Friday, September 8, 2017

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

No. 258 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Today’s Blog and Podcast consider three piano trios and a piano rondo by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, considered today as somewhat of a secondary figure of his time, yet he clearly rubbed elbows with and gained the respect of the elite of the Classical period.

According to his Wikipedia page, Hummel was born in Pressburg, now Bratislava in Slovakia. His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna and the conductor of the orchestra at the Theater auf der Wieden.

As a child prodigy in the 1780s he was Mozart’s favourite pupil. Hummel later studied in London with Muzio Clementi and befriended Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same. Upon his return to Vienna in the late 1780’s, he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri. At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and also took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, thus becoming a fellow student and a friend – a friendship that has its ups and downs though at Beethoven's wish, Hummel improvised at the great man's memorial concert. It was at this event that he made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel

Hummel is known to many as the man who succeeded Haydn at the court of Prince Esterházy. In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister because Haydn's health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the Concertmeister out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister, or music director, to the Eisenstadt court only after the older composer died in May 1809. He remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years altogether before being dismissed in May 1811 for apparently neglecting his duties.

Hummel’s output as a composer includes seven concertos and numerous sonatas and solo pieces for the piano, to say nothing of works for various instrumental combinations, operas, masses, and other vocal music. His output of chamber music includes duo sonatas, piano trios, string quartets, a piano quintet (scored like Schubert’s ‘Trout’) and two septets with piano. He wrote no fewer than eight piano trios including the three we retained as the core of today’s montage; the first and earliest, a youthful essay published in London in 1792, the other two mature works composed between 1799 and about 1820.

In 1828,  Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, which sold thousands of copies within days of its publication and brought about a new style of fingering and of playing ornaments. Later 19th century pianistic technique was influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. The Hungarian-style rondo that completes today’s montage, contemporaneous to the earlier piano trio, might be described as a sonata-rondo since it has two main themes, the first playful and the second more lyrical.

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