About 1814 Elisabeth Hummel persuaded her husband to appear again as a pianist. Her sense of timing was excellent: at the many concerts and parties for the Congress of Vienna, Hummel was a sensation, playing for noblemen and bureaucrats, many of whom functioned peripherally as the equivalent of international booking agents for entertainers. A tour of Germany in spring 1816 gave him renewed confidence and made him a celebrity. But once again financial stability eluded him. Having a family to support, he resolved to seek a secure and permanent post. He appeared to reach his goal late that year as Hofkapellmeister in Stuttgart, but despite the splendid chapel and excellent orchestra, the position was unsatisfactory. He had no time for composing; touring necessitated a constant battle for permission to travel. He considered taste in Stuttgart abysmally low and stifling, and intrigues at the Opera, whose aristocratic management did not like the coarse Hummel, made life unpleasant. In November 1818 he resigned to become grand-ducal Kapellmeister at Weimar. The Weimar contract, dated 5 January 1819, was a decided improvement on the Stuttgart one: it included a three-month annual leave, which could be taken in the spring, the height of the European concert season. Furthermore, the Catholic Hummel was relieved of the direction of sacred music for this Protestant court.
The Weimar years were pleasant and productive. Hummel settled into a thoroughly bourgeois existence, complete with house and garden. Through Goethe he met the leading figures of the intellectual world and soon became one of Weimar's tourist attractions: without seeing Goethe and hearing Hummel play, no visit to the town was complete. His primary job was to conduct at the court theatre. Here his contract was again favourable, divesting him of responsibility for ‘trivial’ operas and granting him full control over tempos, an object of constant dispute. The repertory was varied, including works by the most important composers of the past and, over the years, newer operas by Rossini, Auber, Meyerbeer, Halévy, Spohr and Bellini. The productions benefited considerably from Hummel's tours, during which he met and hired talented foreign singers. Probably as a result of his success with the opera company, he was a candidate for the directorship of the German opera in Dresden vacated by Weber's death in 1826. His other responsibilites at Weimar were diverse. He initiated and conducted at annual pension-fund concerts, celebrations, special performances in honour of the ducal family and local luminaries like Goethe, concerts by visiting artists such as Paganini (1829) and private parties (his orchestra was not large – strings 126.96.36.199.2, and double wind).
With ample time to teach privately and compose, Hummel made the 1820s one of his most productive periods. In addition to music for his tours, he wrote cantatas for the court and Masonic lodge, and numerous small works for publishers, including arrangements of overtures, symphonies and concertos for London publishers and Scottish songs for George Thomson of Edinburgh. Yet nothing occupied his time and imagination so fully as writing a comprehensive, multi-volume treatise on piano playing, a project so time-consuming that he eventually abandoned a commission from the Paris Opéra whose libretto in any case seems to have lost its fascination.
Hummel, Johann Nepomuk
4. Later tours and final years.
The 1820s were also busy for Hummel as a touring performer. He travelled as far afield as Russia (where he met John Field in 1822) and Poland (where he met Chopin in 1828), France and the Netherlands. In 1827 the Hummels and his pupil Ferdinand Hiller hastily made their way to Vienna to visit the dying Beethoven. Their meeting saw a final reconciliation; Hummel was a pallbearer at the funeral, and at the memorial concert, following Beethoven's wishes, he improvised on themes from the dead composer's works, most movingly on the Prisoners' Chorus from Fidelio. During this stay Hummel also met Schubert and gave him great pleasure on one occasion by improvising on Der blinde Knabe. Schubert dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel, presumably hoping he would perform them, but because they were not published until after the death of both men, the publisher changed the dedication to Schumann.
Cancellation of his annual leave in 1829 gave Hummel six months in 1830 for a major trip to Paris and his first visit to London for nearly 40 years. This tour was the climax of his career, since the later stays in London in 1831 and 1833 showed his reputation already on the decline. The first of these two was virtually ruined by competition from Paganini, while in the second Hummel functioned largely as director of the German opera season, which was not overwhelmingly successful. An equally lukewarm visit to Vienna in 1834 was his last tour. In the three remaining years of his life, illness reduced his activity to almost nothing. His death was regarded as the passing of an era and was appropriately marked in Vienna by a performance of Mozart's Requiem.
Hummel, Johann Nepomuk
Despite his great success, Hummel seems to have remained fundamentally a warm and simple person. Hiller described life in the Weimar household as regular and peaceful. Hummel believed in hard work, with intensive, but not excessive, daily practising, and daily periods of composition to nourish the skills and spirit. His main recreations were gardening and taking walks. A lover of conversation, he spoke a good German that retained a hint of his Viennese background. According to Hiller, he was very articulate, but disliked extra-curricular discussions of music because they made one stale. Grillparzer, who visited him in 1826, was amused by his command of Viennese dialect, which, in contrast to the conversation of the Weimar intellectuals, sounded like the worst German he had ever heard. Hummel's intermittent joviality seemed in keeping with his corpulence; Rellstab described his face as so arch-bourgeois that one hardly expected to find an artist behind it (fig.2). This pleasant picture was frequently spoilt, however, by the suggestion of excessive financial alertness. While there is doubtless truth in some allegations, it must be considered that they were made at a time of sensitivity created by Beethoven's and Mozart's poverty. It is beyond dispute that Hummel had an excellent business sense. He was ordinarily on good terms with his publishers C.F. Peters and Tobias Haslinger, who were helpful in managing his varied international transactions, and also kept watch on his many investments. It was Hummel who systematized multi-national publishing, led the composers' fight for uniform copyright laws in Germany and Austria, and showed composers that they could exploit the prevailing chaos in the music publishing world to their own advantage. He was always sensitive to the idea of success: on one occasion a harsh review in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung so infuriated him that he threatened to organize a boycott of it. And financial success was indeed his. Estimates of his estate vary, but it was by any reckoning very large – some 100,000 thalers (£20,000) and hundreds of rings, snuff boxes and other golden and bejewelled artefacts. He was a member of the Institut de France, the Société des Enfants d'Apollon, the Légion d’Honneur, the Société de Musique of Geneva, the Netherlands Society for the Advancement of Music, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, the Philharmonic Society of London (as one of its earliest honorary members) and the Weimar Order of the White Falcon.
Hummel, Johann Nepomuk