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When he was five, his father, a music director and a conductor, introduced him to the piano.
By the time he was seven, his musical ability so astonished Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that Mozart took him into his home and offered him free room and board, on top of free lessons, for two years.
When he was nine, he gave his first public performance as a concert pianist, with resounding success, at one of Mozart’s concerts.
In London, Joseph Haydn dedicated a sonata in A-flat to him; and Muzio Clementi gave him private instructions.
In Vienna, his talent in improvisation dazzled Ludwig van Beethoven, who was then a fellow student studying music composition under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Joseph Haydn.
At age 26, he succeeded Haydn as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at
Eisenstadt. Seven years later, he became Kapellmeister at Stuttgart and Weimar.
In Weimar, he became a close friend of both Goethe and Schiller. The three young artists became local celebrities and transformed Weimar into a focal point for musical talents from across Europe.
He was there at Beethoven’s deathbed. He functioned as one of the pallbearers. He improvised on Beethoven’s music at the memorial service, as requested by the composer in his final hours.
He met Franz Schubert at Beethoven’s funeral, and Schubert dedicated his last three piano sonatas to him in friendship and admiration.
He was one of the most renowned piano teachers of his time. Carl Czerny, Sigismond Thalberg, Ferdinand Hiller, and Felix Mendelssohn-Barthody were among his pupils. Franz Liszt, too, wished to become his pupil, but Liszt’s father took his son to Czerny instead, because Czerny’s fees were smaller.
In 1828, he published “A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte” which sold thousands of copies within a short period and fairly defined the art of piano playing of the time.
He has more than 175 compositions to his credit. His B-minor piano concerto and his A-minor piano concerto were among the favorites of Frederic Chopin. Robert Schumann adored his Opus 81 piano sonata and played it regularly.
Who was he?
He was Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Mozart’s only apprentice.
Since Hummel's death in 1837, his music has been largely neglected. Some critics frowned, and the public followed; forgetting that to discredit Hummel is to question the judgments of Hummel's contemporaries, especially that of Mozart. Hummel's music may not be at the same rarefied stratum as Mozart's is, but it is no less sincere, and was born of the same desire to create. Some say it is a sacrilege to compare Hummel to Mozart but what Hummel possessed was also a God-given talent, and all talents are meant to be shared. Indeed, not sharing would be a sacrilege.
Nowadays, few know Hummel’s name and fewer still have heard of his music. Mozart was a genius and his music is unique. As a composer, Hummel did not stand a chance in the shadow of his master. Therefore, bypassing Hummel for Mozart is just as sensible as bypassing Johnnie Walker Red Label for Glenfiddich, the critics said. Nevertheless, all music is written primarily for the enjoyment of the people, not for critics to evaluate. Good music is simply music that entertains our senses and liberates our imagination, and is thus a matter of personal preference—much like one’s choice in beverage is. Mozart’s music depicts ideal worlds—be they happy or sad—with unbelievable eloquence and thoroughness. Hummel’s music celebrates human sorrow and pleasure. It makes no pretension to be sublime. Perhaps in Hummel’s honest embrace of mortal passions may we yet find divinity in humankind?