The Pedagogical Legacy of Johann Nepomuk Hummel

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2006-08-07

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Abstract

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), a student of Mozart and Haydn, and colleague of Beethoven, made a spectacular ascent from child-prodigy to pianist-superstar. A composer with considerable output, he garnered enormous recognition as piano virtuoso and teacher. Acclaimed for his dazzling, beautifully clean, and elegant legato playing, his superb pedagogical skills made him a much sought after and highly paid teacher.

This dissertation examines Hummel's eminent role as piano pedagogue reassessing his legacy. Furthering previous research (e.g. Karl Benyovszky, Marion Barnum, Joel Sachs) with newly consulted archival material, this study focuses on the impact of Hummel on his students. Part One deals with Hummel's biography and his seminal piano treatise, Ausführliche theoretisch-practische Anweisung zum Piano-Forte-Spiel, vom ersten Elementar-Unterrichte an, bis zur vollkommensten Ausbildung, 1828 (published in German, English, French, and Italian). Part Two discusses Hummel, the pedagogue; the impact on his star-students, notably Adolph Henselt, Ferdinand Hiller, and Sigismond Thalberg; his influence on musicians such as Chopin and Mendelssohn; and the spreading of his method throughout Europe and the US. Part Three deals with the precipitous decline of Hummel's reputation, particularly after severe attacks by Robert Schumann. His recent resurgence as a musician of note is exemplified in a case study of the changes in the appreciation of the Septet in D Minor, one of Hummel's most celebrated compositions. The Postlude assesses Hummel's role as a teacher by also addressing his "hidden" presence. For example, core elements of his method inform the pedagogy of Isabelle Vengarova, a teacher of Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein. Her piano instruction is indebted to Hummel, revealing the far-reaching influence of his pedagogical legacy. The appendices address important aspects, for example, Hummel's indirect impact in the US through Charles Zeuner.

Hummel's pedagogical legacy is divulged here in its significance of impact. Renewed interest is needed in a musician of eminence who suffered much bias and neglect and deserves a full reevaluation.

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