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Hummel – The Grand Tour

The Hummels set off in atrocious conditions of ice and snow in December. Romantic as such tours might seem the reality was very different. Travelling by sleigh or coach was uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst – and slow. Venues for concerts ranged from palaces at best, local taverns at worst. Audiences ranged from the sophisticated to the bawdy. Main stops en route included Prague, Dresden, Berlin (where Mozart attended a concert), Hanover and Copenhagen. In the big cities the Hummels were content to stay for weeks or months on occasion, and the prodigy performed before the ruler and court in most instances and would be rewarded with gifts or money. The Hummels set off for the Scottish capital Edinburgh, via the port of Hamburg, in the spring of 1790. They were fortunate to survive a severe storm at sea.

The young Hummel attracted much favourable attention in Edinburgh and they stayed for several months. Apart from concerts, both were in demand for lessons. Then the two travelled south to London via Durham and Cambridge. They arrived in London in the autumn and were to stay for two years. Haydn was there during this time and met the Hummels frequently, with Johann premiering a Haydn Piano Trio amongst the numerous concerts he gave. These included a number of private ones for King George III and Queen Charlotte. Hummel’s relationship with British royalty was to last for many years. He published his first work, Three Sets of Variations, in 1791. A prominent business–man later wrote that Hummel at this time was "the most surprising performer that had visited except the young Mozart."

The proposed continuation of the Grand Tour to include France and Spain was abandoned in the light of the French post–revolution violence and the Hummels returned via Holland. Their ship was attacked by a French cutter, cannon fire was exchanged and Johann was next to a sailor who was badly wounded in the exchange of fire. The Hague provided a safe refuge for two months and Johann performed for the Prince of Orange on regular occasions before a French bombardment forced them to move north to Amsterdam. From there they travelled back east through Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt and finally met up with Hummel’s mother in Linz, 100km west of Vienna, after a five–year absence. Hummel had developed enormously during this period, was now a skilled improviser as well as an exceptional pianist, and had made a significant number of useful contacts, many at the highest level, in making his name well known.

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