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Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

John Nepomunk Hummel was born in 1778 in Pressburg, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia). Like many historical composers, he came from a musical family and was something of a prodigy. Hummel was said to have been a capable violinist at age five and a pianist at age six.

Hummel seems to have known almost everyone of importance in the European musical scene. As a child, he lived and studied with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and later took instruction from Clementi and Franz Joseph Haydn. He became friends with both Beethoven and Schubert. His influence as a music teacher was profound. Hummel taught Czerny, who taught Liszt, who in turn influenced Chopin – and Chopin regarded Hummel as the equal of Mozart and Beethoven.

His career falls within the transition from the classical to the romantic. Nevertheless, his 1803 Concerto for Keyed Trumpet in E major is considered one of the great concertos in the baroque tradition, demonstrating how strongly baroque models continued to influence later music.

Hummel was appointed Koncertmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy at his Eisenstadt court in 1804. (Most famously, Haydn had been in the employ of the Esterhazys for three decades in the latter 18th century.) Hummel’s years with Prince Esterhazy were remarkably fertile, and he wrote masses, operas, concertos, and other works. Leaving this position in 1811, Hummel toured Europe, enjoying one triumphal performance after another. With his reputation firmly established, Hummel became Kapellmeister in Stuttgart in 1816, and then in Weimar in 1819.

Hummel died in 1837, leaving behind a trove of orchestral and piano music. His work has enjoyed a revival with the growing interest in historical performance.