Friedrich Kalkbrenner

kalkbrennerFriedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner was one of the most celebrated pianists and teachers in Chopin's Paris. Kalkbrenner was born in Germany in 1785, and first found fame in England, and then went on to even greater fame - and fortune - in Europe, first as a barnstorming piano virtuoso, and then as an investor and promoter in the Pleyel piano company in Paris. Besides writing an influential piano method, Kalkbrenner also launched what he called "A Factory for Aspiring Virtuosos."

When he first met Kalkbrenner in 1831, Chopin was dazzled, "I am in very close relations with Kalkbrenner, the 1st pianist in Europe, whom I think you would like.," he wrote his family in September of 1831. He later described the other piano virtuosos in Paris (famously including Franz Liszt) "zero beside Kalkbrenner."

But Chopin was evidently sufficiently confident of his own abilities to turn down Kalkbrenner's invitation to join his "virtuoso factory," which would have required a three-year commitment on the part of the young Polish virtuoso. Later historians suspect that this was partly a move by Kalkbrenner to keep Chopin out of the public eye. Chopin seems to have been torn by the dilemma. Three months later, in December of 1831, he wrote to his old friend Titus Woychiechowski: "....Many friends advise me not to take lessons; they think that I play as well as Kalkbrenner, and that he only wants me as a pupil out of vanity. That is absurd. Anybody who understands music must appreciate Kalkbrenner's talents....I can assure you there is something superior about him, to all the virtuosi whom I have hitherto heard. I told my parents so, and they quite understood it, but [His old Warsaw piano teacher Jozef] Elsner did not; he considered that Kalkbrenner found fault with my playing out of jealousy."

Either out of awe or political astuteness, Chopin dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 1 to Kalkbrenner, though there is no evidence that the older composer ever played it. And even though Kalkbrenner did not succeed in getting Chopin into his Pleyel "factory," he did help to arrange Chopin's first recital in Paris....on a Pleyel piano.

A cholera outbreak claimed Kalkbrenner's life in the summer of 1849. Chopin was to die a few months later. But while his compositions are rarely played today, opines, "there hardly is any other composer who lives on in so many anecdotes and stories as Kalkbrenner."


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