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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.
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.
Camille-Marie Stamaty, born in Rome, was the son of a naturalized Greek father (hence the name) and a French mother. 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.
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. 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.
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, but Chopin on the advice of his teacher Józef Elsner had turned him down. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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:
On November 26, 1836, Mendelssohn wrote some more about Stamaty to Hiller:
Stamaty figured also in a letter Mendelssohn’s sister Rebecca wrote to Karl Klingemann on October 4, 1836:
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:
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, 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.
Stamaty from the age of 19 on suffered from nervous exhaustion, overwork and frequent and severe bouts from what was then called rheumatism. 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. Stamaty married in 1848 and became the father of four children. Marmontel points out that Stamaty was the most devoted of husbands and fathers.
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.
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. 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:
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.