Composer. A child prodigy, he moved with his family to Vienna in 1786 and studied with Wolfgang Mozart for two years. He then embarked on a long concert tour (1788 to 1792) as a pianist, which spread his fame throughout Europe. Back in Vienna Hummel's reputation as a young virtuoso was eclipsed by the emergence of Beethoven, with whom he developed an uneasy friendship. He then concentrated on further study (with Joseph Haydn and Mozart's rival Antonio Salieri), teaching, and composing chamber music. In 1804 Hummel took Haydn's place as music director for Prince Esterhazy in Eisenstadt, while maintaining his musical contacts in Vienna. During this time he wrote most of his sacred music, including five Masses and a Te Deum. Relations with the Prince were not entirely cordial; he was fired from his post in 1808, quickly reinstated, then dismissed permanently in 1811. In 1814, with Beethoven sidelined by deafness, Hummel resumed playing piano in public, with great success. His technique was noted for its polished elegance, and he was also highly skilled at improvisation. From 1819 until his death he was Kapellmeister of Weimar, Germany. Hummel travelled extensively and helped make the first tentative steps towards establishing international copyright protection for composers. He would have loved the era of the jet-set musician; he was one of those figures who seemed to have been everywhere and met everyone. At Weimar he was a good friend of the poet Johann von Goethe; in Warsaw he praised the young Frederic Chopin, who was influenced by him; in Moscow he played duets with John Field, the inventor of the piano nocturne. In March 1827 he visited Beethoven on his deathbed and, at Beethoven's request, arranged and performed the music for his memorial service. Franz Schubert dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel (though by the time they appeared in print in 1839, both men were dead and the publisher gave the dedication to Schumann). He has long since been overshadowed by most of these artists, but his music is well worth discovering. Of the 12 works Hummel wrote for piano and orchestra, the concertos Op. 85 in A minor (1816) and Op. 89 in B minor (1819) are still played, as well as his Trumpet Concerto and Piano Septet (1816).
Bio by: Bobb Edwards