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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

The First American Pianist



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A Bold Adventure

'The piano virtuosos come to Paris every winter like swarms of locusts, less to gain money than to make a name for themselves' (Heine). Nine days after his thirteenth birthday, May 17th 1842, Moreau voyaged the seas to Paris, the pianistic Mecca of the civilised world - sent by his parents to study with Charles Hallé (friend of Chopin and Liszt, erstwhile pupil of Kalkbrenner) and Camille-Marie Stamaty (likewise a fashionable Kalkbrennerite, his 'musical son,' the old man used to call him, who'd also worked with Mendelssohn). Hand-in-hand went composition lessons with Pierre Maleden, later Berlioz. All were private. Notwithstanding his antecedents, seeking entrance to the Paris Conservatoire, he tells us in his diary (writing in French), he'd been rejected without audition, the director of the piano faculty, the influential, venerable Pierre-Joseph-Guillaume Zimmermann, maintaining prejudicially that such a hallowed shrine was no place for someone from 'only a land of steam engines ... the country of railroads but not of musicians,' of 'wild Indians and white barbarians' (Harold C Schonberg). 'An American composer, bon Dieu!' (La France musicale, 1848).


Mechanical Aids

Stamaty taught his charges using Kalkbrenner's Hand-Guide, a simplification of Logier's 'Royal Chiroplast' (patented 1814) designed to achieve a quite arm and hand position and a correct seat at the keyboard. Kalkbrenner wrote-up the device in his Méthode pour apprende le piano-forte à l'aide du guide-mains, Op 108 (Paris 1831):

'The Hand-Guide [takes] the place of the armchair. It will determine exactly the height of the piano bench so that the forearm of the person who is playing the piano is perfectly horizontal. With the the Hand-Guide it is impossible to contract bad habits. I recommend it especially to persons who are are not too strong and tire easily at the piano. They will find their arms being supported and their fingers along working during practice without the fear of physical harm. Persons who live outside of Paris and those who spend time in the country can benefit from this method [!] ... I could not recommend its usage too highly even for the finest musicians who desire to rid themselves of bad habits; it keeps people from making faces, from playing from the arm or the shoulder; it makes the fingers independent, corrects the position of the hand which it makes as graceful as possible ...
I still use it myself all of the time.'

Saint-Saëns, Stamaty's other child-star of the 1840s:

'It was a bar fixed in front of the keyboard, upon which the forearm rested, in such a fashion as to get rid of all muscular action except that of the hand itself... It was not only strength of finger that one acquired by this method, but also the production of tone-quality by the finger only, a precious expedient that has become rare in our days'


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Copyright © 14 January 2000, Ates Orga, Suffolk, UK


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