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Hummel – Return to Vienna

The Hummel family settled back to life in Vienna in the spring of 1793 and Johann was taken on as a pupil by Antonio Salieri and Albrechtsberger (who was also teaching the 22–year–old Beethoven who had just arrived in the city.) Haydn gave some instruction on the organ but advised it would affect his piano–playing adversely. Composition became an increasingly important activity, but this was a period, with Mozart recently dead, where the virtuoso pianist was becoming a great attraction.

Beethoven and Hummel crossed paths regularly as competitors for the title of virtuoso king of Vienna. Beethoven was eight years older than the teenage Hummel, and was much better connected in Vienna, but they evolved to become the two most celebrated composers and virtuosi in the city. Their relationship, which was to last until Beethoven’s death, was a stormy one at times and Hummel recognised Beethoven’s greater genius early on. Years later he reminisced to his pupil, Ferdinand Hiller: "It was a serious moment for me when Beethoven appeared. Should I have tried to walk in the footsteps of such a genius? For a while I didn’t know who I was, and I finally said to myself: "It is best that you remain true to yourself and your nature." Hummel never wrote a symphony as a result.

Hummel spent ten years in Vienna, developing as a composer and giving rare concert recitals and performing in private homes. As a leading Viennese pianist he was much in demand as a teacher – he needed the money to survive – and he gave up ten hours a day to this, in contrast to Beethoven’s ability to dedicate himself to composition thanks to his financial sponsors. As a virtuoso Hummel’s style was very different from that of Beethoven, and preferred by many. As improvisers they were in a class of their own.

Hummel maintained a good relationship with Haydn, who recommended him, still only 24 in 1803, to be Kapellmeister at the Württemberg Court. This failed but Haydn immediately recommended him to his own Prince Nicolas Esterházy as Concertmaster. While Haydn remained titular Kapellmeister, he was now too frail to carry out his duties, but the new responsibilities at Esterháza, a magnificent but isolated palace at Eisenstadt, 50 kms south of Vienna, were conflict laden. To replace Haydn there was now a Vice Kapellmeister, Fuchs, and a second Concertmaster, Tomasini, in addition to Hummel.

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