A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Kalkbrenner, Friedrich

1527737A Dictionary of Music and Musicians — Kalkbrenner, FriedrichEdward Dannreuther

KALKBRENNER, Friedrich Wilhelm Michael, pianist and prolific composer for his instrument, was born 1788 [App. p.688 "1784"] near Berlin. His father, Christian Kalkbrenner, of Hebrew extraction and a [1]musician of great ability, began his training early. In 1798 he entered the Conservatoire at Paris, and left it, after four years of assiduous study, with a prize for pianoforte playing and composition. In 1813 he played in public at Berlin and Vienna, heard Clementi, made Hummel's acquaintance, and was introduced by Haydn to Albrechtsberger, from whom he had lessons in counterpoint. From 1814 to 1823 he resided in London, much sought after as a player and fashionable teacher. In 1824 he settled in Paris as a member of the pianofortemaking firm of Pleyel & Co. In Paris too his success as a performer and teacher was very great; he was a shrewd man of business and managed to amass quite a fortune. Madame Camilla Pleyel was his best pupil. When Chopin came to Paris in 1831, Kalkbrenner's reputation was at its height: his compositions, mostly written for the market and now forgotten, were upon the desks of all dilletanti, and his playing was upheld as a model. Chopin, who was then only twenty-two years of age but had already written his two Concertos, the Etudes, op. 10, the first Scherzo and Ballade, etc., called on him and played his Concerto in E minor, whereupon Kalkbrenner came forward with the astounding proposal that Chopin should bind himself to be his pupil for three years and thus under his guidance become a good artist! Chopin took no lessons, but soothed Kalkbrenner by dedicating the Concerto to him. In a letter dated Dec. 16, 1831, Chopin speaks in high terms of Kalkbrenner's technique, praises his charming equable touch and quiet self-possession, and says that Herz was a zero compared with him. Still Chopin seems from the first to have been of Mendelssohn's opinion, who said to him soon after, 'You had nothing to learn from Kalkbrenner; you play better than he does.'

Kalkbrenner was a man of great vanity, and far from scrupulous as to the means by which he strove to enhance his reputation. The late Professor Marx used to tell a story how Kalkbrenner called on him in 1834 at Berlin, anxious to make a good impression, as the Professor was then editor of the new 'Berliner Musikzeitung' and an influential personage. The visitor in moving terms deplored the decay of the good old art of improvisation, saying that since Hummel had retired he was the only one who still cultivated it in the true classical spirit. He opens the piano and improvises for a quarter of an hour with fluent fancy and great neatness, interweaving all manner of themes, even a little fugue, much to the Professor's edification. Next day a parcel of music just printed at Paris arrives for review. The Professor, greatly interested, opens the topmost piece—'Effusio Musica, par Fred. Kalkbrenner': when lo and behold! he has yesterday's improvisation before him, fugue and all, note for note!

An instruction-book with études belonging to it is the best thing Kalkbrenner left. His attainments as a musician are shown in four pianoforte concertos, one for two pianos, a septet, sextet and quintet, and various sonatas; all correctly and well written for the instrument, but dull and trite, spite of the glitter of what was called a 'brilliant' style.

Kalkbrenner died of cholera at Enghien near Paris on June 10, 1849.
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  1. Beethoven includes 'Kalkbrenner (Vater)' with Sterkel and others of the 'old, dead composers of the Empire' in his denunciation of Gottfried Weber's mistakes in regard to Mozart's Requiem. 'Requiescat in pace,' says he (Letter, Feb. 6, 1826). He would hardly have been content with so mild a sneer if he had known that Kalkbrenner had 'arranged' Don Giovanni (that is, had altered the music ml Interpolated fresh pieces) for its appearance on the Paris stage, Sept. 17, 1805 (see Lajarte, ii. 38). [See Lachnith.]