A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Cramer

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CRAMER, a family of German musicians, of whom the head was Jacob Cramer, born at Sachau in Silesia 1705, flutist in the then celebrated band at Mannheim, where he died in 1770. Of his sons, Johann, born at Mannheim 1743, was drummer in the court band at Munich, and Wilhelm, born at Mannheim 1745, made himself a considerable reputation as a violinist and leader. He was a pupil of Johann Stamitz, sen., and of Cannabich, and when still very young gave evidence of unusually brilliant abilities. His contemporaries declared that his playing united the facility of Lolli with the expression of Franz Benda. At 16 he was admitted into the band at Mannheim, but left it after his father's death for London, where he was well received in 1772, and soon obtained a creditable position. His first appearance was March 22, 1773. He was appointed head of the king's band, and leader at the Opera and Pantheon, the Antient Concerts, and the Professional Concerts. He was famous as the leader of the Handel Festivals at Westminster Abbey in 1784 and 87. His last appearance was at the Gloucester Festival in 1799, and he died in London Oct. 5 of that or the next year [App. p.601 deletes "or the next"]. As a solo player he was for a time considered to be without a rival in England till superseded by Salomon and Viotti. He published eight concertos (for the most part in Paris), several solos and trios, but they are of no value. Of his sons are known, Franz, born 1772, a violinist of repute in London, died 1848 [App. p.601 "Franz or François Cramer was appointed Master of the King's music on the death of Christian Kramer in 1834"]; Carl, born 1780, a good pianist and valued teacher; and finally, Johann Baptist [App. p.601 "the eldest son"], the best known of the whole family, an eminent pianist, and one of the principal founders of the modern pianoforte school, born at Mannheim Feb. 24, 1771. He was but a year old when his father settled in London, and it was there that he lived and worked for the greatest part of his life. To his father's instruction on the violin and in the elements of the theory of music, pianoforte playing was added, and for this the boy manifested the most decided preference and unmistakable talent. [App. p.601 "[His] first appearance took place in 1781."] His teachers were a certain Benser, Schroeter, and above all, Muzio Clementi, under whom he studied for two years till Clementi's departure in 1774 [App. p.601 "1784"]. His mind and taste were formed on Handel, Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn, and Mozart, and by this means he obtained that musical depth and solidity so conspicuous in his numerous works. Cramer was in the main self-educated in theory and composition. He had, it is true, a course of lessons in thoroughbass from C. F. Abel in 1785, but his knowledge was chiefly acquired through his own study of Kirnberger and Marpurg. From 1788 Cramer undertook professional tours on the continent, and in the intervals lived in London, enjoying a world-wide reputation as pianist and teacher. In 1828 he established the firm of J. B. Cramer and Co., music-publishers, which, besides bringing out his own compositions, was specially employed in publishing the older classical works. After a residence of some years in Paris he returned in 1845 to London, and passed the rest of his life in retirement. He lived to play a duet with Liszt in London, and died April 16, 1858. There are references to him in Beethoven's letters of June 1, 1815, and March 5, 1818, and frequent notices in Moscheles's Life. Ries has left on record (Notizen, p. 99), that John Cramer was the only player of his time of whom Beethoven had any opinion—'all the rest went for nothing.'

[ A. M. ]

J. B. Cramer's playing was distinguished by the astonishingly even cultivation of the two hands, which enabled him, while playing legato, to give an entirely distinct character to florid inner parts, and thus attain a remarkable perfection of execution. He was noted among his contemporaries for his expressive touch in adagio, and in this, and in facility for playing at sight, he was able when in Paris to hold his own against the younger and more advanced pianists. His improvisations were for the most part in a style too artistic and involved for general appreciation. Cramer's mechanism exhibits the development between Clementi and Hummel, and is distinguished from the period of Moscheles and Kalkbrenner which followed it, by the fact that it aimed more at the cultivation of music in general than at the display of the specific qualities of the instrument. All his works are distinguished by a certain musical solidity, which would place them in the same rank with those of Hummel, had his invention been greater and more fluent; but as it is, the artistic style, and the interesting harmony, are counterbalanced by a certain dryness and poverty of expression in the melody. It is true that among his many compositions for pianoforte there are several which undeniably possess musical vitality, and in particular his 7 concertos deserve to be occasionally brought forward; but, speaking generally, his works (105 sonatas, 1 quartet for pianoforte, 1 quintet, and countless variations, rondos, fantasias, etc.) are now forgotten. In one sphere of composition alone Cramer has left a conspicuous and abiding memorial of his powers. His representative work, '84 Studies in two parts of 42 each,' is of classical value for its intimate combination of significant musical ideas, with the most instructive mechanical passages. No similar work except Clementi's 'Gradus ad Parnassum' has been so long or so widely used, and there are probably few pianists who have not studied it with profit. It forms the fifth part of Cramer's 'Grosse practische Pianoforte-Schule' (Schuberth, Leipsic), and has appeared in numerous separate editions. Of these the earliest is probably the lithograph edition of Breitkopf & Härtel, of which the second part appeared in 1810; next in importance ranks the last that was revised by Cramer himself, viz. the original English edition of Cramer & Co., which contained, as op. 81, '16 nouvelles Études,' making in all 100; and finally an edition without the additional Nos., revised by Coccius, and published a few years later than that last mentioned, by Breitkopf & Härtel. A selection of '50 Études,' edited by von Bülow (Aibl, Munich), is specially useful to teachers from the excellent remarks appended to it, though, on the other hand, it contains a number of peculiarities which may or may not be justifiable, the editor having transposed one of the studies and modified the fingering of them all to meet the exigencies of the modern keyboard. The above edition in 100 numbers must be distinguished from the 'Schule der Geläufigkeit' (op. 100), also containing 100 daily studies, and which forms the second part of the 'Grosse Pianoforte-Schule,' and should be used as a preparation for the great 'Études.'

If it is asked, When did Cramer flourish, and what does he represent to us? the answer usually returned is that he was born after Clementi and died after Hummel, and that he forms the link between those two great players and writers for their instrument. But no pianist with his eyes open would commit himself to such a statement, which rests solely upon two dates of birth and death, and leaves out of sight every spiritual connection, every indication of mental paternity and relationship. The truth is that Cramer does not surpass Clementi as regards the technical treatment of the pianoforte, but stops considerably short of him: Cramer's best sonatas are as much more tame and timid than Clementi's best, as his most valuable études are technically easier and less daring than the chefs-d'œuvres of Clementi's Gradus. Spiritually, though not mechanically, Cramer occupies a field of his own, which all pianists respect. Many of his études are poems, like Mendelssohn's Songs without words. But in his sonatas, etc., he moves in a restricted groove of his own, near the highway of Mozart. The name 'J. B. Cramer' really signifies Cramer's Études—let us say some forty or fifty out of the hundred he has published. These certainly are good music—a few, perhaps a dozen, even beautiful music, and always very good practice. But pitted against forty or fifty out of the hundred numbers of Clementi's Gradus, which are equally good music, and decidedly better practice, they sink irretrievably.

The treatment of the pianoforte as distinct from the harpsichord, if pursued along its plain and broad high-road does not necessarily touch upon Cramer. It stretches from Clementi to Beethoven on the one side, from Mozart to Hummel on the other; from Mozart viá Hummel, and Clementi viá Field, to Chopin; and from Hummel, viá Chopin and Beethoven, to Liszt. Cramer, like Moscheles after him, though not of the first authority, must be considered one of the fathers of the church of pianoforte playing, and worthy of consultation at all times.

[ E. D. ]