Ferdinand Ries

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Ferdinand Ries
Ferdinand Ries by Mayer.jpg
Ferdinand Ries
Baptised28 November 1784 (1784-11-28)
Died13 January 1838(1838-01-13) (aged 53)
  • Pianist
  • Conductor
  • Piano teacher

Ferdinand Ries (baptised 28 November 1784 – 13 January 1838) was a German composer. Ries was a friend, pupil and secretary of Ludwig van Beethoven. He composed eight symphonies, a violin concerto, nine piano concertos (the first concerto is not published), three operas, and numerous other works, including 26 string quartets. In 1838 he published a collection of reminiscences of his teacher Beethoven, co-written with Franz Wegeler. The symphonies, some chamber works—most of them with piano—his violin concerto and his piano concertos have been recorded, exhibiting a style which, given his connection to Beethoven, lies between the Classical and early Romantic styles.


Early life

Ries was born into a musical family of Bonn. His grandfather, Johann Ries (1723–1784), was appointed court trumpeter to the Elector of Cologne at Bonn. Ries was the eldest son of the violinist and Archbishopric Music Director Franz Anton Ries (1755–1846) and the brother of violinist and composer (Pieter) Hubert Ries (1802–1886) and violinist Joseph Ries. He received piano lessons from his father and was instructed by Bernhard Romberg, who also belonged to the Bonn Hofkapelle as a cellist. At the end of 1798 he went for further training in Arnsberg to meet an organist friend of his father; a year later he went to Munich. There he worked hard as a music copyist.

The French dissolved the Electoral court of Bonn and disbanded its orchestra, but in the early months of 1803 the penniless Ries managed to reach Vienna, with a letter of introduction written by the Munich-based composer Carl Cannabich on 29 December 1802. Ries was then the pupil of Ludwig van Beethoven, who had received some early instruction at Bonn from Ries's father, Franz Ries. Together with Carl Czerny, Ries was the only pupil who Beethoven taught during these years. Beethoven took great care of the young man, teaching him piano, sending him to Albrechtsberger for harmony and composition and securing for him positions as piano tutor in aristocratic households in Baden and Silesia. Ries was soon also Beethoven's secretary: he had correspondence with publishers, copied notes, completed errands and provided Beethoven the beautiful apartment in the Pasqualati House where the composer lived for several years. Ries made his public debut as a pianist in July 1804, playing Beethoven's C minor concerto, Op. 37, with his own cadenza, which he was allowed to write. His performance received glowing reviews. Ries spent the summers of 1803 and 1804 with Beethoven in Baden bei Wien, as well as in Döbling.

Ries' work as a secretary and a copyist won Beethoven's confidence in negotiations with publishers and he became a fast friend. One of the most famous stories told about Ries is connected with the first rehearsal of the Eroica Symphony, when Ries, during the performance, mistakenly believed that the horn player had come in too early and said so aloud, infuriating Beethoven. [lower-alpha 1]

Ries feared conscription in the occupying French army (though he was blind in one eye) and so he fled Vienna in September 1805. He stayed in Bonn for a year with his family, and this is where he wrote his first piano concerto in C major, now known as Concerto no. 6 for piano and orchestra. [1] While Ries was living in Bonn, his two piano sonatas, op. 1, dedicated to Beethoven were published by Simrock. [2]

Starting in 1807, Ries spent the next two years in Paris before returning to Vienna. Here Ries quickly expanded his catalogue of works (mainly to chamber and piano music, such as the later popular Septet op. 25). Ries had great difficulty succeeding in the capital city of the French Army and was at times so discouraged that he wanted to give up the profession of music and seek a position in the civil service.

On 27 August 1808, Ries arrived back in Vienna, where he again made contact with Beethoven. Ries helped Beethoven with the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and other works for the benefit concert held on 22 December 1808. In July 1809, Ries left Vienna for the second time; this time he was threatened by the call-up to the Austrian military, which mobilized all forces against the threat to Vienna by Napoleon. Again he took refuge in his paternal home of Bonn and spent the next one and a half years composing a series of larger works: his first Symphony, his second Piano Concerto in C minor (later known as Concerto no. 4 op. 115) and his Violin Concerto (unpublished during his lifetime) in E minor op. 24.

Later life

In January 1811, Ries left for Russia with the goal of an extended concert trip via Kassel, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm to St. Petersburg. There, he met his old teacher Bernhard Romberg, with whom he played concerts in Western Russia. He composed two piano concertos for this tour, No. 2 in E flat major, op. 42 and No. 3 in C sharp minor, op. 55. However, in the summer of 1812, with Napoleon advancing on Moscow, Ries left Russia to tour across Europe, arriving in London in April 1813.

The composer's next eleven years were spent in England. Johann Peter Salomon, the great friend and patron of Haydn—who had formerly played with Franz Anton Ries in the court orchestra at Bonn—included Ries regularly in his Philharmonic concert series, [lower-alpha 2] where a review praised his "romantic wildness". In London too, Ries established himself as a respected piano teacher in the wealthy districts of the city and in 1814 he married Harriet Mangeon (1796-1863), from an opulent family. In 1815 he became a member of the Philharmonic Society and in the same year was elected to be one of its directors. Ries never lost touch with Beethoven and had a role in the London publications of many works of Beethoven after the peace of 1815, including the 1822 commission from the Philharmonic Society that resulted in the Choral Symphony.

Commemorative plaque of the London premier of Beethoven's 9th symphony, commissioned by Ries Plaque of the first UK performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.JPG
Commemorative plaque of the London premier of Beethoven's 9th symphony, commissioned by Ries

Ries wrote his Symphony No. 2 in D minor (numbered as Symphony no. 5), inspired by the quality of the Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society. His compositional work is effectively split in two at this time. Ries composed most of his orchestral works during his time in London: six of his eight symphonies (as well as two of his five concert overtures) were created for concerts of the Philharmonic Society. On the other hand, he wrote now increasingly light fare for the piano: fantasies, rondos, variations, adapted divertimentos and others, mostly about well-known opera arias or popular folk song melodies. the production of chamber music (string quartets, violin sonatas) and intermediate piano music (sonatas) came almost to a standstill. After 1820 he had disagreements with his fellow directors of the Philharmonic Society; Ries was of the opinion that his works were not adequately taken into account in the programming of concerts. In 1821, he resigned his position of Director and began to increase his contacts with continental Europe with the idea of a return. On 3 May 1824 he gave his farewell concert in London, at which he dedicated a Piano Concerto (Concerto no. 7 in A minor for piano and orchestra op. 132).

In July 1824 Ries retired to Germany with his English wife and three children, but returned to musical life in Frankfurt am Main as composer and conductor. His reputation as an instrumental composer and bandleader had strengthened now in Central Europe. In 1834 he was appointed head of the city orchestra and Singakademie in Aachen, for which he wrote two oratorios, Der Sieg des Glaubens (1829) and Die Könige in Israel (1837), both of which have been recorded. In addition, he was festival director of the Lower Rhenish Music Festival eight times — between 1824 and 1837. The first year he was the director of the festival he took the opportunity of performing Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which was the German premier of this work. In Godesburg during 1825 and 1826 Ries wrote five string quartets (op. 150, no. 1–2; op. 166, no. 1; WoO 34 and 36). String quartets were a genre that Ries had barely touched. For his entire time in London he only wrote three works of this genre.

Beginning in April 1827 the Ries family moved to Frankfurt am Main. In Frankfurt the existence of a renowned Opera House attracted him. Since 1826, he had had plans to write operas, which he brought to fruition in the years 1827/28. On 15 October 1828, his first opera, The Robber Bride, was premiered in Frankfurt with great success. To the direction of the Dublin Music Festival in 1831 he used a month's stay in London, where he composed his second opera, The Sorceress (published in Germany under the title Liska or the Witch by Gyllensteen). It was premiered on 4 August 1831 at the London Royal Adelphi Theatre. His third opera was composed in 1834 (Die Nacht auf dem Libanon WoO 51), which for many years remained unperformed. In 1832/33 Ries and his wife made a several-month journey through Italy for a concert tour (which would remain his last), which led to Venice, Milan, Rome and Naples. During the trip, Ries wrote his last Piano Concerto (in G minor op. 177), his last Piano Sonata (A flat major op. 176) and his last String Quartet (F minor WoO 48, during his lifetime, unpublished). In the summer of 1834, Ries was briefly Director of the Aachen Theatre Orchestra in conversation; but he rejected the offer. In the winter 1836/37 Ries stopped in Paris; there, he composed his last work for orchestra (the overture dramatique L'apparition WoO 61) and briefly went to London, where he succeeded in the world premiere of his new overture in a concert of the Philharmonic Society (13 March). Ries returned to Frankfurt and he accepted an offer in August 1837. Ries was not able to fulfill the offer since he died on 13 January 1838 after a short and unexpected illness. When Ries died, he was so forgotten that no leading music magazine wrote an obituary for him.

Ferdinand Ries is buried in the Tomb (No. 45) of the Klotz family in the Frankfurt am Main cemetery.

The music

Cecil Hill wrote a scholarly thematic catalog, listed below, of Ries's 300 works: for each work he provided incipits (opening themes) for each movement, dedications, known early reviews, and known dates of composition.

While one of the few widely circulated recordings of Ries's music was for some time that of his third piano concerto, now all of his symphonies, the other concertos, and a number of chamber works are available on compact disc, and his surviving music for piano and orchestra and chamber works are the focus of ongoing projects on various record labels as well.

Selected list of works


Other Works for Voice




Concert overtures

Other works for piano and orchestra


Chamber music

Piano music

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  1. Told by Ries himself in his Biographical Reminiscences of Beethoven, co-authored with Wegeler. See: Ries, Ferdinand; Wegeler, Franz Gerhard; Kalischer, Alfred Christlieb (1906). Biographische notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven. Schuster & Loeffler. p.  94. (German).
  2. Ries debuted 14 March 1814.
  3. Hill (1982): xxviii asserts this work was written before op. 146
  4. Note that, unusually, Ries and/or his publishers did not separate the numbering scheme of his violin concerto from his piano concertos; thus, there is no "Piano Concerto No. 1".
  1. McGorray 2015.
  2. H. P. Clive, Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary, p. 285
  3. Tutino 2016.