Keyboard Perspectives XIII (2021)
The Lure of Paris, 1795–1810

Founding Editor: Annette Richards
Editors-in-chief: Roger Moseley and Tilman Skowroneck
Volume Editor: Tom Beghin
Associate Editor: Evan Cortens
Production Manager: Jordan Musser
Copyeditor: Ed Crooks

Supplementary video clips are available on the website accompanying this volume:

Cover of Keyboard Perspectives XIII

Editor’s Preface

Tilman Skowroneck
Preparing for Paris: Beethoven and French Musicianship

Erin Helyard
Muzio Clementi: The Father (Also) of French Pianism

Tom Beghin
The Paris Conservatoire: An Institution with Ambition

Michael Pecak
Frédéric Kalkbrenner as an Alumnus of the Paris Conservatoire

Jeanne Roudet
Reconciling Innovative Pedagogy with Musical Heritage: The Méthode de piano du Conservatoire of Louis Adam

Luca Montebugnoli
“On the Art of Accompanying the Score”: Louis Adam’s Instructions for Arranging Orchestral Music on the Piano

Charles Shrader
Daniel Steibelt, Charlatanry, and the Technaesthetics of bon son

Robin Blanton
Perfection’s Purchase: Erard Frères Grand Pianos in Paris Society around 1800

Hester Bell Jordan
Mesdemoiselles Erard: Gender, Music Publishing, and Self-Dedication in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Frédéric de La Grandville
The State of Piano Instruction at the Paris Conservatoire around 1810: An Inspector’s Report

Eleanor Smith
Book Review: Invention, Design, Fraternity: Three Books Furthering Knowledge of the French Piano Builder Sébastien Erard

Camilla Köhnken
Exhibition Review: “Beethoven. World.Citizen.Music” (Bundeskunsthalle Bonn) and “Hotel Beethoven” (Bozar Brussels): Two Anniversary Exhibitions Braving the Corona Year of 2020 and Other Calamities


This thirteenth yearbook of Keyboard Perspectives comes on the heels of a bizarre year, to say the least. The year 2020 was to be a big Beethoven anniversary: many tributes had been lined up, in the form of concerts, lectures, workshops, and more. Instead, it became a year of endless cancellations. With this special collection of essays, entitled “The Lure of Paris, 1795–1810,” we help make up for those—in a roundabout way.

This volume is not about Beethoven per se, even if it originated in a project that had everything to do with an instrument he owned—one that was grossly misunderstood, ignored even by traditional scholarship. The instrument left Beethoven with a bitter aftertaste: at one point he even declared it “now utterly useless.” We’re talking, of course, of Beethoven’s 1803 Erard Frères piano en forme de clavecin (“piano in the form of a harpsichord” or “wing-shaped piano”). This was the first of two “foreign” pianos he owned during his lifetime—the other being his 1817 John Broadwood and Sons, with which readers of Keyboard Perspectives have already become familiar.

The authors in this volume have collaborated in various forms and over different periods since January 2015. It was then that I inaugurated at the Orpheus Institute for Advanced Studies and Research in Music in Ghent, Belgium, the research cluster Declassifying the Classics. To be “de-classified” in this particular case was that allegedly fraught relationship between Beethoven and his French piano—mein französisches (“my French one”), as he used to call it. We wanted to take another look, and the incentive for doing so was the work pursued by Maria Rose-van Epenhuysen and Tilman Skowroneck. They had both spoken up against previous scholars’ dismissal of Beethoven’s Erard as an “unsolicited gift,” establishing that Beethoven had in fact wanted one and urging us to take his French piano seriously. Having now taken multiple stabs at interpreting the existing evidence ourselves, the team (including Skowroneck) concluded that Beethoven’s Erard was at least a solicited gift and that, even if Erard Frères ended up not charging for the piano (a practice not unheard of in the context of their burgeoning business), there had been initiative on Beethoven’s part to acquire one. From an artistic point of view, the acquisition of an Erard Frères led almost immediately to the writing of a new trilogy of piano sonatas: his op. 53 (“Waldstein”), op. 54, and op. 57 (“Appassionata”).

It was in October 1803 that Beethoven received the instrument, which carried the serial number 133. Griesinger wrote that Beethoven was “so enchanted with [his Paris piano] that he regards all the pianos made here [in Vienna] as rubbish by comparison.” But while Beethoven loved his French piano’s sound, the touch of its keyboard was much heavier and deeper than that of any Viennese piano he had known. Hoping to overcome these drawbacks, he agreed (grudgingly or whole-heartedly: we don’t know) to a series of revisions, executed by an unknown Viennese technician. These revisions were meant to “viennicize” the instrument but yielded ultimately disappointing results. Beethoven set aside his Erard piano for good in 1810. But he never quite got rid of it. A few months before his death, he donated the instrument to his brother Johann, who at his turn gave it to the Linz Musealverein in 1843. It is there, at the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, that the instrument may be seen today—scars and all.

We made a replica of the Linz instrument. Early on, we decided that our replica should represent the instrument as it had left the Erard Frères workshop—that is, the unrevised instrument that initially sparked Beethoven’s enthusiasm. This would allow us to give the instrument a second chance, but also to reconstruct that whole process of revision—aided by the making of a model action, representative of the revised piano, which we could measure and compare with an additional “original” model action, independent from the identical one in the piano.

Built by Chris Maene, the replica was finished in November 2016. It was then that the next phase of our research could start. We pursued two major questions: Why did Beethoven want a French piano? And what did Frenchness mean at this time—musically, technologically, but also socio-culturally or even economic-politically?

As we thus turned back the clock on Beethoven’s instrument, we could also attune ourselves to its inherently French musical aspects—the affordances, if you will, that came with the instrument. These include the tendency to “sing” rather than “speak,” the art of tremolo (as a far-going manifestation of “continuous sound” or that French ideal of son continu), special coloristic effects (materialized, among others, by the una corda as the fourth pedal), and many more. In such restored condition, our piano allowed us to reconstruct a French side of Beethoven, demonstrated abundantly in his “Waldstein” Sonata, op. 53. But from there we could also trace Beethoven’s frustrations—novelty wearing off, again wanting to do things he’d been used to on Viennese pianos—in his “Appassionata” Sonata, op. 57, whose protracted creative process overlapped with an equally complex technical transformation of the instrument. We found, finally, that Sonata op. 54, as the sonata in between, encapsulated a moment of perfect human–thing cooperation—written in all likelihood upon a fresh overhaul of the instrument (as evidenced by pre-revision balance-hole repair marks in the existing piano action).

All this is the subject of my book Beethoven’s French Piano: A Tale of Ambition and Frustration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022), to which some authors represented here also contributed. Concurrently with that production the current volume took shape—itself with an expanded group of collaborators. While the book focuses on Beethoven’s ownership of a French piano, the present volume looks at Erard Frères no. 133 as if it had never made the journey from Paris to Vienna. No longer following the de-scription of a “foreign” instrument, we’re here interested in its in-scriptions and how it catered to its own French community of pianists, builders, pedagogues, and listeners.

The period under consideration (1795–1810) largely overlaps with that of the Erard Frères piano en forme de clavecin. It was in 1797 that the firm first rolled out its new flagship model of a grand piano. Only after thirteen years did they update what thenceforth became the “old model” (ancien modèle) to a “new model” (nouveau modèle). For us, then, there’s no “old” or “new”: between 1797 and 1809, there’s only one model of a piano en forme de clavecin. With our start date of 1795 we went back to the establishment of the Paris Conservatoire de musique in that year. Along with this newly emerging pedagogical context for pianos and pianists, the 1804–5 Conservatoire-endorsed method of Louis Adam came into focus.

This volume of Keyboard Perspectives argues that in post-Revolutionary Paris a broad effort was underway to also institutionalize French pianism, and that the world, including the Austrian capital, had better take notice. By shining the spotlight on Paris, we offer an alternative to our Viennese-centered ways of thinking and performing. The “lure” in the title is meant to apply not just to Beethoven—or to anyone in Europe at this time, for that matter—but also to us today: what if Paris rather than Vienna had become the measure for all things musical during this crucial historical period? The irony, as various authors will suggest, is that Paris was heavily involved in creating the kind of Vienna-oriented music history we now know, but that its participation in canonizing composers like Mozart, Haydn, and later also Beethoven almost came at the expense of its own practices, technologies, and people.

I invite you to visit the website, where a wealth of video and sound recordings may be found. One highpoint, relevant to several essays in this volume, is a selection of live performances from a memorable event in July 2018 at the Orpheus Institute in Ghent. Eight young pianists participated in the historical enactment of a concours as it was held during the early years of the Paris Conservatoire. As we gathered around our piano en forme de clavecin and studied the music of John Baptist Cramer, Muzio Clementi, Hélène de Montgeroult, Louis Adam, Ferdinand Herold, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Pierre Zimmerman, we became absorbed in an intriguing dialectical play of history. Taking inspiration from the dynamics of a relatively young modern-day institute (the one we’ve been associated with as a group of artist-researchers), we studied the ideologies of another—strongly innovative at its time, but utterly symbolic of stiffness and conservatism today.

Also available through the website is a PDF that readers may find useful: a complete translation of Louis Adam’s Méthode de piano du Conservatoire (1804–5), which I prepared with Mikayla Jensen-Large. The English is presented side by side with the original French, and this desire for juxtaposition—insisting on connecting with the nuances of the original language—runs also through this volume, where we thought it proper to print entire French quotations in the footnotes. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations (which extend to German and a little bit of Italian) are ours—that is, by one or more contributors, collaboratively and fine-tuned with one another.

* * *

An intriguing piece of “intel” reaches us through Ferdinand Ries. Beethoven, he writes on August 6, 1803, has the intention of relocating to Paris. Beethoven never left Vienna, of course—but the date of the letter is telling. That exact same day, Erard Frères formally dispatched a piano en forme de clavecin to “Mr Bethowen Claviciniste [sic] à Vienne.” Beyond ordering a French piano, did Beethoven also have French ambitions? It is fitting that Tilman Skowroneck, who is a pioneering expert on the topic of Beethoven’s Erard, opens this volume, asking who or what might have kindled Beethoven’s musical interests in all things French, ultimately arguing that Beethoven’s artistic project was to “turn France into Beethoven, not the other way round.”

But what if he had left Vienna? Erin Helyard does not hand us a one-way ticket to Paris yet, but instead proposes a detour through London. Helyard asks if the reputation of Muzio Clementi as the “father of the piano,” which during the 1820s quickly spread from London to the Continent, would have applied in more than just an honorific way also to French pianism earlier in the century. He finds common ground in the teachings of Clementi and Louis Adam, and contextualizes this within Locke’s empiricism and Condillac’s sensationism—both philosophies “based on the principle that observations made by the senses were the foundation for all human knowledge.” “Sensationism,” Helyard writes, “was such a powerful educator; the hands did all the work.” While Clementi had a pioneering role in the production of fingered exercises and editions of repertoire pieces—promoting cantabile as a pianistic kind of playing—Adam and his co-author Lachnith were “the first to lay out [Clementi’s] algorithms” in their seminal Méthode ou principe général du doigté pour le Forté-Piano (1798), which included Clementi’s famous Toccata, op. 11.

With my essay we’ve made it to Paris. With the curiosity of an out-of-town visitor we pick up a copy of the Journal de Paris dated October 24, 1797, finding a write-up of the Conservatoire’s first official award ceremony. I introduce the review as an invitation to reflect on the institute’s recent past and immediate future. What drove its founding director, Bernard Sarrette, to navigate through the volatile politics of a post-Revolutionary nation and chase his dream of establishing a National Institute of Music? Without this young captain of the Paris National Guard there would not have been a Conservatoire (there was a last-minute name change from “institute” to “conservatoire”). What was the role of the committee of five inspectors, and why did they all have to be composers? And how did Louis Adam emerge as the doyen of a young piano faculty? Establishing some facts and figures, this essay wades through the chaos and paradox of institutionalizing.

One stroke of luck—heralding success for both teacher and pupil—was the presence in Adam’s class of the teenage Frédéric Kalkbrenner, who won the school’s 1801 First Prize by playing a grand sonata written by his teacher, op. 8, no. 2, in C major. Michael Pecak investigates the coming of age of this Conservatoire graduate and follows him on a first concert tour through Germany, along with readers of the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Kalkbrenner’s path may well have crossed with that of Ries, who had started his formative years of study under Beethoven. A few years before, Beethoven still brushed off the idea of supervising the young Ferdinand, arguing that “Paris would be better [for a young pianist] than Vienna.” In application to Beethoven, we can only speculate what might have happened, had he indeed relocated to Paris. But the different choices made by two youngsters with remarkably similar profiles (both German and of the same age) allow Pecak to compare the early biographies of Kalkbrenner and Ries as manifestations of two diverging educational environments.

What made Louis Adam’s Méthode de piano du Conservatoire so exemplary for a new institute of learning? Jeanne Roudet reminds us, first and foremost, that the method was part of a broader project at the Conservatoire to create a corpus of elementary works for every possible discipline—from solfège to harmony and composition, with every instrument in between—aiming to establish “a new global pedagogy that prestigiously claimed a legacy of masters from the past.” This past, as Roudet argues, includes Adam’s and his colleagues’ favorite philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose “dichotomy of the physical and the moral is adopted by musicians for conceptualizing the learning process in the same binary manner: technique and expression.” Thus, a first part in Adam’s method (chapter 1–5) “deals with mechanism,” while a second part (chapters 6–12) “is devoted to the formation of an artist.”

What place in Adam’s method then does that enigmatic and surprisingly concise eleventh chapter have, entitled “On the Art of Accompanying the Score,” a somewhat convoluted way to describe a practice of reducing orchestral scores at the piano? The key, Luca Montebugnoli argues, is not to contextualize (as recent musicology has done) this practice of arrangement as that of amateur musicians playing off published piano reductions but rather as “that of the professional musician who creates them.” The professional musician in this case is Louis Adam, who as the arranger of many Gluck operas in the late 1770s and early 1780s developed a knack for transferring orchestral effects to the piano—embodying “a new kind of accompanist” (as Fétis put it) who knows how to remain faithful to the orchestral score. Of course, an inherently “orchestral” piano helps, in the form of an Erard Frères, either a square or a grand—with many options, but also with a thick and malleable tone in case those options remain out of reach when reducing a multi-instrument score. Seated at our piano en forme de clavecin, Montebugnoli teaches himself how to accompany a Cimarosa aria (published by Mlles Erard in 1802). Posted on the accompanying website, his video clips provide a lively and revealing addendum to the concise guidelines in Adam’s method.

No other pianist arguably captured the sound of the French piano better than Daniel Steibelt—son here including the instrument’s many pedal effects. But no other pianist, arguably again, has been called a “charlatan” with more emotion than Steibelt. One thinks, for example, of Ferdinand Ries’s disparaging account of Steibelt’s duel with Beethoven in April 1802—an event at which Ries wasn’t even present. Contextualizing such accusations of charlatanism, Charles Shrader proposes a defense of Steibelt’s effect-driven pianism through the “technaesthetic.” This concept is rooted in the work of French physicist André-Marie Ampère, which “invests high value in the machinery of artistic production.” Reconstructing the soundscape of Mélange, op. 10 (which Steibelt wrote in mid-1790s Paris for a three-pedaled square piano), Shrader invites us to appreciate how by “lean[ing] into the affordances of the piano and trust[ing] their effects” (following Steibelt’s meticulous notation of foot and hand operations), bon son becomes a “category of taste itself.” “Beyond mimesis,” he concludes, this “mak[es] the piano not just equal but superior to all those other instruments and even the human voice.”

Clearly, Steibelt was someone capable of performing with rather than just on the piano. Responsibilities in such a “joint performance of person and thing” go both ways, and at this point of the volume overdue attention goes to the engineer of that thing—Sébastien Erard—but at the same time also to the company that manufactured and sold it—Erard Frères, including Sébastien’s older brother, Jean-Baptiste. With Robin Blanton’s essay, we return to April 1797, when Erard Frères started pitching what was to become their prize model of a grand piano. In letters to potential clients, they never tired of calling their piano en forme de clavecin “perfect.” Drawing on scholarship on material culture, Blanton explains that in early nineteenth-century Paris, the term “perfect,” beyond attesting to “quality and solidity,” also meant “equal”—a guarantee that buyers will have their money’s worth, even if they decide to “bypass the shopping experience” and order one from afar. The Vertraute Briefe aus Paris of Johann Friedrich Reichardt (who visited the French capital in the winter of 1802–3) allow Blanton to paint an evocative picture of Parisian salons, gathering people around that “flawlessly operating” commodity. For salon hostesses and virtuoso players alike, the piano functioned “as a means to do the work of leisure, of choreographing social relationships, behaviors, and atmospheres.”

Another underexplored piece of testimony from Reichardt is the part following his description of his visit to the Erard workshop where he recounts attending a domestic party at the Erards and especially meeting two “young ladies of the house” who are “very interesting singers and pianists” and who “have established their own music business.” He meant Marie-Françoise Bonnemaison née Marcoux (1777–1851) and Catherine-Barbe Delahante née Marcoux (1779–1813), who together ran the highly successful publishing company known as Mesdemoiselles (Mlles) Erard; they were the nieces of Sébastien and Jean-Baptiste Erard. In her essay on the practice of what she calls “self-dedication,” Hester Bell Jordan shifts the focus from one commodity (a piano, as sold by their uncles) to another: that of published scores of piano and harp music, and notably their title pages, as images that would have been on display in their music shop. The title pages of five such scores (by Rigel, Dizi, L.-E. Jadin, Steibelt, and Cramer, from 1802 to 1817) feature one or both sisters in the double role of publisher and dedicatee. Bell Jordan analyzes these “paratexts” as “spaces where women self-fashioned and negotiated gender.” The sisters’ self-dedications, she argues, “recall the image of the woman dedicatee.” Appropriating this association for marketing purpose, the sisters “projected elevated social and cultural standing regarding their own persons and elevated the significance of the self-dedicated pieces in the eyes of consumers.”

The concluding essay features the voice of a leading scholar on the history of the Paris Conservatoire—quite literally so. Frédéric de La Grandville speaks to us in the form of a fictitious speech (although its facts are based on de La Grandville’s career-long research of archival evidence) by Inspector Cherubini, dated May 25, 1811. After fifteen years of existence, one expects the institute to be doing well, but the school instead faces some serious budget cuts. (Could it sound more familiar?) Director Bernard Sarrette asks Cherubini to write up a report, to be brought to the next Teaching Committee meeting. Laying out the difficulties and offering suggestions for improvement, Cherubini ends up asking his colleagues for their continued excellence and service, reminding them of the Conservatoire’s core mission: “We wish to train musicians who are useful to society and we envision this society as one that flourishes through its love for the arts in their most beautiful form.”

We end this special volume with two reviews. The first, by Eleanor Smith, compares three publications related to the Erard company and the history of the piano—including by way of tribute an important source without which a lot of our research would not have been possible. The second, by Camilla Köhnken, ends where we started: with two prestigious exhibitions on Ludwig van Beethoven, whose 250th birthday we may not have been able to celebrate with the same grandeur as planned, but whose memory outlasts even the most debilitating pandemic.

Tom Beghin
Ghent, August 16, 2021