Hummel – Happiness at Weimar
Hummel had known that the position of Kapellmeister was vacant in Weimar after the death of the incumbent August Müller at the end of 1817 and the post held great appeal. The court at Weimar had a long and exceptional artistic reputation. Johann Sebastian Bach had been a court musician in the early 18th century and his godson Johann Ernst had been the first Kapellmeister of a new orchestra in 1756.
Since then Weimar had become the intellectual centre of Germany, as the Duchess Anna Amelia, widow of Duke Ernst August, became regent for her son Carl August. He was less than a year old when his father died in 1857 and Anna Amelia ensured her son had an extensive and enlightened education through her choice of tutors, in particular the poet, writer and philosopher Christoph Martin Wieland who arrived in Weimar in 1773 and remained until his death 40 years later. Weiland, amongst many publications, was responsible for the first translation of Shakespeare’s plays in Germany.
Carl August took over the reigns of government at the age of 18 and was to become a highly enlightened ruler. One of his first actions was to appoint the brilliant young German poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, whom he had met two years earlier, to his Privy Council. Goethe lived in Weimar until his death, as did fellow poet and playwright, Friedrich Schiller, who settled in Weimar in 1787. The influence of Weimar was enhanced n 1805 when Carl August’s elder son, Carl Friedrich, married the music–loving Maria Pavlovna, a daughter of Emperor Paul I of Russia.
Goethe loved music, as had Weiland, a great admirer of Mozart whom he had known personally, so a strong musical tradition had developed over the years, with Mozart’s operas at the core. The Hofkapelle orchestra was of a high quality, with around 30 permanent musicians and 16 in the chorus.
Hummel applied for the vacant position and was appointed at the beginning of 1819. His contract gave him three months off each spring to pursue his concert career. This was third time lucky for him as he was to have an exceptionally happy and productive artistic and family life at Weimar, settling down to a comfortable domestic life, with an imposing house and garden. Maria Pavlovna became his principal pupil and Hummel attracted some of the brightest young virtuoso talents in the following years, including Ferdinand Hiller and Adolf von Henselt. Schumann would have liked to count Hummel as his teacher but was not encouraged.
At the time of Hummel’s appointment Adam Liszt was looking for a teacher for his 6 year–old son and prodigy, Franz, and approached his former colleague, but the distance was too great and Hummel’s fees were prohibitive, the highest of any teacher. Carl Czerny, a former student of Beethoven’s living in Vienna, took on the task for free and did a wonderful job in developing the young Liszt’s potential. Hummel’s virtuosic piano writing was a magnet for Liszt, however, and the A minor and/or B minor piano concertos were to be Liszt’s calling card, the works with which he was to later debut in Vienna, Paris and London, amongst many other cities.
Hummel’s primary task was conducting operas and he performed a wide repertoire. Rossini was the contemporary rage, soon to be superseded by Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, first performed in 1822, but other composers included Meyerbeer and Bellini. Strangely, only once, in 1821, did he conduct one of his own operas, Mathilde von Guise.
Concert tours were an annual part of his planning from the beginning. In 1820 he performed in Prague and Vienna, where the concert included his A minor Piano Concerto. In 1821 he played in Berlin and met Spontini, Kapellmeister to King Frederick III of Prussia. In 1822 he visited Russia where he made the acquaintance of the Irish composer and piano virtuoso, John Field. Concert venues included St.Petersburg and Moscow. 1823 saw a return to Holland, with performances for the Royal Court and in the major cities and it was here he was enraged to discover the numerous pirated editions of his compositions.
Even at an enlightened court such as Weimar there were still conflicts. Hummel reported from 1824 to the Intendant, Karl Stromeyer, who put a number of obstacles for public concerts in Hummel’s path. But Hummel did much to increase the number of concerts and invited numerous artists to play over the years, the best known being the violin phenomenon Niccolò Paganini.
Weimar was a Protestant court and the Catholic Hummel didn’t have to write sacred music but instead composed cantatas for the court and the Masonic lodge of which he became a member. His compositions were also strongly influenced by commercial demands and he wrote a considerable number of chamber transcriptions, such as the piano concerti and symphonies of Mozart and symphonies of Beethoven, plus many arrangements of songs.
These, of course detracted from his original compositions, as did many of his other activities in his very busy life. A shrewd business–man, he devoted time to two important projects. He worked extensively on his Klavierschüle ("Piano School"), eventually published in 1828. A guide to mastery of the piano and interpretation, it is an extensive work with more than 2000 examples and was an immediate success. The other was his work to achieve copyright protection for composers’ works, as he knew how much money he lost by unscrupulous publishers pirating his own and other composers’ music.
Hummel stayed in Weimar in 1824, working on his piano treatise and preparing for his next year’s tour. Cherubini, the Director of the Conservatoire, had long been an admirer and friend of Hummel and the shrewd Hummel was adept at achieving publicity, with many years of experience in the essential art of stimulating interest in advance of arrival in a foreign town or city.
Paris was a major new challenge, increasingly a musical centre attracting the great pianists of the day – such as Moscheles and Kalkbrenner – to its vivid and partisan audiences. Hummel set off in 1825 on the long journey from Weimar with Elisabeth and his elder son, plus one of his students, Ferdinand Hiller. Hummel announced four concerts at the Salle Érard in April, and had to add a fifth at the Conservatoire where he performed his Concert piece Les Adieux, promoting that it was a new work although it was actually composed in 1814. The concerts received critical acclaim and were soon followed by his election as Chevalier du Legion d’Honneur, France’s most prestigious award, in 1826. Present at the Salle Érard concerts were Adam and the young Franz Liszt and they must surely have met Hummel.
There was close intimacy in court circles at Weimar. Hummel met Goethe regularly and often performed concerts at his house. After a concert by Ignaz Moscheles in 1825 Hummel presided over a grand dinner and the two played four hands together. Earlier Moscheles improvised, with Hummel seated on one side, the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna on the other.