Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Dr. Bob Prescribes Selected Piano Music of Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was, in his lifetime, considered Beethoven’s equal as a pianist and, if not his equal as a compositional innovator, then a rather more listenable alternative.  The former head music critic for The New York Times, Harold Schonberg, put it this way: “He [Hummel] was a highly regarded composer in his day – overrated then, underrated now.” A snooty but not inaccurate appraisal.  And it is true that as a composer – particularly as a composer of piano music – Hummel remains far underrated today.  When his music is discussed, on those fairly rare occasions when it is discussed at all, it is assigned to that strange, in-betweeny netherworld as being “transitional.” In the case of Hummel’s music, it is blithely classified as being “proto-Romantic” or “post-Classical,” as if it were a lesser hybrid (half-breed?) between two otherwise “pure” musical styles, a cross between old music and new music; between the Classical era ideal of the composer as craftsperson and the Romantic era vision of artist-as-hero.  Well, pooh on all of that, and double-pooh on these useless categories so casually bandied about by program annotators and presumed music historians.   As both a pianist and composer, Hummel […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Hummel: Piano Concertos Opp 89 & 85

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) Hummel was born in Pressburg – what is now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia – on November 14, 1778. He died in Weimar, in what today is central Germany, on October 17, 1837, where he held the position of Kapellmeister for eighteen years.  Hummel was a spectacular child prodigy as both a pianist and as a violinist. His father, Johannes, was a string player, conductor, and the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna, a position that gave his amazing young son access to the highest levels of Viennese musical culture.  In 1785, at the age of seven, Hummel played for Mozart. Mozart was so impressed that not only did he insist on giving Hummel daily piano lessons for free, but, as was standard procedure for the best students back then, Hummel moved into Mozart’s place on the Grosse Schulenstrasse, where he lived for two years. The two became (and remained) close friends, and it was through Mozart that Hummel met and performed for the cream of Viennese aristocracy. Further piano lessons with Muzio Clementi, organ lessons with Joseph Haydn, vocal composition lessons with Antonio Salieri, and even a few piano lessons with […]

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Music History Mondays: Too Many Birthdays!

I began this “Music History Monday” project by scouring the Web for musical events from which I assembled a master list of what happened in the world of Western concert music on each of the year’s 366 days. (Indeed: 366; we cannot forget February 29. And yes, February 29 is a significant date in the history of Western concert music. Since February 29 will not again fall on a Monday until 2044, I don’t mind spilling those leap year beans right now: On February 29, 1792, the extraordinary Italian opera composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy. In his 76 years, the poor dude managed to celebrate only 19 birthdays!) My master list catalogs over a thousand noteworthy musical events. On most Mondays I have two or three events to choose between, although – every now and then – there are Mondays during which nothing noteworthy happened: nada, niente, zilch, zed, zero. Monday, September 19, 2016 was just such a day. Yes, many other noteworthy things occurred on September 19, among them: on September 19, 1870 the Prussian Army laid siege to Paris; on September 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first country to grant all women the […]

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