began to study the violin and the piano under his father’s tutelage; when he was 8 the family moved to Vienna, where his father became music director of the Theater auf der Wieden. Mozart interested himself in the young musician, took him into his house, and for 2 years instructed him. Hummel made his Vienna debut in 1787, then toured under his father’s guidance, visiting Bohemia, Germany, Denmark, Scotland, the Netherlands, and England, where he presented his String Quartet in Oxford. He returned to Vienna in 1793 and studied counterpoint with Albrechtsberger, composition with Salieri, and organ with Haydn. He served as Konzertmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterhâzy (1804–11), carrying out the duties of Kapellmeister, although Haydn retained the title. His opera Mathilde von Guise was produced in Vienna on March 26, 1810. He returned there in 1811 as a teacher; then resumed his appearances as a pianist in 1814, being particularly successful at the Congress of Vienna; subsequently toured Germany in 1816. He served as court Kapellmeister in Stuttgart (1816–18); then in 1819 became Grand Ducal Kapellmeister in Weimar, a position he held until his death. His years in Weimar were marked by his friendship with Goethe. He traveled widely as a pianist; visited St. Petersburg (1822); Paris (1825), where he was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur; and Belgium and the Netherlands (1826). In 1827 he was in Vienna, where he visited Beethoven on the composer’s deathbed; he traveled to Warsaw in 1828 and to Paris and London in 1830. He revisited London in 1831 and 1833; during the latter visit, he conducted German opera at the King’s Theater. The last years of his life were marred by ill health and much suffering. At the peak of his career as a pianist, he was regarded as one of the greatest virtuosos of his time; both as a pianist and as a composer, he was often declared to be the equal of Beethoven. His compositions were marked by excellent craftsmanship; his writing for instruments, particularly for piano, was impeccable; his melodic invention was rich, and his harmonic and contrapuntual skill was of the highest caliber. Yet with his death, his music went into an immediate eclipse; performances of his works became increasingly rare, until the name of Hummel all but vanished from active musical programs. However, some of his compositions were revived by various musical societies in Europe and America, and as a result, at least his Trumpet Concerto (1803) and chamber music were saved from oblivion. He wrote works in all genres except the sym. He also publ. Anweisung zum Pianofortespiel (1828), an elaborate instruction book and one of the first to give a sensible method of fingering. His wife, Elisabeth Hummel-Rockl (1793–1883), was an opera singer; they had 2 sons, a pianist and a painter.


dramatic:II Viaggiator ridicolo, opera (1797; unfinished); Dankgefühl einer Geretteten, monodrama (March 21, 1799); Demagorgon, comic opera (c. 1800; only fragment extant; used in the following opera); Don Anchise Campione, opera buffa (c. 1800; unfinished); Le vicende d’amore, opera buffa (1804; rev. as Die vereitelten Ränke, Eisenstadt, Sept. 1806); Die beyden Genies, Lustspiel (1805; not extant); Die Messenier, grosse heroische Oper (c. 1805-10); Pimmalione, azione teatrale (e. 1805-15); Mathilde von Guise, opera (Vienna, March 26, 1810; rev. version, Weimar, Feb. 17, 1821); Stadt und Land, Singspiel (c. 1810; unfinished); Dies Haus ist zu verkaufen, Singspiel (Vienna, May 5, 1812, based on Die vereitelten Ränke); Aria in Castelli’s pasticcio Fünf sind Zwey (Vienna, March 21, 1813); Der Junker in der Mühle, Singspiel (Nov. 1813); Die Eselshaut, oder Die blaue Insel, Feenspiel (Vienna, March 10, 1814); Die Rückfahrt des Kaisers, Singspiel (Vienna, June 15, 1814); Attila, opera (e. 1825-27; not extant). Also music to operas by others, incidental music to plays, ballets, and pantomimes. OTHER: 12 cantatas; sacred music; at least 8 piano concertos; Trumpet Concerto (1803); Bassoon Concerto; numerous works for piano solo; much chamber music.


K. Benyovszky, J.N. H.: Der Mensch und Künstler (Bratislava, 1934); D. Zimmerschied, Thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von J.N. H. (Hofheim am Taunus, 1971); J. Sachs, Kapellmeister H. in England and France (Detroit, 1977).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk

views updated Jun 27 2018


Pianist and composer whose works were important sources of the romanticist idiom; b. Bratislava, Slovakia, Nov. 14, 1778; d. Weimar, Germany, Oct. 17, 1837. He studied under mozart and Clementi and succeeded Franz Joseph haydn as Prince Esterházy's music director. After a productive period in Vienna, where he was beethoven's chief rival as pianist, he became Kapellmeister in Stuttgart in 1811, and in Weimar, 1819, whence he toured Europe as a piano virtuoso. His early compositions are often crude and derivative (especially from Mozart), but his later works, with their elaborate pianistic figurations and subtle harmonic sense, anticipate Chopin and the young schumann. His chamber music is melodious and well constructed, if not always profound. His church music is in the Viennese classical style of Mozart and Michael haydn. A Graduale and Offertorium are still performed in Austrian churches. Of his three Masses the B-flat is best known and typifies the "popular" church music of the early 19th century.

Bibliography: k. benyovsky, J. N. Hummel (Bratislava 1934). d. hume, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom, 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 4:406409. d. brock, "The Instrumental Music of Hummel" (Ph.D. diss. University of Sheffield 1976). j. r. kershaw, "The Solo Keyboard Works of J. N. Hummel" (Ph.D. diss. Balliol College, Oxford University 1976). d. m. randel, ed., The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (Cambridge 1996) 399400. j. rice, "The Musical Bee: References to Mozart and Cherubini in Hummel's 'New Year' Concerto," Music and Letters 77 (1996) 401424. j. sachs, Kapellmeister Hummel in England and France (Detroit 1977); "Johann Nepomuk Hummel" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,v. 8, ed. s. sadie (New York 1980) 781788. n. slonimsky, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (New York 1992) 812.

[r. m. longyear]

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk

views updated May 29 2018

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk (b Pozsony, 1778; d Weimar, 1837). Austrian pianist and composer. Lived and studied pf. with Mozart 1785–7. Début Vienna 1787 at Mozart concert. Kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy 1804–11. Kapellmeister at Stuttgart 1816–18, then at Weimar 1819–37. Toured extensively, conducting the Ger. Opera in London, 1833. Pubd. pf. sch. 1828. Comp. numerous works incl. pf. concs. and sonatas, tpt. conc., bn. conc., mandolin conc., operas, oratorios, and much chamber mus. incl. Septet militaire and pf. quintet. Mus. has melodic grace and abundant craftsmanship. Pf. writing influenced Chopin. His relationship with Beethoven fluctuated but they were reconciled at Beethoven's death-bed. Was pall-bearer at Beethoven's funeral and played at his memorial concert. Schubert dedicated his last 3 pf. sonatas to him (but publisher altered the dedications after Schubert's death).

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