Hummel, Johann Nepomuk (1778 - 1837)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was born in Pressburg, now Bratislava in the Slovak Republic, and died in Weimar. He was considered in his time to be one of Europe's finest pianist-composers. A child prodigy, he impressed Mozart so much on the family's arrival in Vienna that he became a pupil of his at the age of eight, and lived with the Mozarts for two years, the two forming a life-long relationship. He had a successful début concert in 1787, and from 1788 he undertook a four-year tour to Germany, Denmark, Scotland and England with his father, the conductor Johannes Hummel. His growing fame as a pianist was due to his virtuosic technique, as well as his brilliance as an improviser. After two years in England, during which time Johann had further lessons with Clementi, father and son travelled to Holland where they stayed for several months before returning to Vienna. Hummel studied with Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Haydn during the next few years, while he himself taught, performed and composed. It was during this period that he formed a long, stormy friendship with his great rival Beethoven
In 1804 he was appointed 'Konzertmeister' to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy at Eisenstadt, following the retirement of Haydn, and he retained the post until 1811, although he was dismissed in 1808 and re-instated, possibly after the intervention of Haydn. During the Eisenstadt period he composed several concerti, many sacred works, including five large-scale Masses and many works for solo piano. He also composed many short theatrical pieces, and minuets and dances for orchestra.
In 1811 Hummel returned to Vienna and continued life as a pianist and composer, marrying a well-known singer, Elizabeth Röckel, with whom he had two sons. After a brief, unhappy period as Kapellmeister in Stuttgart, he and his family settled in Weimar, where his position as Kapellmeister allowed for plenty of time to compose and travel, his main responsibilities lying in directing operas and special events for the ducal court. It was during this time that he developed a close friendship with Goethe, and no visit to Weimar was complete without seeing Goethe and hearing Hummel play.
From around 1805 until shortly before his death, Hummel composed around a dozen works for piano and orchestra, over half of which bore the title 'concerto'. During the 1820s Hummel travelled extensively, meeting John Field in Russia and Chopin in Poland, whose compositions were much influenced by Hummel. He also developed his famous piano teaching method. He broke his travels to hasten to Vienna in 1827 to visit the dying Beethoven, was a pall-bearer at his funeral, and, following Beethoven's wishes, organised a memorial concert, where he improvised on themes from the dead composer's works. It was during this visit that he formed a friendship with Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel, although the publishers re-directed this dedication to Schumann after Schubert's death.
In 1830 Hummel visited Paris and London, his first visit there for forty years, and the climax of his playing career. Indeed, two subsequent visits to London in 1831 and 1833 showed his reputation already in decline, and a visit to Vienna in 1834 was also a disappointment. Ill health in his last three years reduced his activities, and his death was regarded as the passing of an era, marked in Vienna by a performance of Mozart's Requiem.