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Short History of the Competition

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The international piano competition is dedicated to the memory of composer, piano virtuoso and one of the most important natives of Bratislava, Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 – 1837).

In 1786 his family moved to Vienna, and the prodigy Johann became a student of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was so enthusiastic about his abilities that he not only taught him for free, but made him a full member of his family for two years. Accompanied by his father, Johann completed his first concert tour between 1788 and 1793, which brought him to England. On the recommendation of his teacher J. Haydn, Hummel became his successor in 1804 as bandmaster at the court of Nicholas II, Prince Esterházy. In 1811 he returned to Vienna, where he became a close friend of Ludwig van Beethoven. They competed as piano virtuosi, but each of them went their own way as a composer, although they influenced each other in this area as well. Hummel was even more commercially successful and often supported Beethoven financially. At Beethoven’s request, after his death in 1827, Hummel improvised on the famous themes of Beethoven’s compositions as part of a concert in his honor. Hummel spent the last period of his life (since 1819) as a famous man in Weimar, where he is buried. He worked here as the bandmaster of the Grand Duchy Orchestra and toured across Europe. He became the most sought-after and most expensive piano teacher in Europe at the time and, together with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a kind of attraction of Weimar; everyone who visited Weimar had to see Goethe and hear Hummel play the piano.

Just as Beethoven had a major influence on the formation of European music, Hummel had a major influence on shaping the ideal of piano playing in the 19th century, on the one hand as the author of the treatise on the art of piano playing Ausführliche theoretisch-practische Anweisung zum Pianoforte-Spiele vom ersten Unterricht an bis zur volkommendsten Ausbildung (1828), and mainly through his influence on the piano style of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Franz Schubert, Fryderyk Chopin, Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt. Hummel’s fame as a piano virtuoso was based on his extraordinary pianistic skills, which made him a pioneering phenomenon of romantic virtuosity. His ornamentation is a peculiar fusion of bel canto style vocal ornamentation into the field of piano music. The brilliance, sound fullness and clarity of Hummel’s piano performance are said to have surpassed everything that could be heard until then. Based on his career as a traveling virtuoso, Hummel spread the tradition of this brilliant style throughout Europe. His influence on early Chopin was particularly strong, especially on the style of his piano concerti.

The leading Slovak pianist Marian Lapšanský is the initiator and president of the Johann Nepomuk Hummel International Piano Competition. The first year of the competition took place in 1991, and has since continued, first with a two-year then later a three-year periodicity. As the only music competition in Slovakia to this day, the Johann Nepomuk Hummel International Piano Competition is a member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions and the Alink – Argerich Foundation, which guarantees awareness of this event around the world. During its existence, the competition has significantly helped to popularize Hummel’s work and has stimulated the interest of musicians of other genres in studying and recording his compositions.

Markéta Štefková