Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner

Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner


Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner (1785–1849)

Carl Mayer, steel engraving, first half of 19th c., 138 x 106.

Collection: Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw [M/721].


Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner—German pianist and composer. Chopin met him in 1831, when he was feted as the most outstanding of pianists, the king of the piano, and also esteemed as a composer, writing in the style brillant. His playing was marked by lightness, precision and refined elegance. The young Chopin, newly arrived in Paris, was captivated, like many others, by the mastery of Kalkbrenner, who ruled over the world of Parisian pianists and pedagogues. In a letter to Norbert Kumelski, he wrote: ‘I’m thinking of staying here for three years – I’m very close to Kalkbrenner, the foremost pianist in Europe, whom you would doubtless like. (He alone, whose shoes I’m not fit to untie. The likes of Herz, etc. – I tell you, they’re just braggarts, and will never play better)’ [Paris, 18 November 1831] [Sydow, i, 187]. A month later, he informed Tytus Woyciechowski: ‘I’ve met Kalkbrenner. […] I admit to you that I played like Herz, but I would like to play like Kalkbrenner. If Paganini is perfection, then Kalkbrenner is his parallel, but of a completely different kind. It is difficult to describe to you his calmness, his enchanting touch – equally amazing – and that mastery that paints itself in every one of his notes – he is a giant trampling upon the Herzes, Czernys, etc., and by the same token upon me as well’ [Paris, 12 December 1831] [Sydow, i, 199–200]. Soon, Kalkbrenner proposed that Chopin study with him for three years, to achieve the utmost perfection in his technique and become the best pianist in the world. But that three-year course of study with Kalkbrenner did not come about. Chopin’s relationship with his master took on a more friendly and social character than that of teacher/pupil. His fascination with Kalkbrenner’s playing did not last long; Chopin soon perceived a scholastic coldness, a lack of naturalness and inspiration in his manner of playing. He wrote to Elsner (his teacher and friend from Warsaw) on 14 December 1831: ‘Yet I would agree to those three years, as long as I could thereby take a big step forward in my undertaking. I have enough of an idea that I will not be a copy of Kalkbrenner: he will not succeed in effacing my lofty, albeit perhaps too bold, desire and idea: to create for myself a new world; and if I am going to work, it is so that I may stand on feet that are stronger for this idea’ [Sydow, i, 205].

A year after Chopin’s arrival in Paris, his relations with Kalkbrenner had become polite, but not devoid of a certain reserve. His dedication of the E minor Concerto, Op. 11 (1833), ‘A Monsieur F. Kalkbrenner’, attests his courteous respect; Chopin speaks of this to his pupil, Wilhelm von Lenz: ‘It was when I had just arrived in Paris. Kalkbrenner then reigned supreme; it was necessary to pay court to him a little’ [Eigeldinger 1986, p. 96].

In 1845, Kalkbrenner himself turned to Chopin for a few tips for his pianist son. ‘Dear Chopin. I wish to ask you a great favour: my son Arthur intends to play your beautiful Sonata in B minor and is most desirous of receiving from you a few tips, that he might fathom your intentions as far as possible. You know how I adore your talent, and there is surely no need for me to express how grateful I would be for the favour which I ask for my little rascal’ [Sydow, ii, 152].