Johann Nepomuk Hummel or Jan Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837) was a composer and virtuoso pianist of Austrian origin who was born in Bratislava (present-day Slovakia). His music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era.
Hummel was born in Pressburg (also known as Pozsony, in what was then Hungary but is now Bratislava), Slovakia. His father, Josef Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music and the conductor of the Theater Orchestra. In Vienna 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 Terror caused Hummel to cancel a planned tour through Spain and France. Instead he concertized his way back to Vienna. Upon Hummel's 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.
In 1804, Hummel succeeded Haydn as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt. He held this post for seven years before being dismissed for neglecting his duties. Following this, he toured Russia and Europe and married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel. They had two sons.
Hummel later held the position of Kapellmeister at Stuttgart and Weimar, where he formed a close friendship with Goethe and Schiller, colleagues from the Weimar theater. 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 started one of the first pension programs for fellow musicians, giving benefit concert tours when the musicians' retirement fund ran low. In addition, Hummel was one of the first to fight for musical copyrights against intellectual pirating.
Hummel's music took a different direction to that of Beethoven's. Looking forward, Hummel stepped into modernity through pieces like his Sonata in F sharp minor, op. 81 and his Fantasy, op. 18 for piano. These pieces are examples where Hummel may be seen to both challenge the classical harmonic structures and stretch the sonata form. In these two pieces, Hummel showed himself to be innovative and daring, especially considering that Op. 81 was composed five years before Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata. However, Hummel's vision of music was not iconoclastic. The philosophy on which Hummel based his actions was to "enjoy the world by giving joy to the world".
His main oeuvre is for the piano, on which instrument he was one of the great virtuosi of his day. He wrote eight piano concertos, ten piano sonatas (of which four are without opus numbers, and one is still unpublished), eight piano trios, a piano quartet, a piano quintet, a wind octet, a cello sonata, two piano septets, a mandolin concert, a mandolin sonata, a trumpet concerto in E major (usually heard in the more convenient E flat major), four hand piano music, 22 operas and Singspiels, masses, and much more. The conspicuous lack of the symphony among Hummel's works may be explained by the fact that he was puzzled by Beethoven's innovations in that field.
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