Friedrich Wilhelm Michael Kalkbrenner (2–8 November 1785 – 10 June 1849) was a pianist, composer, piano teacher and piano manufacturer. German by birth, Kalkbrenner studied at the Paris Conservatoire starting at a young age and eventually settled in Paris, where he lived until his death in 1849. For these reasons, many historians refer to Kalkbrenner as being a French composer.
At his peak, Kalkbrenner was considered to be the foremost pianist in Europe. The only serious rival he had was Johann Nepomuk Hummel. When Frédéric Chopin came to Paris, Kalkbrenner suggested that Chopin could benefit by studying in one of Kalkbrenner's schools. It was not until the late 1830s that Kalkbrenner's reputation was surpassed by the likes of Chopin, Thalberg and Liszt.
Kalkbrenner was a prolific composer of a multitude of piano works (altogether more than 200), piano concertos, and operas.
Author of a famous method of piano playing (1831) which was in print until the late 19th century, he ran in Paris what is sometimes called a "factory for aspiring virtuosos"and taught scores of pupils from as far away as Cuba. His best piano pupils were Marie Pleyel and Camille-Marie Stamaty. Through Stamaty, Kalkbrenner's piano method was passed on to Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Camille Saint-Saëns.
He was one of the few composers who through deft business deals became enormously rich. Chopin dedicated his first piano concerto to him. Kalkbrenner published transcriptions of Beethoven's nine symphonies for solo piano decades before Liszt did the same.He was the first to introduce long and rapid octave passages in both hands – today so familiar from 19th century piano music – into his piano texture.
Today he is not so much remembered because of his music, but because of his alleged vanity.Kalkbrenner was convinced that, after the death of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, he was the only classical composer left, and he never hesitated to let the world know this. Although of humble origins, he had a lifelong aspiration to be an aristocrat and delighted in rubbing shoulders with the nobility in London and Paris. He is invariably described as a somewhat pompous, formal, overly polite, yet intelligent and business-wise and extremely shrewd man. He was the target of many anecdotes during his own lifetime and bitingly satirised by the German poet Heinrich Heine.
Not much of his huge output has survived, although several pianists have taken some shorter works of his into their repertoire. A recordingof two of his piano concertos (No. 1 and No. 4) was released in 2005; an older (and abridged) recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1 is still available. The year 2012 saw a new CD release of his second and third piano concertos.
Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner was the son of Christian Kalkbrenner and an unidentified mother. Kalkbrenner was born, allegedly in a post chaise, during a trip his mother made from Kassel to Berlin. His birth was consequently unable to be registered with the authorities, and hence the exact date of his birth was not recorded. Kalkbrenner's father was going to be appointed Kapellmeister to Frederica Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, Queen Consort of Prussia, in 1786. Thus, it is possible that Kalkbrenner's mother was on the way from Hesse to Berlin to join her husband, who would shortly take up his new duties at the court of Potsdam.
Kalkbrenner's father was his first teacher. The boy must have progressed rapidly. By the time he was six he played a piano concerto by Joseph Haydn to the Queen of Prussia. When he was eight he spoke four languages fluently. Although his education must have been privileged and took part in beautiful surroundings in Potsdam and Rheinsberg castle, Kalkbrenner retained the heavy Berliner argot, characteristic of working-class people to this day, for the rest of his life.
At the end of 1798, Kalkbrenner was enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire. He was in the piano class of Alsatian pianist and composer Louis Adam, father of the now more famous opera composer Adolphe Adam. Louis Adam was for 45 years the most influential professor for piano at the Paris Conservatory.According to French pianist and piano professor Antoine François Marmontel, he put his pupils to work on great masters like Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart, and Clementi – at that time a notable exception among piano teachers. In harmony and composition he was taught by Charles Simon Catel. Kalkbrenner was a fellow student of opera and ballet composer Ferdinand Hérold and did well at his studies. In 1800, he won second prize for piano (Pierre-Joseph-Guillaume Zimmerman came in first), in the following year first prize. When he left Paris at the end of 1802 for Vienna to continue his studies, Kalkbrenner was not yet a finished artist, but he could already look back on a solidly musical education from recognised masters in their own fields.
In the latter half of 1803, Kalkbrenner travelled to Vienna to continue with his education. It is not yet clear why he took this step, it could be that he assumed that he wanted to crown his studies with lessons from some representative of the Viennese classical school. It must have been easy for him anyway because he spoke German as his native language and he probably had help from his father who was a known musical personality in the Austrian capital.
In Vienna he took counterpoint lessons from Antonio Salieri and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, then already quite old, but the eminence in Austrian music theory and the finest contrapuntist of his day. Moreover, Albrechtsberger had been the teacher of Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, Josef Weigl, and Ferdinand Ries, and he was a close friend of Joseph Haydn. Who better was there to claim as his teacher for an impressive resume, especially for one like Kalkbrenner, who always had his eye on wealth and fame? Besides taking lessons in counterpoint he met Haydn, Beethoven and Hummel, playing duets with the latter, his only serious rival as a pianist. Thus, it is not entirely without warrant when Kalkbrenner styled himself as the last classical composer for the rest of his life. He firmly maintained that he was of the old school, and the old school was Beethoven, Haydn, Ries, and Hummel.
With his education finally ended, Kalkbrenner in 1805 and the year thereafter appeared as concert pianist in Berlin, Munich, and Stuttgart.
From 1814 to 1823 Kalkbrenner lived in England. He gave many concerts, composed and established himself as a successful piano teacher. It was here that Kalkbrenner, always the astute businessman, came across an invention made by Johann Bernhard Logier. This invention was the so-called chiroplast or "hand guide". The chiroplast was a contrivance made from two parallel rails of mahogany wood that were placed on two feet and loosely attached to the piano. This apparatus should restrict vertical motions of the arms thereby helping nascent pianists to attain the (perceived) correct position of the hands. Camille Saint-Saëns, who was put to work with it as a boy, describes it:
This invention became a runaway success. There are reports that it was still available for sale in London in the 1870s. In 1817, Logier teamed up with Kalkbrenner to found an academy where music theory and piano playing, of course with the help of the chiroplast, were taught.The proceeds from the patent made Kalkbrenner a wealthy man. In 1821, Ignaz Moscheles had also settled in London. His powerful and finished playing had a great influence on Kalkbrenner, who used his time in London to hone his technical skills even more.
In 1823 and 1824, Kalkbrenner gave concerts in Frankfurt, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Prague, and Vienna. Where he went he was received with loud applause. Considering the fact that Ignaz Moscheles was touring the same places at roughly the same time, this was quite an achievement. During the same period, he composed a variation on a waltz by Anton Diabelli for Vaterländischer Künstlerverein .
Kalkbrenner returned to Paris a rich man. Here he became a partner in Pleyel's piano factory, which by the time of Kalkbrenner's death (1849) had risen to a place second only to Erard in prestige and output.
Kalkbrenner, although of German birth, became the ranking head of the modern French pianoforte school. The 1830s were his greatest time. He was at the pinnacle of his pianistic powers and his virtuosity aroused the greatest enthusiasm in the years 1833, 1834, and 1836 on his trips to Hamburg, Berlin, Brussels, and other places.After the arrival of Liszt and Thalberg, Kalkbrenner's fame was on the wane. What he lost in pianistic reputation he compensated through a happy marriage to a much younger, titled and wealthy French heiress, descendant of aristocrats of the Ancien Régime. The couple entertained in a grand fashion and did all it could to copycat the resurgent Bourbon aristocracy of the 1830s.
Kalkbrenner died in 1849 in Enghien-les-Bains from cholera, which he attempted to treat himself.
Kalkbrenner had many pupils and some of them became fine pianists and composers. This is a list of Kalkbrenner's most famous students:
Through Arabella Goddard and Camille Saint-Saëns – who studied with Kalkbrenner's star product Camille-Marie Stamaty – Kalkbrenner's influence reached well into the first half of the 20th century.
This is no incident the American pianist and composer could have witnessed, as he himself arrived in Paris from his native New Orleans only in 1843. It is one of the many anecdotes about Kalkbrenner's larger-than-life figure that Gottschalk would have heard in Paris salons. He wrote it down, yearning for his Paris days, either in a hotel room or in a railway carriage in May 1864 during a disastrous concert tour through Canada.
For a few hectic weeks in the autumn and winter of 1831, Frédéric Chopin considered becoming Kalkbrenner's pupil in earnest. Kalkbrenner, though, had demanded that Chopin study three years with him. Chopin's deliberations, whether he should or should not study with Kalkbrenner, caused a flurry of letters between Chopin's native Poland and Paris:
The German-British pianist, conductor and founder of the Hallé Orchestra, Charles Hallé, had as a very young man of seventeen called on Kalkbrenner to inquire about lessons. At first he seriously intended to become Kalkbrenner's pupil, but he changed his mind after this encounter with the celebrated man:
Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann, and herself an eminent pianist and composer, spent several months in Paris during the year 1839. She met many of the Parisian pianists, Kalkbrenner among them. In a letter home to her father, piano pedagogue Friedrich Wieck, she wrote:
German poet and satirist Heinrich Heine in his Letters on Music from Paris (1840–47) wrote with biting wit on musical life and musicians in the French capital. Kalkbrenner was the target of some of Heine’s more famous squibs.
"One day Kalkbrenner gave a dinner for a group of society celebrities, among them several famous artists. During the first course a magnificent fish caught the eye of his guests. They asked Kalkbrenner whence he had procured this beautiful specimen. Kalkbrenner was only too glad to explain. He himself had visited the famous Paris market in the morning to search for the best and freshest fish. Upon spotting the fish his guests were now eating, he was inconsolable to learn that the fish vendor had already promised the beauty to the personal chef of an archbishop. Kalkbrenner, devastated, nevertheless pulled out his card; on handing it to the vendor the lady cried: Oh you are Kalkbrenner, the famous master, well in this case I not only will give the fish to you, I will also give it to you absolutely free of charge."
The American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a pupil of Camille Stamaty, Kalkbrenner's substitute teacher and heir to his piano method. Kalkbrenner was in the audience when Gottschalk gave his debut concert in the Salle Pleyel playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. After the concert Chopin went backstage and congratulated Gottschalk on his success. Kalkbrenner, who deigned it beneath his dignity to seek out a mere debutant, chose not to go backstage, but rather waited for Gottschalk to come and see him. Gottschalk dutifully obliged the next day. This is what Gottschalk relates about their memorable encounter:
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for solo piano. He has maintained worldwide renown as a leading musician of his era, one whose "poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation."
Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era. His best-known works include Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863), the Second Piano Concerto (1868), the First Cello Concerto (1872), Danse macabre (1874), the opera Samson and Delilah (1877), the Third Violin Concerto (1880), the Third ("Organ") Symphony (1886) and The Carnival of the Animals (1886).
A Song to Remember is a 1945 Columbia Pictures Technicolor biographical film which tells a fictionalised life story of Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Directed by Charles Vidor and starring Paul Muni, Merle Oberon and Cornel Wilde.
Carl Czerny was an Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist of Czech origin whose vast musical production amounted to over a thousand works. His books of studies for the piano are still widely used in piano teaching. He was also noted as one of the few pupils of Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist. His music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era.
Moriz Rosenthal was a Polish pianist and composer. He was an outstanding pupil of Franz Liszt and a friend and colleague of some of the greatest musicians of his age, including Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, Anton Rubinstein, Hans von Bülow, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet and Isaac Albéniz.
Arthur De Greef was a Belgian pianist and composer.
Louis-Joseph Diémer was a French pianist and composer. He was the founder of the Société des Instruments Anciens in the 1890s, and gave recitals on the harpsichord. His output as a composer was extensive, including a piano concerto and a quantity of salon pieces, all more or less forgotten these days.
Earl Wild was an American pianist known for his transcriptions of jazz and classical music.
Thomas Dyke Acland Tellefsen was a Norwegian pianist and composer. As a composer Tellefsen wrote 44 opuses: solo piano works, two piano concertos, and chamber music. He dedicated many of his compositions to the Polish, Russian, and French aristocracy.
Alexander Brailowsky was a Russian-born French pianist who specialized in the works of Frédéric Chopin. He was a leading concert pianist in the years between the two World Wars.
Isidor Edmond Philipp was a French pianist, composer, and pedagogue of Jewish Hungarian descent. He was born in Budapest and died in Paris.
Albert Ferber was a Swiss pianist who had an international performing career that spanned four decades and took him across the world.
Camille-Marie Stamaty was a French pianist, piano teacher and composer predominantly of piano music and studies (études). Today largely forgotten, he was one of the preeminent piano teachers in 19th century Paris. His most famous pupils were Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Camille Saint-Saëns.
Marie (Trautmann) Jaëll was a French pianist, composer, and pedagogue. Marie Jaëll composed pieces for piano, concertos, quartets, and others, She dedicated her cello concerto to Jules Delsart. and was the first pianist to perform all the piano sonatas of Beethoven in Paris. She did scientific studies of hand techniques in piano playing and attempted to replace traditional drilling with systematic piano methods. Her students included Albert Schweitzer, who studied with her while also studying organ with Charles-Marie Widor in 1898-99. She died in Paris.
Stéphane Raoul Pugno was a French composer, teacher, organist, and pianist known for his playing of Mozart's works.
Benjamin Johnson Lang was an American conductor, pianist, organist, teacher and composer. He introduced a large amount of music to American audiences, including the world premiere of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, which he conducted in Boston in 1875.
Carl Filtsch was a Transylvanian pianist and composer. He was a child prodigy, and student of Frédéric Chopin.
Valentin Gheorghiu is a Romanian classical pianist and composer.
Christian Kalkbrenner was a German Kapellmeister, violinist, organ and keyboard player, and composer. Almost an exact contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he was a prolific composer in many fields and a force in the musical world. He rose to high honours at the courts of the Prussian Kings. For unknown reasons, Kalkbrenner left his position as Kapellmeister to Prince Henry of Prussia and went first to Naples and later on to Paris. He was the father of Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner, one of the great piano virtuosos of the first half of the 19th century.