Friday 20 April 2012

Chopin and Kalkbrenner

In my last blog I mentioned a certain Friedrich Kalkbrenner and the occasion when his Polonaise for six pianos was played by himself with Chopin, Hiller, Sowinski, Osborne and Stamaty.

Hyperion Records have just released a recording of Kalkbrenner’s Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor Op 61 and Piano Concerto No 4 in A flat major Op 127.

CDA 67535

Friedrich Wilhelm Michael Kalkbrenner (1785-1849) was a German pianist, composer, and piano teacher who spent most of his life in England and France. It was in Paris in 1831 that Kalkbrenner met Chopin, who much admired his playing, saying,’ You won’t believe how anxious I was to hear Hertz, Liszt and Hiller…but they’re all zeros next to Kalkbrenner.

Chopin later wrote,’ If Paganini is perfection itself, so is Kalkbrenner, but in a totally different way…’ Kalkbrenner listened to Chopin play through his E minor concerto saying that he played like Cramer with Field’s touch. He somewhat ruined this compliment by going on to say that Chopin ‘lacked method’ and would never go on to play or compose properly unless he addressed this shortcoming. He even went as far as marking Chopin’s manuscript of his Adagio with a red pencil saying that it was too long and repetitive.

Kalkbrenner at that time was in his mid-forties and not particularly popular with the younger musicians in Paris. He did, however, offer to give Chopin lessons in order to turn him into his own idea of a better pianist. Chopin, who liked and admired Kalkbrenner, was minded to accept the offer but  Chopin’s old friend and teacher, Joseph Elsner  was furious and said,’…the idea that anyone thought they could teach Chopin to play the piano was preposterous.’

After Chopin’s Paris debut in 1832 the issue of lessons certainly did seem preposterous with another friend, Antoni Orlowski, writing,’ He (Chopin) has wiped the floor with all the pianists here; all Paris is stupefied.’

So ended any question of Chopin’s inferiority to Kalkbrenner, who is today forgotten as a pianist or composer. He died near Paris of cholera on 10 June 1849, aged sixty-four. Chopin only survived him by a few months, dying on 17th October 1849, but aged only thirty nine.

Kalkbrenner wrote four piano concertos and a ‘Grand Concerto’ for two pianos as well as many piano works, chamber music and three operas.

This new CD form Hyperion will be welcomed by those interested in the byways of music, in the contemporaries of Chopin as well as the romantic piano concerto in general. With Howard Shelley playing and directing the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, we can be sure of being in safe hands.

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