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Hummel – Farewell to Beethoven

Hummel was elected to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna in 1826. Early the next year saw Hummel, Elisabeth and Hiller in that city, drawn by the news that Beethoven was close to death. They met four times between March 8 and 23, events recorded by Hiller. Any past differences in their 25–year relationship were forgotten in an emotional reunion. Significant subjects were Beethoven’s request that Hummel take his place at a charity concert in April, Beethoven’s desire to talk to Elisabeth, who cut a lock from his hair, and Beethoven’s agreement – and a letter – to support Hummel’s copyright project.

Beethoven died three days later, and Hummel was one of eight Kapellmeisters who walked beside the coffin. It was Hummel who was given three laurel wreaths to throw onto the coffin before the grave was filled with earth. Hummel did play in the charity concert in aid of Schindler, Beethoven’s supporter. Schindler spoke of the circumstances many years later. "It is true that Hummel, although in the middle of March he had promised Beethoven on his deathbed to take part in my concert on April 7, 1827, at the Josefstädter Theatre, tried to back out of his promise after Beethoven had died. But Hummel’s wife, born Röckel, still living as a widow in Weimar, was once loved by Beethoven; he had wanted to marry her, but Hummel snatched her away from him. When she heard from me that her husband had changed his mind, she said. "I have so much respect for Beethoven’s memory that I will not permit this. Let my husband be, he will play for you." And in fact Hummel did play, and improvised on a theme of Beethoven’s in the most beautiful way imaginable." The music Hummel chose was from the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony, and the Prisoners’ chorus from Fidelio.

Hummel also met Schubert during his time in Vienna and was much moved to hear performances of some of the young composer’s songs sung by the famous Vögl to Schubert’s accompaniment. Schubert resolved to dedicate his latest three piano sonatas to Hummel, but his tragic death the following year prevented this happening.

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