Johann Baptist Cramer


Born: February 24, 1771 Died: April 16, 1858
Johann Baptist Cramer was one of the leading piano virtuosos of the first half of the nineteenth century, familiar and fashionable enough on the London scene to be mentioned in Jane Austen's book Emma. Reassessment of his rarely played compositions has led many commentators to conclude that this neglect is unjustified, that many of them are original works which take advantage of the piano's sonorities.

Mannheim was one of the leading musical centers in Germany when Cramer was born there to Wilhelm Cramer, a violinist in its famous orchestra. Wilhelm moved the family to London and started teaching both Johann Baptist and his other son Franz violin. Johann showed a great affinity for the piano and was placed with a teacher, J.D. Benser, and then graduated, successively, to J.S. Schroeter and Muzio Clementi. Meanwhile, he had already made a successful debut in April 6, 1781, playing piano at one of his father's benefit concerts. In 1784 he appeared with Clementi in a duo-piano recital. In 1785 he had training in theory and composition with C.F. Abel.

He traveled to France and Germany in 1788, meeting with success and acclaim. While there, he wrote some of his earliest works, which were published in France. He returned to London in 1791, becoming the best young pianist on the scene. He met every prominent musician who appeared in London at that time, including Joseph Haydn. Cramer made a second tour of the Continent beginning in 1799.

He returned to England in 1800, and soon married. He began writing the first of his two series of piano etudes, which are his most well-known works, still assigned to piano students today. He remained in England for the most part, teaching at the top fee of the day, and introducing Beethoven's sonatas to English audiences. His Bach and Mozart concerts were especially well-regarded, and he came to be known as "Glorious John" to his audience.

In 1805 he started a publishing partnership, Cramer & Keyes, and another in 1810 with Samuel Chappell. Chappell eventually struck out on his own, founding Chappell & Co., Ltd, leaving Cramer to found J.B. Cramer & Co., Ltd. (Both firms remain in existence.) He was the English publisher of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto and is credited with giving it its nickname, "The Emperor." Cramer was also a founder of the Philharmonic Society.

He married again in 1829 and in 1835, at the age of 64, he retired from the stage officially at a grand farewell concert. After his retirement he established a permanent residence in Paris, but traveled also to Germany and Austria. He returned to London in 1745 and remained there until his death.

He had observed the great change of musical taste from the Classical era and played in concert with both Joseph Haydn and Franz Liszt. He summed up the change by saying that in the old days pianists played fort bien (very well), and now they played bien forte (awfully loud).

Johann Cramer's lengthy list of compositions is dominated by piano sonatas and other piano works. Their adherence to a Classical ideal did not prevent them from showing the new ideas in music that were developed during Cramer's time, and the later works are especially influenced by Beethoven. It is, however, Cramer's keyboard performance style that had the most influence on later musicians. His legato, refined improvisation, and clear dexterity were highly regarded.

There are 19 Johann Baptist Cramer recordings available.

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