Episode 29: Chopin and the Virtuoso Factory

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11: ii. Larghetto

rc-factory-200In Roald Dahl’s novel-turned-movie, the young, unsuspecting hero Charlie Bucket manages to avoid temptation and emerge unscathed from the eccentric whims of Mr. Willy Wonka and his one-of-a-kind Chocolate Factory.

So, too, did a young naïf from Poland sidestep a potential career catastrophe by staying OUT of the clutches of the eccentric and vainglorious Mr. Kalkbrenner and his “Factory for Aspiring Virtuosos”

Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner was one of the most celebrated pianists and teachers in Chopin's Paris. He was known for his fleet fingers and polished—if not especially profound—style, particularly in the upper registers of the Pleyel pianos he favored.

When Chopin arrived in Paris, he was dazzled. "I am in very close relations with Kalkbrenner, the 1st pianist in Europe, whom I think you would like," he wrote back to Warsaw. He went on to describe the other pianists in Paris, including Franz Liszt, "zero beside Kalkbrenner."

Kalkbrenner, on the other hand, saw a potential rival. His solution? Tie him up for a minimum of three years in his “Virtuoso Factory.” His family was aghast. Chopin was torn. "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.”

Absurd or not, Chopin stayed away. But he WAS astute enough to dedicate his First Piano Concerto to Kalkbrenner. Who never played it, and whose career was quickly eclipsed by the young Pole - who managed to slip out of his factory gates unscathed. - Frank Dominguez

Radio Chopin Episode 29: Chopin and the Virtuoso Factory



Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11: ii. Larghetto




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