A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Hummel, Johann Nepomuk

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HUMMEL, Johann Nepomuk, a classic of the pianoforte—but a dull classic—was the son of a musician, born at Presburg Nov. 14, 1778, and died at Weimar, Oct. 17, 1837. He is the principal representative of a manner of treating the pianoforte which rested upon the light touch and thin tone of early Viennese instruments, and grew together with the rapid improvements in the manufacture of pianos in Germany from the beginning of the century to about 1830. Hummel is important to pianists as the author of those academical stock-pieces, the Concertos in A minor and B minor, the Septet, op. 74, the Sonatas in F♯ minor, op. 81, and D major, op. 106, and of an elaborate instruction-book, which was published some years too late to make its mark.

Brought up in Mozart's house, deemed the main conservator of Mozartian traditions, an expert conductor and a good teacher, the leading German pianist, a very clever extempore player, and a ready writer of all classes of music from pianoforte solos to masses and operas,—Hummel in his prime, circa 1818, was treated by the mass of professed musicians as the equal of Beethoven! Endowed with curiously little inventive power, rarely warm, and quite incapable of humour or of passion, but fully equipped with every musical virtue that can be acquired by steady plodding, he appears expressly cut out for the hero of respectable mediocrity. The formidable size, conventional shape, and uniformly careful workmanship of his pieces, and particularly the 'brilliant' treatment of the pianoforte part, misled his contemporaries to accept him as a master of the first order.

It was about 1786, whilst Hummel's father was conducting the band at the theatre of Schikaneder,—Mozart's friend and the author of the libretto to Die Zauberflöte—that the boy, who had made considerable progress in singing and piano-playing, became the inmate of Mozart's house, and for two years enjoyed Mozart's instruction. From 1788 to 95 he travelled as a pianist in the care of his father through Germany, Denmark, England and Holland, and on his return to Vienna resumed his studies in counterpoint under Albrechtsberger, and had the advice of Haydn and Salieri regarding composition. From April 1, 1804, to May 1811, he was capellmeister to Prince Esterhazy, doing the work Haydn had formerly done. After teaching and composing for some years at Vienna, he was called, in 1816, to the post of conductor to Stuttgart, and subsequently, in 1820, to Weimar, from whence, in the suite of the grand-duchess Maria Paulowna he went to Russia, and there met with a reception, the cordiality of which was not exceeded, and rarely equalled, in the various journeys he undertook between 1825 and 33 to France, Holland, and England, where in the latter year he conducted operas.

Hummel's compositions consist of three operas; music to a 'Faerie,' to five pantomimes or ballets, all more or less stillborn; two masses, op. 80 and 111; a Graduale and an Offertorium, op. 88 and 89, which are still to be met with in the churches of Austria and elsewhere; and, besides the pianoforte works already mentioned, of a number of Sonatas, Etudes, and miscellaneous display pieces for two or four hands, a couple of Trios, a Quintet, etc.

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