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Kalkbrenner by Henri Grévedon, 1829

Friedrich Wilhelm Michael Kalkbrenner (7 November 1784 – 10 June 1849), also known as Frédéric Kalkbrenner, was a pianist, composer, piano teacher and piano manufacturer. German by birth, Kalkbrenner studied at the Conservatoire de Paris, starting at a young age and eventually settled in Paris, where he lived until his death in 1849. Kalkbrenner composed more than 200 piano works, as well as many piano concertos and operas.

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. 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"[1] and taught scores of pupils from as far away as Cuba. His pupils included Marie Pleyel, Marie Schauff, 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.[2] 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; however it could be argued that he was preceded by Beethoven with this particular technique.[citation needed]


Descent and parents

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.

1785–1798: Childhood and first education in Berlin

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.

1798–1802: At the Conservatoire de Paris

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.[3] 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.[4] 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 1799 (Published 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.

1803–1806: Studies in Vienna and concert tours in Germany

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.

1814–1823: Pianist, teacher and businessman in London

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:

"The preface to Kalkbrenner's method, in which he relates the beginnings of his invention, is exceedingly interesting. This invention consisted of a rod placed in front of the keyboard. The forearm rested on this rod in such a way that all muscular action save that of the hand was suppressed. This system is excellent for teaching the young pianist how to play pieces written for the harpsichord or the first pianofortes where the keys responded to slight pressure; but it is inadequate for modern works and instruments."[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

1823–1824: Concerts in Austria and Germany

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.

1825–1849: Pianist, teacher and piano manufacturer in Paris

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.[8]

In the 1830s Kalkbrenner 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.[9] 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.[who?] The couple entertained in a grand fashion and did all it could to copycat the resurgent Bourbon aristocracy of the 1830s.

In the winter of 1831, Frédéric Chopin considered becoming Kalkbrenner's pupil. 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:

Warsaw, 27 November 1831, Józef Elsner (Chopin's composition teacher) to Chopin in Paris: "I was pleased to see, by your letter, that Kalkbrenner, the first of pianists, as you call him, gave you such a friendly reception. [...] I am very glad that he has agreed to initiate you into the mysteries of his art, but it astonishes me to hear that he requires three years to do so. Did he think the first time he saw and heard you, that you needed all that time to accustom yourself to his method? or that you wished to devote your musical talents to the piano alone, and to confine your compositions to that instrument?"
Paris, 14 December 1831, Chopin to Józef Elsner in Warsaw: "Three years of study is a great deal too much', as Kalkbrenner himself perceived after he had heard me a few times. From this you can see, dear Mons. Elsner, that the true virtuoso does not know what envy is. I could make up my mind to study three years, if I felt certain that would secure the end I have in view. One thing is quite clear to my mind; I will never be a copy of Kalkbrenner.
Paris, 16 December 1831, Chopin to Titus Woyciechowski in Poland: "I wish I could say I play as well as Kalkbrenner, who is perfection in quite another style to Paganini. Kalkbrenner's fascinating touch, the quietness and equality of his playing, are indescribable; every note proclaims the master. He is truly a giant, who dwarfs all other artists. (...) I was very much amused by Kalkbrenner, who, in playing to me, made a mistake which brought him to a standstill; but the way in which he recovered himself was marvellous. Since this meeting we have seen each other every day; either he comes to me, or I go to him. He offered to take me as a pupil for three years, and to make a great artist of me. I replied that I knew very well what were my deficiencies; but I did not wish to imitate him, and that three years were too much for me."[10]

Kalkbrenner died in 1849 in Enghien-les-Bains from cholera, which he attempted to treat himself.

Notable pupils

For Kalkbrenner's notable students, see List of music students by teacher: K to M § Friedrich Kalkbrenner.

Kalkbrenner had many pupils and some of them became fine pianists and composers. This is a list of Kalkbrenner's most famous students:[11]

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.


See also: List of compositions by Friedrich Kalkbrenner

Notes and references

  1. ^ (Starr 1995), p. 176.
  2. ^ Liszt wrote to his publishers Breitkopf and Härtel (probably in December 1837): "I had spoken [...] about the Beethoven symphonies, of which I have undertaken the arrangement [...] The recent publication of the same Symphonies, arranged by Mr. Kalkbrenner, makes me anxious that mine should not remain any longer in a portfolio." (Liszt 1894), p. 22
  3. ^ (Marmontel, 1878), p. 238.
  4. ^ (Marmontel 1878), pp. 236-243.
  5. ^ (Saint-Saëns 1919), pp. 8–9.
  6. ^ (Weitzmann 1897), p. 150–51.
  7. ^ (Weitzmann 1897), p. 151.
  8. ^ (Ehrlich 1990), p. 117.
  9. ^ (Weitzmann 1897), pp. 151–2.
  10. ^ (Karasowski 1881?), pp. 233-244.
  11. ^ (Slonimsky 1958), see relevant articles.
  12. ^ (Schonberg, 1984) p. 251.
  13. ^ (Schonberg, 1984) p. 251.