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Hummel – The Last Years

The death of Archduke Carl August in 1828 resulted in Hummel’s position being substantially strengthened as Carl Friedrich, the new Archduke, was much more supportive, influenced by his wife, Maria Pavlovna, a strong admirer of Hummel. Stromeyer was forced to retire, and the other long–standing force in Weimar’s musical life, the soprano Caroline Jagemann, lost the basis of her influence – her position as mistress of Carl August. But even the new regime was resistant to Hummel’s far–reaching proposals for modernising music–making and improving the conditions for the musicians, though he persisted over the ensuing years.

1828’s tour was short and included Berlin and Warsaw where Hummel met Chopin for the first time, the start of a significant friendship and influencing role on the younger composer. The following year Hummel took a holiday in the spa of Karlsbad and started preparations for his visit to England the following year. There had been an invitation from the Philharmonic Society outstanding since 1822 and Hummel’s reputation there was very high, with his music well known and frequently performed, for example by Liszt.

On route to London Hummel visited Paris in March 1829 and gave two successful concerts before heading on for England. Advance publicity, aided by help from the residents and fellow virtuosi Moscheles and Kalkbrenner, ensured great interest and the critics were not disappointed. Other artists featured on the programmes, including the famous young soprano, Maria Malibran, who premiered the Tyrolean Air with Variations which she had commissioned from Hummel. Hummel spent three months in London, played for the Queen, and participated in other concerts, including a benefit for Moscheles.

This was the peak of Hummel’s touring career, as a visit the following year was far less successful. Paganini, with his daemonic appearance, showmanship and unprecedented virtuosity on the violin, was now the rage and Liszt was following the same path on the piano, effecting a change in public taste. Further, Hummel had not ingratiated himself in some musical quarters with his focus on fees. Also there were some suggestions that his remarkable technique was in decline. But he took the opportunity to tour the north–west of England before returning home via Paris and a visit to London in 1833 was in the role of conductor of the German Opera company. As before, he was invited to Windsor Castle to perform for King and Queen. The opera venture was an artistic success though a number of works were cancelled. He gave one concert, but also performed one of his concertos for the Philharmonic Society and appeared as a guest with Kramer. Unfortunately he had a breakdown in performing a Mozart 2–piano Fantasia.

This was Hummel’s last tour, the financial rewards were diminishing and his health was now in serious decline in his mid–fifties. He continued to perform his duties at Weimar and gave his last concert there in March 1837 when his son Eduard played one of his concertos. His health deteriorated further during the summer and he died on October 17. His funeral was three days later, when one of his cantatas was played. Hummel’s death marked the end of the classical era.

Hummel died a wealthy man, providing well for his family. Elisabeth Hummel survived her husband for 45 years, remaining a widow. With the onset of romanticism and new fashions, Hummel’s music gradually disappeared from the repertoire and by the beginning of the 20th century his music was almost unknown.