Pianist in Transition – Part 2

Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785 – 1849)

Like Clementi, Kalkbrenner was an old school pianist who advocated for fingers close-to-keys. He, however, was a more superficial musician, was self-centered and preferred himself to any other pianists. He only associated himself with English and French nobility and forgot his common origins. Kalkbrenner made great effort to make acquaintances with Lords and Ladies. He could not resist name-dropping and would say, ‘that Louis Phillipe has asked me to accept a peerage. I thanked him but I thought it better to refuse, not being a politician, this develop monomania.’

Friedrich Kalkbrenner

Kalkbrenner was well-known for his impeccable manners, for his polish and sweetness. When he gave a concert in 1843 in Paris, it was reported that his lips were still gleaned with a smile as if it was embalmed on those of an Egyptian Pharaoh.

He could play the piano at the age of five and graduated from Paris Conservatoire at the age of thirteen. He lived in London for ten years as a fashionable pianist and teacher and settled in Paris in 1824 until his death in 1849. He enjoyed a busy and successful career as a teacher and pianist, and died a rich man.

His playing was irresistibly polished, elegant and accurate, although there was a lack of emotion and dynamics. All qualified critics commented that his playing was neat with limpid execution and his style ‘Polished as a Billiard Ball’. He controlled his fingers as obedient as a well-trained soldier.

Charles Hallé, his pupil described:

‘…..the first time I heard a celebrated musician, and this half-hour has been the greatest use of me. In Kalkbrenner’s playing there reigns a clearness, a distinctness and neatness that are astonishing. In octave scales he had an immense facility and precision especially in the left hand; then he has a special mode of handling the piano, particularly in melodious passages, which made a great impression, but which I cannot describe to you; the reason of this lays mostly in that he keeps his fingers so closely over the keys.’

Hallé heard Chopin (1810 – 1849) play a few months later and that ended Kalkbrenner. Like Hallé, Kalkbrenner swept Chopin off his feet. Chopin was introduced to Kalkbrenner and heard him play, and then wrote home a letter ‘…it is hard to believe his enchanting touch, his incomparable evenness and mastery that is displayed in every note’.

Chopin did play for Kalkbrenner and received a few compliments. Chopin was told that he had Cramer’s methods and Field’s touch. Kalkbrenner offered to take Chopin under his wing for three years. Mendelssohn assured Chopin that he played better any day than Kalkbrenner at his best and Chopin dropped the offer.

Kalkbrenner wrote Méthode and was posthumously published in the 1850s. He recommended that the rising passages be played crescendo, descending passages diminuendo; the longest note in the measure be the loudest; all endings of melodic phrases should have a ritard (gradually slowing down); if a passage is repeated, it should sound differently: like loud the first time and soft the second.

In a nutshell, it is the method that all good teachers would tell their pupils to follow just as was in the nineteenth century.

Ignaz Moscheles (1794 – 1870)

Ignaz Moscheles

The true musician who was in transition between the 18th and 19th century was Ignaz Moscheles, a sensitive, gentleman, noble and respectable musician. At the beginning, he started out as a bravura pianist like Clementi’s tradition: with a very quiet hand position, no excessive motion (only fingers and hand muscle movement rather than the wrist and the arms), and a very sparingly use of pedals. He was known for his accuracy of wide-skip and fast-moving chords.

He had a European reputation and emerged as a reputable pianist when he played his Sonata in E Flat. He also took advantage of the development of the piano manufacture. He himself stated that his growth as an artist was the inspiration he received in 1830 from the new Érard piano.

Moscheles realized himself that he was caught in between two schools and could not do anything about it. His training under Dionys Weber (1766 – 1842), a Bohemian teacher, was of the old school. As he grew older, he studied works by Chopin and Liszt, which made him realize that something was lacking in his own playing. Around 1838, as he was pondering and patiently studying their music, he succumbed to his failure with humble humility:

‘ I play all the new music of the four modern heroes, Thalberg, Chopin, Henselt and Liszt and find their chief effects lie in passages requiring a large grasps and stretch of finger, such as the peculiar build of their hands enables them to execute. I grasp less, but then I am not of a grasping school. With all my admiration for Beethoven, I cannot forget Mozart, Cramer, and Hummel with which I have been familiar from early years. I endeavor to pursue middle course between the two schools, by never shrinking from any difficulty, never despising the new effects and withal retaining the best elements of the old traditions.’

Moscheles never combined the two schools because he never ceased trying. He was broad-minded and always aimed to fulfill his philosophy. He studied Chopin’s études but found that his music was too sweet and not manly enough, hardly the work of a profound musician. ‘Practice them as I will, I can never get them smoothly.’

The day came when he heard Chopin play, he glided his fingers impeccably across the keyboard. Moschele changed his mind about studying Chopin and had given up.  He swung over to study Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) instead, who was Chopin’s contemporary. A composer in the romantic era, his works were so completely new and his peculiar qualities outweighed any weaknesses of this new school, that Moscheles committed to dwell deeper and deeper into studying his works.

In 1824, Moscheles taught fourteen-year old Felix Mendelssohn. Between the student and teacher, they forged a life-long friendship. Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843, where he invited Moscheles to accept a position.  Moscheles taught there for twenty years. He was loved by all, taking his best pupils into his home and helping their careers.

Moscheles was a very important pianist and a performer. Among other things, he was the first touring virtuoso who consistently made an effort to bring the best music to people. He was living a life of a musician who fulfilled a romantic attitude in all aspects including being a gentleman.

He had memorized Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata at the age of ten. He introduced his fellow musicians to the Op.109 and Op.111. These two works were Beethoven’s mature compositions and largely unknown. Some listeners were bored, and some were moved, whereas others were ‘frightened by the extravagances of the master’. In 1832, Moscheles conducted Beethoven’s Missa Solemnnis and later conducted the Ninth Symphony several times.

Moscheles practiced piano and watched a new breed of pianists emerge in his old age. To them, he was simply dead, but they did not see that the music was his own lifeblood while they are burying him alive. He quietly practiced the old Bach until the end of his days.

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