Camille-Marie Stamaty

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Camille-Marie Stamaty (Rome, March 13, 1811 – Paris, April 19, 1870) was a French pianist, piano teacher and composer predominantly of piano music and studies (études). Today largely forgotten, he was one of the preeminent piano teachers in 19th century Paris. His most famous pupils were Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Camille Saint-Saëns.

Stamaty was the star pupil of Friedrich Kalkbrenner and heir to Kalkbrenner's teaching method. He taught a crisp, fine, even filigree piano playing that concentrated on evenness of scales, independence of fingers and minimum movement of body and arms.[1]

Stamaty composed a great number of piano studies (études), various other shorter piano works (the usual waltzes, fantasies, quadrilles, and variations so dear to the 19th century), a piano concerto and some chamber music. None of his music is still in the repertoire today, although a good look at his once famous études might be very worthwhile. New recordings of his best output (concert études, piano concerto), possibly on period instruments, would be desirable.

Biography[edit]

Descent and family background[edit]

Stamaty as a seven-year-old boy (in his mother's lap) with his family by Ingres. Rome 1818.[2]

Camille-Marie Stamaty, born in Rome, was the son of a naturalized Greek father (hence the name) and a French mother.[3] His father was for a time French consul in the Italian town of Civitavecchia. His mother was French and according to Antoine François Marmontel, who probably knew her, a fine singer of Italian operatic arias. Stamaty's father died in 1818, which forced the family to move back to France, first to Dijon, later on to Paris.

1825-1836: Musical training and education[edit]

Stamaty did not have musical training from an early age on. Marmontel mentions that his musical studies had to take second place after classes in literature and history. Stamaty did not have a piano of his own before he was fourteen years of age.[4] His mother on the advice of her family was against a career of her son in music, although Stamaty showed considerable musical gifts from an early age on. Stamaty’s family wanted him to become a diplomat, a civil engineer or a clerk in the administration. Stamaty did become a civil servant but he did not give up on music altogether. In his spare time he kept practicing and composing and his playing must have been so good that he could perform at soirees in fashionable Parisian homes. This was no mean achievement as Paris was considered to be the city of pianists and Stamaty had ample competition in fashionable salons from luminaries such as Sigismond Thalberg, Franz Liszt, Stephen Heller, Henri Herz, Émile Prudent and scores of lesser known piano players.

1832: Kalkbrenner’s star pupil[edit]

Finally it was an encounter with Friedrich Kalkbrenner that decided Stamaty's fate. Kalkbrenner had been looking for a pupil who would continue his school for some time. He had considered Frédéric Chopin,[5] but Chopin on the advice of his teacher Józef Elsner had turned him down.[6] The same had happened with Charles Hallé. Hallé too had at first sought out Kalkbrenner to become his pupil, but Kalkbrenner's stiff, old-fashioned and even flawed playing deterred Hallé so much, that he decided otherwise.[7]

Stamaty in many ways was the ideal candidate for Kalkbrenner. He was talented, ambitious and in addition to that he was poor and bored at his job in the Préfecture. And above all he was prepared to suffer Kalkbrenner who had a reputation as a martinet. Marmontel shrewdly points out that, as Stamaty was no artist on the scale of Chopin and thus lacked the strong personality of the great genius, he was ideally suited for Kalkbrenner's strict regime.[8] So when Kalkbrenner heard Stamaty play a quadrille with variations of his own composition he approached Stamaty and made him a business proposal: Stamaty would become his pupil and his répètiteur at the same time. A répètiteur was an auxiliary teacher to Kalkbrenner who in his later years did little teaching himself. Kalkbrenner gave fashionable and very expensive piano courses for selected pupils, while Stamaty would prepare students for these courses and do all the preparatory teaching.[9]

1832-1836: Studies with Benoist, Reicha and Mendelssohn[10][edit]

Even as teacher Stamaty (one guesses supervised by Kalkbrenner) did not neglect his studies in music theory. He received lessons in organ playing from François Benoist and in harmony and counterpoint from Anton Reicha.[11] Finally, in October 1836 Stamaty went to Leipzig to receive the finishing touches of his education from Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn writes about the lessons he gave Stamaty in a letter to Ferdinand Hiller on October 29, 1836:

"Stamaty is staying here, and I have got to teach him counterpoint – I declare I really don’t know much about it myself. He says, however, that that is only my modesty.[12] "

On November 26, 1836, Mendelssohn wrote some more about Stamaty to Hiller:

"Stamaty will be at Frankfort in a few days, on his way back to Paris. I maintain that he has got de lAllemagne and du contrepoint double par dessus les Oreilles".[13]

Stamaty figured also in a letter Mendelssohn’s sister Rebecca wrote to Karl Klingemann on October 4, 1836:

"Moreover, Kalkbrenner’s best pupil, Mr. Stamaty, élève du conservatoire de Paris, and popular music master, is here in Germany learning music from Felix, and refuses to play until he has learned something better".[14]

1835-1870: Celebrity teacher[edit]

For some 35 years (1835–1870) Stamaty must have been the most sought after and the most fashionable piano teacher in Paris. He had numerous students, most of them from wealthy families in the aristocratic Faubourgs (Saint-Germain and Saint-Honoré). He charged some of the highest fees in Paris. According to Marmontel he was a born teacher and also had the useful talent of inspiring trust not so much in his pupils but in their mothers:

Let's add that he (Stamaty) combined all the proper qualities that would inspire confidence and trust in mothers of families: Distinction, reserve, correct and pure talent. He talked little and achieved a lot.[15]

Apart from Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Stamaty's most famous pupil was Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns started with Stamaty when he was seven years old (1842) and he stayed with him until he was fourteen (1849), whence he went on to the Paris Conservatoire. Although Saint-Saëns in his later life was very critical, even dismissive of Stamaty's teaching,[16] it is a fact that Saint-Saëns under Stamaty's tutelage developed into a first rate pianist who maintained the high level of his playing all his life, well into his eighties.

Personal life and crisis (1848)[edit]

Stamaty from the age of 19 on suffered from nervous exhaustion, overwork and frequent and severe bouts from what was then called rheumatism.[17] Sometimes these illnesses lasted for up to half a year; during this time Stamaty was forced to give up all musical activities. When his mother died in 1846, Stamaty grieved so much that he left Paris to retreat to Rome for a full year.[18] Stamaty married in 1848 and became the father of four children. Marmontel points out that Stamaty was the most devoted of husbands and fathers.

Piano technique[edit]

Stamaty's piano technique has its roots in the piano manufacturing craft of the first decades of the 19th century. Most pianos manufactured in France before 1850 had a light action and an easy touch. These pianos were ideal for the execution of rapid scales, facile arpeggios and quickly repeated notes. This resulted in an elegant and glittering bravura playing ideally suited for salons and smaller venues.[19]

Stamaty's piano technique was firmly rooted in the pre-Steinway area of those pianos built according the old system (wooden frame). Marmontel clearly states that Stamaty was a pianist of style but was no transcendental virtuoso and that his playing lacked warmth, colour and brilliance.[20] Stamaty's method prescribed complete immobility of body and arms, elbows tucked into the body and all action of the muscles limited to finger and forearms. Saint-Saëns who during his long life had witnessed the development from the old purely digital technique to the transcendental virtuosity of Franz Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and even Leopold Godowsky sums up the advantages and the drawbacks of the Kalkbrenner-Stamaty school like this:

"Firmness of the fingers is not the only thing that one learns from Kalkbrenner’s method for there is also refinement of the quality of the sound made by the fingers alone, a valuable resource which is unusual in our day. Unfortunately, this school also invented the continuous legato, which is both false and monotonous; the abuse of nuances, and a mania for continuous expressivo used with no discrimination."[21]

Selected works[edit]

His works include a great quantity of studies, shorter piano works (waltzes, fantasies, quadrilles, variations), several sonatas, some chamber music and a piano concerto. The only work of his still in print are the Finger Rhythm Studies (Études des Doigts O. 36). Stamaty’s studies are really not too different from the studies by Carl Czerny. There are many similarities between Stamaty’s best output and Czerny’s more demanding studies such as his Études de Mécanisme op. 499.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Harold C. Schonberg, not without reason, characterizes the Kalkbrenner-Stamaty school with these words: French pianists were schooled in the light, fluent virtuoso technique stemming from Kalkbrenner, Herz and Stamaty. It was elegant but superficial. Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, Revised and Updated. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p.290.
  2. ^ The Stamaty Family, drawing, Naef 217, 46.3 cm x 37.1 cm, inv. RF4114, Paris, Musée du Louvre
  3. ^ Antoine Marmontel, Les Pianistes Célèbres, (Paris: Imprimerie Centrale des Chemins de Fer A. Chaix et Cie., 1878), pp. 214-225. Marmontel is the best and almost the only good source on Stamaty. Although Marmontel tends to eulogize all the pianists in his famous book, he was personally acquainted with Stamaty and, being a pianist and piano professor himself, he speaks with authority on Stamaty and his school. Moreover he is thoroughly acquainted with Stamaty's works.
  4. ^ Marmontel (1878), p. 216
  5. ^ It is clear from Chopin’s letters that Kalkbrenner was indeed actively searching for a pianist who would both became his pupil and heir. On December 12, 1831 Chopin wrote home to Poland to a friend: On closer acquaintance he (Kalkbrenner) has made me an offer; that I should study with him for three years, and he will make something really – really out of me. (...) After close examination he told me that I have no school; that I am on an excellent road, but can slip of the track. That after his death, or when he finally stops playing, there will be no representative of the great pianoforte school. (Chopin 1931), pp. 154-55
  6. ^ Moritz Karasowski, Frédéric Chopin, His Life and Letters (London: William Reeves, without date(probably 1880)), pp. 231-5 and pp. 241-5, especially p. 241
  7. ^ C.E. Hallé and Marie Hallé, Life and Letters of Sir Charles Hallé. (London: Smith, Elder, & Co. 1896), pp. 30-31
  8. ^ Marmontel (1878), p. 218
  9. ^ Marmontel (1878), p. 218. Marmontel writes: Stamaty devint le bras droit, le suppléant toujours choisi. Kalkbrenner donnait peu des leçons en dehors de ses cours, et le professeur qu’il désignait était invariablement Stamaty. Translation: Stamaty became the right arm, the substitute teacher. Kalkbrenner himself gave few lessons outside of his courses, and the teacher whom he chose to give them was invariably Stamaty.
  10. ^ It is clear from letters from the Mendelssohn family that Stamaty studied with Felix Mendelssohn. It is sometimes asserted that Stamaty also received lessons from Robert Schumann but so far this could not be proved.
  11. ^ Marmontel (1878), p. 218
  12. ^ Dr. Ferdinand Hiller, Mendelssohn – Letters and Recollections. (London; Macmillan and Co. 1874)., p. 106
  13. ^ (Hiller 1874), p. 107
  14. ^ Sebastian Hensel, The Mendelssohn Family (1729-1847), From Letters and Journals. Second Revised Edition. Vol. II. (New York: Harper & Brothers 1881). p. 20
  15. ^ Marmontel (1878), p. 219
  16. ^ In his old age Saint-Saëns wrote somewhat mischievously: The greatest benefit I got from my experience with Stamaty was my acquaintance with Maleden, whom he gave me as my teacher in composition. See: Camille Saint-Saëns, Musical Memoirs. (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1919), p. 28.
  17. ^ (Marmontel 1878), p. 219
  18. ^ Vernon Loggins writes that Stamaty attempted to take the eleven-year-old Saint-Saëns after his debut in the Salle Pleyel on a concert tour all over Europe, but Saint-Saëns’ mother would have none of it. According to Loggins the ensuing quarrel made Stamaty so ill that he went to Rome to seek refuge in a monastery for a year or two. This strains credulity. Stamaty was by no means the impresario type, and it is hard to picture him as a travelling mentor of a child prodigy à la Leopold Mozart or Maurice Strakosch. Vernon cites no source for his claim and gives a wrong duration (two years) for Stamaty's Rome trip. Thus, new research withstanding we must assume that Stamaty really fell ill after the sudden death of his mother (1848) and simply took some time out in Rome, a place he would have known well from his childhood. (Loggins, 1958), p. 60
  19. ^ Cyril Ehrlich, The Piano, A History. Revised Edition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 22-23.
  20. ^ Marmontel (1878), p. 221
  21. ^ Saint-Saëns (1919), pp. 9-10

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