Kalkbrenner, Friedrich Wilhelm Michael


Early Nineteenth Century pianist and teacher, of Jewish extraction, popular in Paris and London, and a rival of Chopin. His father, Christian Kalkbrenner, was a well-known musician, who was constantly making extensive tours, and it was during one of them that the younger Kalkbrenner was born in a post-chaise on the road from Cassel to Berlin. When very young he accompanied his father on a two years' journey through Italy, and his musical education was begun so early that he played a Haydn concerto before the Queen of Prussia at the age of five. His precocity was shown in other than musical lines also, for at eight years he could speak four languages fluently. At thirteen he was graduated with a piano prize from the Paris  Conservatory. A few years later his residence in Paris led him into dissipation, and through the influence of Haydn, who was his teacher for a time, he went to Vienna, where, under the inspiration of such men as Beethoven, Hummel and Clementi, he began more serious work. In 1814 he went to England, where he stayed for ten years, and became very popular and, incidentally, wealthy. Then he returned to Paris, married a lady of wealth and good social position, invested his money in the piano factory of Pleyel & Co., and settled down to enjoy his success. He died at Enghien of the cholera.

Kalkbrenner's popularity was due, not entirely to genius, though his ability was far above mediocre, but to his business management and selfesteem. He used to speak of himself as the only improviser of his time, and when Chopin came to Paris he offered to "make an artist of him," though Chopin, to quote Mendelsson, was " worth twenty Kalkbrenners." Lahee says of him: "His execution was indeed prodigious, but he could play scarcely any other compositions than his own with anything like grace or proficiency, and the almost total absence of genuine method or phrasing therein caused a repetition to be both tedious and wearisome." However, his teaching was successful, and some compositions for the piano are brilliant, though they lack true greatness. His best work was perhaps his Method for the Piano.