Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Composer

• 1778 1837

Editor's Choice

Born in Bratislava, then part of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Austrian Johann Nepomuk Hummel was named for the patron saint of Czechia. A child prodigy, the eight-year-old virtuoso impressed Mozart so much that he taught and housed Hummel for two years, during which time he made his concert debut at one of Mozart's public performances. Following further instruction from Clementi in London, he gave the premiere of a sonata written for him by an impressed Haydn, one of whose London periods coincided with that of the young superstar. Hummel went on to arrange many of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies, but never composed one himself. He followed in their compositional footsteps by producing - among a massive body of work - several piano concertos, the second and third of which are featured on Stephen Hough's 1987 recording. Rather than following the style of his famous mentors, Hummel looked forward and composed these piano concertos in a style that looked forward to the romantic era, leaving behind his earlier classical style. Having written them to perform himself, these concertos are virtuosic in their scope. Stephen Hough presents an accomplished and elegant interpretation, accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra.

Biography

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was an important composer from the late Classical period primarily known for his solo piano compositions and piano concertos. In recent years, however, attention has been given to his chamber music, operas, and sacred works. He tended to write long-breathed melodies, often used Alberti bass accompaniments and dotted rhythms, and favored the sonata-allegro and rondo forms. Among his greatest works in the keyboard genre are the Sonata in A Flat, for piano 4 hands, Op. 92, and the Sonata in F Sharp, Op. 81. His Mass, Op. 111, and some of his cantatas are also important works. Hummel wrote a highly-regarded three-volume treatise on pianism, entitled A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course on the Art of Pianoforte Playing.

Hummel was born on November 14, 1778, in Bratislava (then Pressburg), Slovakia. Young Johann's first musical studies came on the violin at the behest of his father, a player of string instruments himself, and director of the local Imperial School of Military Music. By the age of five Hummel could play the violin with proficiency. But he would abandon it in favor of the piano, on which he developed an astonishing technique by age six.

When the family moved to Vienna in 1786, Johann studied with Mozart, with whom he lived for two years. After concert appearances throughout Europe at age ten, Hummel and his father traveled to London, where they settled temporarily. Johann met Clementi there, and took private instruction from him.

Hummel returned to Vienna in 1793 and began studies with Albrechtsberger. 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).

His Piano Trio in E Flat and the Variations in G on a Romance by Méhul came in the early years of the next century, and he completed his opera Le vicende d'amore in 1804. Soon more operas would come, as well as his Concerto in G, for piano and violin. His first major appointment came in April, 1804, when he accepted the post of Concertmaster to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy at his Eisenstadt court. Hummel also wrote several masses, including the Mass in E Flat (1804), and Mass in D (1808); and he composed a Te Deum (1806), and two Salve Reginas. More operas came, too: Der vereitelten Ränke (1806) and Mathilde von Guise (1810; revised in 1821).

In May, 1811, Hummel was dismissed as Kapellmeister in a controversy and returned to Vienna to focus on composition. Two years later he married Elizabeth Röckel. Late the following year, at his wife's behest, he launched a concert tour in Vienna, scoring triumph after triumph. He subsequently toured Germany and Europe with great success, sometimes also assuming the role of conductor.

Hummel accepted the Kapellmeister posts in Stuttgart (1816) and Weimar (1819). 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). By 1832, Hummel's health was in decline, and he frequently took leave of his Kapellmeister duties in Weimar because of sickness. He died on October 17, 1837.

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