Johann Nepomuk Hummel
1820 portrait
Born14 November 1778
Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary
(now Bratislava, Slovakia)
Died17 October 1837 (aged 58)
Weimar, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, German Confederation
(now Germany)
Occupation(s)Composer and pianist
WorksList of compositions
SpouseElisabeth Röckel (m. 1813)
ChildrenEduard [de], Carl

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist. His music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era. He was a pupil of Mozart, Salieri and Haydn. He also knew Beethoven and Schubert.


Early life

Hummel's birthplace in Klobučnícka St., Bratislava

Hummel was born in Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia). Unusually for that period, he was an only child. He was named after the Czech patron saint John of Nepomuk. His father, Johannes Hummel,[1] was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna; his mother, Margarethe Sommer Hummel, was the widow of the wigmaker Josef Ludwig. The couple married just four months beforehand.[2]

Hummel was a child prodigy. At the age of eight, he was offered music lessons by the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was 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.[3]

Hummel's father then took him on a European tour, arriving in London in 1790, where he received lessons from Muzio Clementi.[4] He played to much acclaim at the Hanover Square Rooms, performing a Mozart piano concerto and a sonata of his own.[5] In 1791, at the same venue, the thirteen-year-old Hummel premiered a piano trio by Haydn.[6]

He returned to Vienna in 1793, giving concerts along his route.[7] Upon his return, he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri.[8] At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and also took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger. The two men became friends, and Hummel took part in several performances of Beethoven's orchestral work Wellingtons Sieg.[9]

On the 16th of May 1813, he married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel.[10] The following year, at her request, was spent touring Russia and the rest of Europe. The couple had two sons.[11] The younger, Carl (1821–1907), became a well-known landscape painter. The older, Eduard [de], worked as pianist, conductor and composer; he moved to the U.S. and died in Troy, New York.

Hummel visited Beethoven in Vienna on several occasions with his wife Elisabeth and pupil Ferdinand Hiller.[12] Hummel would later perform at Beethoven's memorial concert.[13]

Hummel had also made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel. However, both men had died by the time of the sonatas' first publication, and the publishers changed the dedication to Robert Schumann.[14]


Hummel, portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler, c. 1814, Goethe-Museum, Düsseldorf

In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Nikolaus II, Prince Esterházy's estate 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 Konzertmeister 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 neglecting his duties.[15]

Hummel later held the positions of Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1816 to 1818 and in Weimar from 1819 to 1837, where he formed a friendship with Goethe. Hummel brought one of the first musicians' pension schemes into existence, giving benefit concert tours to help raise funds.[16] In his fight against unethical music publishers, Hummel was also a key figure in establishing the principles of intellectual property and copyright law.[17]

In 1825, the Parisian music-publishing firm of Aristide Farrenc announced that it had acquired the French publishing rights for all future works by Hummel. In 1830, Hummel gave three concerts in Paris; at one of them, a rondo by Hummel was performed by Aristide Farrenc's wife, the composer Louise Farrenc, who also "sought Hummel's comments on her keyboard technique."[18]

In 1832, at the age of 54 and in failing health, Hummel began to devote less energy to his duties as music director at Weimar. In addition, after Goethe's death in March 1832 he had less contact with local theatrical circles and as a result was in partial retirement from 1832 until his death in 1837.[11]

Last years and legacy

Hummel's grave in the Historical Cemetery, Weimar

At the end of his life, Hummel saw the rise of a new school of young composers and virtuosi, and found his own music slowly going out of fashion. His disciplined and clean Clementi-style technique, and his balanced classicism, opposed him to the rising school of tempestuous bravura displayed by the likes of Liszt. Composing less and less, but still highly respected and admired, Hummel died peacefully in Weimar in 1837. Like Haydn, Mozart and some other notable composers of the time, Hummel was a freemason.[19] Hummel bequeathed a considerable portion of his famous garden behind his Weimar residence to his masonic lodge. His grave is in the Historical Cemetery, Weimar.

Although Hummel died famous, with a lasting posthumous reputation apparently secure, he and his music were quickly forgotten at the onrush of the Romantic period, perhaps because his classical ideas were seen as old-fashioned. Later, during the classical revival of the early 20th century, Hummel was passed over. Like Franz Joseph Haydn, whose musical revival had to wait until the second half of the 20th century, Hummel was overshadowed by Mozart and especially Beethoven. Due to an increasing number of recordings and live performances, his music has become reestablished in the classical repertoire.

Notable students include Ferdinand Hiller and Alexander Müller.[20]


See also: List of compositions by Johann Nepomuk Hummel

A surviving manuscript of Hummel's work, probably in his own hand

Hummel's music took a different direction from that of Beethoven. Looking forward, Hummel stepped into modernity through pieces like his Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 81, cherished by Robert Schumann,[21] and his Fantasy, Op. 18, which would have a major influence for Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy,[22] for piano. These pieces are examples where Hummel may be seen to both challenge the classical harmonic structures and stretch the sonata form.

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, a double concerto for violin and piano, ten piano sonatas, eight piano trios, a piano quartet, two piano septets, a piano quintet and four hand piano music.

Aside from the piano, Hummel wrote a wind octet, a cello sonata, a mandolin concerto, a mandolin sonata, a Trumpet Concerto in E major written for the keyed trumpet (usually heard now in E-flat major – better suited to modern trumpets), a "Grand Bassoon Concerto" in F, a quartet for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello, 22 operas and Singspiels, masses and more. He also wrote a variation on a theme supplied by Anton Diabelli for part 2 of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein.

Hummel was also very interested in the guitar and talented with the instrument. He was prolific in his writing for it, beginning with opus 7 and finishing with opus 93. Other guitar works include Opp. 43, 53, 62, 63, 66, 71 and 91, which are written for a mixture of instruments.[23]

Hummel's output is marked by the conspicuous lack of a symphony. Of his eight piano concertos the first two are early compositions (S. 4/WoO 24 and S. 5) and the later six were numbered and published with opus numbers (Opp. 36, 85, 89, 110, 113, and posth.)


Bust of Hummel near the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar

While in Germany, Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte (Anweisung zum Pianofortespiel, 1828), 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. Czerny had transferred to Hummel after studying three years with Beethoven. Liszt knew and admired Hummel and often performed his works, a particular favourite being the Septet Op. 74.[24]

Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, and the shadow of Hummel's Piano Concerto in B minor as well as his Piano Concerto in A minor can be particularly perceived in Chopin's concertos.[25] This is unsurprising, considering that Chopin must have heard Hummel on one of the latter's concert tours to Poland and Russia, and that Chopin kept Hummel's piano concertos in his active repertoire. Harold C. Schonberg, in The Great Pianists, writes "...the openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor concertos are too close to be coincidental".[26] In relation to Chopin's Preludes, Op. 28, Schonberg says: "It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now-forgotten Op. 67,[27] composed in 1815 – a set of twenty-four preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major".

Schumann studied Hummel's Anweisung zum Pianofortespiel, and considered becoming his pupil.[28] Liszt's father Adam refused to pay the high tuition fee Hummel was used to charging (thus Liszt ended up studying with Czerny). Czerny, Friedrich Silcher, Ferdinand Hiller, Sigismond Thalberg, and Adolf von Henselt were among Hummel's most prominent students. He also briefly gave some lessons to Felix Mendelssohn.[29]

According to Schubert's friend Albert Stadler, Schubert's Trout Quintet was modelled on an earlier Hummel work, the quintet version of his Septet in D minor for Flute, Oboe, Horn, Viola, Cello, Bass and Piano, Op. 74.[30] It may also have been influenced by Hummel's Quintet in E-flat, Op. 87 .[31]


  1. ^ Hust, Christoph. 2003. "Hummel, Johann Nepomuk." In: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2nd ed. Ludwig Finscher (ed.). Kassel: Bärenreiter, pp. 503–511.
  2. ^ "The Hummel Project – Hummel's Life – His Early Life and Mozart". Archived from the original on 24 March 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  3. ^ Kroll, Mark (2007). Johann Nepomuk Hummel: A Musician's Life and World. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-5920-3.
  4. ^ Badura-Skoda, Eva (20 November 2017). The Eighteenth-Century Fortepiano Grand and Its Patrons: From Scarlatti to Beethoven. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-02264-6.
  5. ^ Murray, Christopher John (13 May 2013). Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760–1850. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-45579-8.
  6. ^ Siek, Stephen (10 November 2016). A Dictionary for the Modern Pianist. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-8880-7.
  7. ^ Pereira, Artur (30 December 2020). Beethoven's Dedications: Stories Behind the Tributes. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-429-99787-7.
  8. ^ Shrock, Dennis (2022). Choral Repertoire. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-762240-7.
  9. ^ Pereira, Artur (30 December 2020). Beethoven's Dedications: Stories Behind the Tributes. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-429-99787-7.
  10. ^ Clive, H. P. (2001). Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-816672-6.
  11. ^ a b Cummins, Robert. Johann Nepomuk Hummel at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  12. ^ Breuning, Gerhard von (31 March 1995). Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-48489-3.
  13. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (6 November 2018). The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-698-15013-3.
  14. ^ Murray, Lucy Miller (9 April 2015). Chamber Music: An Extensive Guide for Listeners. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-4343-9.
  15. ^ Cummins, Robert. Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 20 at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  16. ^ Kroll, Mark (15 October 2007). Johann Nepomuk Hummel: A Musician's Life and World. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-1-4616-6008-8.
  17. ^ Kroll, Mark (2007). Johann Nepomuk Hummel: A Musician's Life and World. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-5920-3.
  18. ^ Bea Friedland, Louise Farrenc, 1804–1875: Composer, Performer, Scholar, 1980, Ann Arbor, UMI Press, pp. 15–16, ISN=0-8357-1111-0
  19. ^ Goodall, Howard (10 January 2013). The Story of Music. Random House. ISBN 978-1-4481-3086-3.
  20. ^ Newman, Ernest (1937). The Life of Richard Wagner: 1848–1860. Vol. 2. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 114. OCLC 928752154.
  21. ^ Edler, Arnfried (2009). Robert Schumann. Munich: C. H. Beck. p. 75.
  22. ^ Sichrovsky, Heinz. "About this Recording: Hummel: Fantasies". Naxos Records.
  23. ^ The Guitar and Mandolin, biographies of celebrated players and composers for these instruments by Philip J. Bone, London: Schott and Co., 1914.
  24. ^ Kroll, Mark (2007). Johann Nepomuk Hummel: A Musician's Life and World. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-5920-3.
  25. ^ Walker, Alan (3 December 2019). Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times. Picador. ISBN 978-1-250-23482-7.
  26. ^ Schonberg, Harold C. (1987). The Great Pianists (rev. & updated ed.). New York City: Simon and Schuster. p. 110. ISBN 0-671-64200-6 – via Internet Archive.
  27. ^ Scans from Universal Edition c. 1900, and symbolic data for Op. 67 preludes
  28. ^ Jensen, Eric Frederick (13 February 2012). Schumann. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-983195-1.
  29. ^ Joel Sachs, "Hummel, Johann Nepomuk", §6 'Performance and teaching', Oxford Music Online (subscription only), accessed 29 May 2011
  30. ^ Kroll, Mark (15 October 2007). Johann Nepomuk Hummel: A Musician's Life and World. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-1-4616-6008-8.
  31. ^ Schubert's Beethoven Project. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65087-8.

Further reading