Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785-1849) – Part 1

Only few will be familiar with this name today, although cited in every Chopin biography. Cited not as a gifted composer or pianist, but as a rather dull teacher in Paris. He dared to offer a three years piano course to just arriving, 21-year old Chopin. Some of the biographers are milder in their judgment; some do not spare their indignation and malevolent attitude. Yet is it really that easy to recognize, to understand and above all то accept a new talent, a new artistic world? Many of the older generation musicians weren’t enraptured with Chopin’s music in the beginning at all. To Kalksbrenner’s honor he not only changed his mind, but organized himself the concert where Chopin played for the first time in Paris and so launched his career. Here again the biographers emphasize that Kalkbrenner also took part in this event, but without the participation of the most admired pianist in Paris who would come to listen to an unknown, young pianist? They kept a friendly relationship; Chopin dedicated his first piano concerto to Kalkbrenner. On his turn the older established colleague wrote “Variations brillantes sur une mazurka de Chopin” op.120 (1833).

As with many lesser known composers there is very little information about Kalkbrenner’s youth and many of the sources, like for example much used “Les biographies universelles de musiciens célèbres” by Fetis cannot be trusted. Even his birth date is unknown; it varies from 1784 to 1788! It is known now that 1785 is the year of his baptism. His father Christian Kalkbrenner was a composer himself and they have been occasionally confounded. Guided towards a musician career Friedrich started early his studies with Adam in Paris, later went to Vienna, where he worked with Albrechtsberger, met and admired Clementi, befriended and played with Hummel and A. Klengel. It is possible that he got acquainted with Beethoven and Haydn, with whom he even might have taken some lessons. The only written evidence for this is his sonata op.56, dedicated “to the memory of Haydn by his pupil Kalkbrenner”.

Back in France and after the death of his father (around 1806) his traces are lost. His only letter from Paris (dated 1809) does not give any insight in his life of that period. And here begin the speculations: that he was dreaming to have a military career. Or that he felt in love with a beautiful, rich young lady and spent years with her in a lonely villa. Or that he was a successful farmer. And even that he lived as a modest piano teacher in Paris. None is proved but one thing is evident – his composed works during this period are very scarce.

Filed under: Music

1 Response

  1. Michel Says:

    A very interesting article, I will be waiting for the continuation with impatience!


    And here begin the speculations: […] … Or that he felt in love with a beautiful, rich young lady and spent years with her in a lonely villa.

    I would bet that this is the best guess! At least, on his place, I would opt for this variant, I think… ;)

    Posted on November 2nd, 2009 at 14:14

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