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G. Meyerbeer discusses virtuoso pianists

December 14, 2007

The following extracts are from: The Diaries of Giacomo Meyerbeer, Vol. 1. 1791-1839, ed. R. Letellier.

My comments are in brackets {like this}, Robert Letellier’s comments are in square brackets.

On December 31 {1812} I played in a concert that the orchestra held for the benefit of wounded Bavarian soldiers {in Munich}. For this occasion I reworked the Variations in E flat Major and added a big fantasia. For twelve days and twelve nights I practiced like a madman, but the results rewarded my efforts. Tumultuous and repeated applause, mixed with wild cries of “bravo” (I could even say shouting), accompanied me when I returned to the hall after the orchestra had finished playing. The queen (most unusually) herself applauded. On the same evening there was a big supper at Strassburger’s to which I was also invited. When I entered the room the whole gathering burst into applause, everyone came up to me, embracing and kissing me. It was, in short, a wonderful evening for me.

Letellier, R.I. (ed.), The Diaries of Giacomo Meyebeer, Vol 1, 1791-1839. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison – Teaneck & Associated University Presses, Inc. London, 1999, ISBN 0-8386-3789-2, p.295.

Friday 15 December {1815}

To Müller in order to accompany him to meet some other pianists. [Ferdinand ] Ries….knows me from Berlin where I met him at Clementi’s. He performed variations on a gavotte by Vestris, with a fugue and a concerto. He plays with extraordinary accomplishment, with a good touche, the piano always under his control, but coldly, not very tastefully, and because of his great fini, without the many new technicalities one would expect from his great fund of pianistic experience. His variations were well thought out, and yet without brilliance.

Letellier, R.I. (ed.), The Diaries of Giacomo Meyebeer, Vol 1, 1791-1839. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison – Teaneck & Associated University Presses, Inc. London, 1999, ISBN 0-8386-3789-2, p.332.

Sunday 17 December {1815}

….he {Ferdinand Ries} played his Symphony, entirely in E flat. One immediately recognizes he is a pupil of Beethoven by the many violent extremes, contrasted unpleasantly with an unaffected tameness…..His Concerto in C-sharp Minor is both difficult and brilliant. On the whole the plays very well, not with the fini that Klengel evinces in his performance, but with more fire and life. Moreover, in spite of the firmness of attack that is required in handling English pianos, he has a lightness and grace in many fast passages that, until now, I have always thought was characteristic only of the Viennese touche.

Letellier, R.I. (ed.), The Diaries of Giacomo Meyebeer, Vol 1, 1791-1839. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison – Teaneck & Associated University Presses, Inc. London, 1999, ISBN 0-8386-3789-2, p.332.

Tuesday 19 December {1815}

……I went to Friedrich Kalkbrenner, who is regarded as the first among all French pianists…….I found him to be refined and charming, with all the French polish……he played me twelve piano studies and several variations. He is a more powerful version of Moscheles, and I say this because to possess ease, brilliance, and precision of attack, using an English piano, is a much greater feat than performing these things on the light Viennese instrument. Kalkbrenner’s playing has given me the almost certain hope that, with a little study, I too will be able to perform everything on an English piano that I formerly did on a Viennese one, even my method of attack. It is only the negotiation of staccato passages that I fear, since from neither from Ries, Kalkbrenner, nor Klengel did I hear anything approaching one. Even without this marvelous attack, Kalkbrenner is a very great pianist…….With an instrument like the piano (which is inclined to be dry and lack lyricism), it seems to me that there can be no question of charlatanism when, through jeu perlé, fleet, elegant mannerisms, new piquant passage work, and stimulating, gracious effects, one seeks to make good the somewhat harsh contrasts of the instrument, what nature has denied by way of lyricism and tenderness. Every art must sacrifice to the Graces, so why not the pianist? Klengel’s playing, as accomplished as it is, is a little monotonous, and I am convinced that Kalkbrenner would surpass him in concert.

Letellier, R.I. (ed.), The Diaries of Giacomo Meyebeer, Vol 1, 1791-1839. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison – Teaneck & Associated University Presses, Inc. London, 1999, ISBN 0-8386-3789-2, p.333.

Wednesday 27 December. {1815}

…..I went…to Cheapside {in London} where Clementi has his big music shop and part of his instrument factory, so that we could see these enterprises. I do not know whether since leaving Berlin my tastes, or the English instrument makers, have changed. Be it as it may, I now prefer Clementi’s instrument, the Broadwood, although it used to be the contrary……I also hope that hearing the London pianists (especially Cramer) will have had a positive influence on my playing.

Letellier, R.I. (ed.), The Diaries of Giacomo Meyebeer, Vol 1, 1791-1839. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison – Teaneck & Associated University Presses, Inc. London, 1999, ISBN 0-8386-3789-2, p.336.

Sunday 24 December. {1815}

………I had given up all hope of meeting Cramer. Fortune, however, was on my side, and he received us. My heart was beating with excitement. Cramer is in his forties, a big powerfully built man, with similarly imposing facial features, his fingers long and thin, but strong-boned…….He was kind enough, of his own accord, to play us twelve pieces that he had dedicated to Madame Montgeron in Paris under the title Utile dolce. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that even on the heavier Broadwood instrument he has a touch lighter than Hummel’s on the Viennese piano, something he is so famous for. His equality of distribution, lightness, and diminuendo are beyond all praise. These three qualities bestow a new effect and elegance on even the most ordinary things. Even in the most difficult double stops this light touch and exquisiteness do not change, something that gives his playing a unique color and impressiveness, even if totally different from that of Clementi’s. On the other hand, this astonishing evenness of tone results in a certain monotony, while the bending of the fingers, appropriate to this style, hinders strong, powerful playing: in every passage that he wants to play energetically, Cramer is inclined to bang and hammer a little. But this is merely a sunspot that hardly diminishes his fame. Whoever is as accomplished in his genre as Cramer is eo ipso the first pianist in the world, no matter what one thinks of the genre itself. ……..He also played me two fugues by Sebastian Bach. His rendition… did not fully satisfy me, because his manner of playing is quite inappropriate to the style required by this music; he played them somewhat affectedly, I thought.

Letellier, R.I. (ed.), The Diaries of Giacomo Meyebeer, Vol 1, 1791-1839. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison – Teaneck & Associated University Presses, Inc. London, 1999, ISBN 0-8386-3789-2, p.335.

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