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Hummel – Succeeding Haydn at Esterhazá

Hummel’s compositional gifts were to develop strongly, particularly in choral music, at Esterháza over an eight–year period. He had nearly a hundred musicians and singers to compose for and to conduct, interestingly the second cello in the orchestra (as well as forester for the estate) was Adam Liszt who would father a son, Franz, in 1812. Hummel started initially at the Prince’s palace in Vienna in 1803. One of the first of his works performed was the Trumpet Concerto, written for the virtuoso Anton Weidinger, and performed at the Imperial Court on New Year’s Day, 1804. Some of Hummel’s melodies owed much to Mozart and he wittily included a popular contemporary march from a Cherubini opera in the last movement.

Hummel did not integrate that well at Esterháza. With the split responsibilities (for example he was not meant to conduct choral works, this being reserved for Fuchs) the situation required tact, modesty and diplomacy, particularly from someone nearly 50 years younger than the beloved Haydn who had been in the role since 1766. In contrast, Hummel, used to European cities and courts and being a soloist, was tactless and showed arrogance in a role that was completely new for him. He became, for some, a figure of fun, helped by the fact that he was overweight, even at this early age, and physically unattractive.

But Hummel as a composer pleased Prince Nicolas, particularly with the series of five Masses that continued the tradition started by Haydn of composing a Mass for the name–day of the Prince’s wife. Beethoven was commissioned to compose such a Mass for 1807, but his C major Mass failed to find favour with the Prince who reportedly said "My dear Beethoven, what is this you have done again?" Hummel, also present, laughed, and Beethoven took this amiss, although Hummel was probably laughing at Prince Nicolas, for whose musical taste he had very limited respect.

Hummel also composed for the theatre in Vienna, and it is clear that his composing activities caused him to neglect some of his other duties. His father was music director at the famous Apollo Saal and Hummel had a ready outlet for his compositions such as minuets and dances. At Christmas in 1808 the Prince sacked him after an underprepared concert on Christmas Eve, on the grounds that Hummel "devoted most of his time to giving lessons and to his own compositions for the theatre in Vienna, with a complete disregard for his obligations here." Hummel managed to get himself re–instated on this occasion, perhaps with Haydn’s help, but he continued to do little to hide his contempt for his employer’s musical taste or to conform to his demands. A second sacking in May 1811 was final, in spite of Hummel’s pleas, and the composer returned to Vienna, freed of his obligations, much more experienced, and able to concentrate on teaching and composing.

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