Printer Friendly

Helene de Montgeroult and the art of singing well on the piano.

In 1794 the most bloody stage of the French Revolution came to an end when Maximilien Robespierre, the leading figure of the Committee of Public Safety, who had been obsessed with the elimination of any perceived threats to the Revolutionary cause, fell from power. Music had played an important role throughout the Revolution in public festivals and in the form of revolutionary songs, but the return to a more peaceful life sparked a new appetite for music of a more private and entertaining kind. The violinist Baillot wrote, in a letter dated 6 October 1796:
   The epidemic of musicoragicomania is spreading.... Every tiny circle has
   turned into a concert society, every table into a piano, every woman into a
   musician, every man into a little Garat. A quarter of an hour is ample time
   to hear three Gluck operas, a few Italian finales ... potpourris, romances,
   and a grand Sonata by Steibelt may be thrown in.... all perfectly charming,
   delicious, and sublime. (1)

This trend continued throughout the Empire; in 1810 a reviewer wrote, "The taste for music has increased extraordinarily, and the country has seen the number of its musicians multiply in proportion. Never has Paris resounded to so many concerts." (2)

Indeed, the numbers of new concert societies (many of them short-lived) and of public and private concerts was extraordinary, as was the number of amateur pianists, singers, and harpists for whom easy, pleasing music had to be composed and printed. Of course, a taste for music is not necessarily the same as taste in music, and music historians have traditionally described the Parisian musical world of that period as one that lacked musical depth. It cannot be denied, however, that concerts by students and teachers of the newly founded Paris Conservatoire often elicited enthusiastic reviews, and Reichardt, the German traveling music observer, suggested in 1803 that "Haydn should come to Paris to hear how perfect his symphonies are." (3) Evidently, not all concerts in Paris were of questionable quality.

Similarly, the life and works of the pianist Helene de Montgeroult present a picture that does not conform to the commonly held stereotypes of French piano music of that period: she did not write potpourris, battle pieces, and other crowd pleasers. She vehemently opposed the way some of her contemporaries indulged in dashing virtuoso displays on the piano, and she promoted a much more refined and musically inspired piano style. None of her piano pieces were based on a favorite aria or popular song, a practice popular among her contemporaries. In this article I discuss especially the emphasis she placed on the pursuit of a cantabile style on the piano, imitating the Italian bel canto vocal style in a manner that is generally associated with later piano composers in Paris such as Chopin and Thalberg.

Helene, Marquise de Montgeroult (1764-1836), was not only a composer and a performer but also, and probably more importantly, a teacher. She was among the first group of piano professors at the Paris Conservatoire when it was founded in 1795, and the first woman to be appointed on the highest level at the highest salary. (4) The next woman to be accorded such a position was Louise Farrenc, almost fifty years later, in 1842. (5) Montgeroult taught a class of male students--a highly unorthodox practice for a woman at a time when it was considered improper to teach students of the opposite sex. (6)

As an aristocrat, her life had been in serious danger during the Great Terror. According to an often-repeated but unsubstantiated anecdote, she was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Committee for Public Safety. Bernard Sarrette, the director of the Institut National de Musique, later the Conservatoire, was allegedly present at her trial and vowed that she was indispensable for his Institut as the greatest piano teacher in France. Consequently, a harpsichord was brought into the courtroom and Montgeroult was asked to play the "Marseillaise." She gave such a passionate rendition of the song and improvised on it so brilliantly that everybody, including the Committee for Public Safety, started to sing along fervently. As a result she was released. (7) This romantic story was even believed by such people as the American historian Robert Palmer, who considered this event evidence that at the time of the Great Terror "administrative routine could give way to passionate exaltation." (8)

The anecdote is not as implausible as it may sound, because a similar event did take place that was well documented: In November 1793, around the time of Montgeroult's alleged trial, Sarrette appeared in front of the National Convention to propose the creation of the Institut National de Musique. (9) The music band of the National Guard, directed by Gossec, performed a military march, a symphony, and revolutionary songs such as "Ca ira" and the "Marseillaise," to loud applause by members of the convention. Unfortunately, the story of this momentous event undermines the plausibility of Montgeroult's trial story, because it seems unlikely that two such identical events would have occurred around the same time. However, it is true that she and her husband were denounced by a certain "citizen Artain," and it is possible that she tried to prove her loyalty to the Revolution by playing the "Marseillaise" at some other auspicious occasion. (10) When the Conservatoire was founded, a concours was held to choose new teachers; maybe Montgeroult proved her worth by improvising on such a patriotic theme. (11)

Owing to housing problems, the Conservatoire did not actually open until 22 October 1796. Only fifteen months later, on 19 January 1798, Helene de Montgeroult withdrew from the Conservatoire. During that short time, however, she taught a number of students who became important musicians, among them Alexandre Boely, Camille Petit, and Louis Pradere, who later taught Henri Herz and Felix Le Couppey. No reason for her departure is given in the official records, but it is likely that she was uncomfortable with the Revolutionary origin and character of the institution and only attached herself to it as a safe haven until the threat of persecution was over. After all, the official purpose of the Conservatoire was twofold: to provide inspiring music for national festivals and to train musicians to participate in these events. On 4 January, two weeks before she left, the administration and professors of the Conservatoire made a "patriotic donation to the Council of 500 ... of 1,100 Francs in support of the military expedition against England," something that must have been distasteful to her and might have precipitated her withdrawal. (12) During the Revolution she visited England with her husband on a secret mission to negotiate for peace. (13) Soon after, she apparently offered the English government her services as a spy, and we know that she later took English lessons. (14) She was, in fact, a fervent royalist and pro-English, and she can never have really fit into the political climate of the Conservatoire, with its Revolutionary roots.

After leaving the Conservatoire she continued her teaching privately and took part in the music life of the salons. When Ignaz Moscheles arrived in Paris in 1821 he commented in his diary that "the houses most notable for music were those of the Princess Vaudemont, [and] the Marquise de Montgerault [sic], a good pianist herself and the authoress of a very able work on pianoforte playing." (15)

If Moscheles admired her as a pianist, she must have been quite accomplished. Unfortunately, since salon concerts were by definition private events, we have only a few individual reports of her playing, most of them by nonmusicians such as Count Eymar (see below). She studied piano from an early age with Hullmandel and Dussek and, later, composition with Anton Reicha. In 1789 Dussek dedicated his three Sonatas op. 5 to her. The third one, his first published unaccompanied piano sonata, is a work on a grander scale than his accompanied sonatas and may be a tribute to Montgeroult's talents as a pianist. Several other composers dedicated piano works to her as well. (16) She was known for her expressive cantabile style of playing, and she reportedly tried to pattern her manner of phrasing after great Italian singers such as Marchesi and Crescentini. (17) As we shall see, this cantabile style became the main focus of her teaching method.

From 1786 until 1792 she was closely associated with the Italian violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti; during this period she transcribed two of his violin concertos for piano. Montgeroult's arrangements show a rather old-fashioned treatment of the piano: few dynamics are used, and the left hand is restricted to single long notes, doubled at the octave, or simple Alberti bass figurations. As a matter of fact, even though the title page announces a piano concerto, the first page of the score mentions clavecin. Clearly, both instruments can be used. A third concerto, titled IIIe Concerto de clavecin avec accompagnement de violon oblige ... par Viotti is thought to have been jointly transcribed by Viotti and Montgeroult. (18) They were known to spend hours improvising together; Count Ange-Marie Eymar, a friend of Viotti, left an exalted account of an evening he spent with both of them. His description leaves little doubt as to the romantic nature of their relationship:
   Sometimes she is the one who invents and leads the melody, the intensity of
   which controls Viotti's [melody] irresistibly. Then again, Viotti's genius
   rises in turn and forces Euterpe [the writer's literary pseudonym for
   Montgeroult] to follow him and accompany him with chords. The principal
   part and the accompaniment switch from one to the other, without anything
   abrupt, empty, or boring. One does not notice [the switching] except for
   the different effects inherent to the nature of both instruments. Do they
   breathe the same soul, does the same God inspire them? Yes, because it is
   [i.e., they share] the same sentiment. (19)

Montgeroult's compositions for piano solo, published between 1795 and 1811, consist of three sets of three sonatas each (opp. 1, 2, and 5) and a Piece (op. 3). One of the sonatas (op. 2, no. 3) has a violin ad libitum accompaniment. Her last composition (op. 6) consists of a group of six Metastasio texts set for voice and piano. The piano sonatas are substantial works in which the first-movement expositions usually have three extended sections, each with its own thematic material. The harmonic schemes of the development sections are no less adventurous than those found in Dussek's most interesting works. (20) In general, the sonatas show influences of Hullmandel, Cramer, and especially Dussek. They suffer sometimes from structural weaknesses and too much reliance on certain pianistic effects, such as syncopated passages and repeated notes. (21) But they attest to the fact that her pianistic ability was equal to that of the best of her contemporaries. The slow movements of the Op. 5 sonatas are filled with genuine pathos and sometimes haunting beauty.

Her last work, a piano method entitled Cours complet pour l'enseignement du forte-piano, conduisant progressivement des premiers elements aux plus grandes difficultes, was published in 1820 and is an extensive work, unlike any other piano method from this period. It consists of three large volumes, with 972 exercises in the first volume, divided into seventeen chapters, each dealing with a different topic, and accompanied by lengthy introductions or observations. Volumes 2 and 3 consist of 114 etudes, each preceded by instructions, and some which are of considerable length. Finally, there are three sets of variations in the style of Handel, a canon, three fugues, variations in old and modern styles, and a fantasy.

Generally, early keyboard methods were written for young, beginning students; they served as an aid to the teacher, saving him or her the trouble of writing down exercises and rudimentary music theory. Sometimes they could even take the place of a teacher, if one could not be found nearby. (22) Later methods added many pages with scales, rules for fingerings, and, ever since Clementi had impressed his audiences with them (including Mozart), passages in thirds. Short pieces, rarely original compositions by the author, would serve as etudes. Montgeroult's method is on a different level. It does not teach rudiments of music theory but lays out a carefully organized plan for mastering the instrument, giving detailed descriptions of many aspects of piano technique while integrating them with pronouncements on style and taste.

One of the first goals of the new Conservatoire was the production of authoritative instrumental methods to ensure a uniformly high level of teaching. The official Methode de piano du Conservatoire was written by Louis Adam and published in 1804. It was quite comprehensive and modern in its time; it discussed the use of all the pedals and promoted legato as the basic touch. The emphasis on legato playing created a greater need for correct fingerings, and the piano method by Dussek and Pleyel (published in London in 1796 and in Paris in 1797) was one of the first to discuss this at length, followed by the Methode, ou Principe general du doigte by Adam and Lachnith in 1798. Adam's Methode de piano du Conservatoire supplied fingerings to many passages from works by contemporary and older composers, in addition to many pages with fingerings for scales, repeated notes, passages in thirds and fourths, trills, and so forth. The technical exercises are all aimed at playing with a perfectly even touch. However, Adam also included a chapter on touch and "the way to draw sound from the instrument," (23) as well as one discussing "style." He presents two different interpretations of the term style: one refers to technique, tempo, and articulation, the other to "expression." (24)

Adam makes references to a vocal approach to piano playing, but later authors took the mechanical limitations of the piano into account and treated the piano differently: Sebastien Meysenberg wrote a Nouvelle methode pour le piano forte in 1818, in which he stated that "every instrument has its particular way of expressing itself which belongs to the nature of the sound it produces." He continued: "If the piano is less able to sustain sounds than other instruments, its advantage is that it can play several parts [voices] simultaneously and that it can give in some manner the idea of an orchestra." (25) This statement's implied acceptance of the piano's inability to be vocally expressive was characteristic of much piano music that was being written and performed at the time. The improvements that were made to the piano at that time facilitated fast, mechanical playing, and many young pianists quickly learned to become virtuosos at the expense of expressive cantabile playing. (26) Meysenberg felt, along with many others, that the piano inherently expressed itself according to different aesthetic principles from those of the voice or strings.

Montgeroult passionately disagreed with this attitude and explained her position in the introduction of her method:
   The numerous observations which we have made regarding the current way of
   teaching piano, and regarding the type of playing which results from it,
   have convinced us that this way is wrong.... If singers or string players
   would follow the same method, the result would be shocking. The art of
   singing well is the same for every instrument; one should not make
   concessions or sacrifices to the mechanism particular to the interpreter;
   [instead,] the interpreter should adapt his mechanism according to the
   demands of art.

She maintains that the piano is capable of singing by using a certain amount of illusion:
   Illusion must come to the aid of reality. If one cannot imitate the
   beautiful art of singing in its most perfect quality, that is to say, in
   the ability to prolong its sounds, one can begin by imitating its one
   imperfection: the necessity to cut the phrases in order to breathe at
   certain intervals. The Italian Singing School has developed a method which
   teaches singers exactly when to breathe. The breath can take a little more
   or a little less time in every phrase, yet the orchestra keeps a steady
   beat; but the singer freely unfolds the course of the phrase, and it is
   only at the end [of the phrase] that he has to be in time again with the
   orchestra.... On the piano, the right hand can be compared to the singer,
   and the left hand to the orchestra ... the fingering of the right hand has
   to be adjusted so that the hand is lifted completely after the note on
   which the singer would take his breath. The hand should take as much time
   before placing itself in the next position as the singer would need to take
   a breath. (27)

An intriguing aspect of her approach to piano technique is that her understanding of the piano action is strongly determined by the need for illusion: "Sometimes [the player] presses the key firmly after it has been played in order to prolong its vibration, occasionally striking [the key again]." (28) Most likely she refers to what was known in German-speaking countries as Bebung. A famous example of this can be found in the third movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata op. 110, measure 5, where Beethoven obviously intends to create the effect of a crescendo on a single note. If Montgeroult refers to this effect, it may have been a common effect and not a rare remnant of clavichord technique, since clavichords had not been in use in France for over a century.

A more puzzling example of Montgeroult's application of "illusion" is found in a chapter in the first volume treating syncopations. Montgeroult instructs the student to increase the pressure on the key halfway through the syncopated note, so that the second half of the note, which falls on the strong beat, receives the greatest pressure from the finger. (29) Such an obvious lack of understanding of the piano action is curious, since there was no keyboard action that could produce this effect. One can only conclude that it was in the spirit of the time to allow the imagination to overrule the fact that once a piano key has been struck, the tone cannot be altered. As a matter of fact, Montgeroult's conviction that the illusion of sustained notes on a piano can overcome the mechanical impossibility of such an effect has become the norm among pianists ever since.

Montgeroult advises that the best way to achieve the illusion of sustained sounds is the use of tempo rubato. She combines two different techniques, both contributing to cantabile playing. The first is the use of rubato, and the second is the advice that the pianist should, at places where a singer would take a breath, lift the right hand and take time before placing it down again for the next phrase, adapting the fingering to make this possible. There is a striking similarity with the following comment made by one of Chopin's students, Emilie Gretsch:
   True to his principle of imitating great singers in his playing, Chopin
   drew from the instrument the secret of how to express breathing. At every
   point where a singer would take a breath, the pianist should take care to
   raise the wrist so as to let it fall again on the singing note with great
   suppleness. (30)

Apparently Montgeroult advised a far more flexible use of the wrist than did her contemporaries, such as Adam, Clementi, Cramer, and Kalkbrenner. One may recall that Kalkbrenner advocated the use of the "guide-main," a mechanical device which consisted of a type of railing, running parallel to the keyboard, upon which the wrists were to rest while practicing. (31) In addition to a more flexible wrist, Montgeroult taught a more flattened hand position as well: "The hand ... will be lightly rounded, but not arched, as in the old method." (32)

The tempo rubato Montgeroult describes, a so-called true rubato, was first mentioned by Tosi in 1723 and later described for the keyboard by C. P. E. Bach and W. A. Mozart. (33) She suggests that tempo rubato is a consequence of the necessity of taking a breath, rather than a way to make phrasing more expressive. Yet her reasoning is in essence correct: emotions affect breathing patterns, and few musical effects can make a piano (or any instrument) sound as expressive as rhythmic subtlety. Adam writes in his Methode:
   Some people want to make it into a fashion not to play in time anymore, and
   to execute every genre of music as a fantasy, prelude, or caprice. They
   think that it gives a piece more expression and change it so as to make it
   unrecognizable. Undoubtedly the expression demands that one slows down or
   speeds up certain notes of a melody, but only in certain places where a
   languishing or agitated melody require a ritardando or a more animated
   tempo. In that case one should alter the melody, and the bass strictly
   marks the beat. (34)

Apparently, the use of rubato was becoming popular among pianists and, like the pedal, was often abused. There are indications that rubato was extensively used by the pianist Jan Ladislav Dussek, who had performed regularly in Paris between 1806 and 1812. Henri Herz wrote in his Methode complete around 1831:
   The double character of the accompaniment and the melody demands from each
   hand a different rhythmic effect.... This ... demands not only complete
   independence between the hands but also ... a different spirit in each of
   them. In this way Dussek added a transparent and melancholic hue over some
   phrases, by letting the right hand sing in a vague and nonchalant way while
   the left played a rhythmically strict accompaniment. I don't know why this
   manner of phrasing, not long ago so favored, has now fallen into oblivion.

This type of rubato was therefore well known long before 1820, when Montgeroult's method was published. If indeed this style of playing was less common in 1831, Montgeroult's Cours complet was intended not only as a teaching method for young pianists but also as a criticism of the direction in which piano music was developing. A performance style with a free, spontaneous, and emotional approach to rhythm and phrasing was disappearing and being replaced with more mechanical performances. Herz's comment can also be interpreted as a criticism of the lack of musicality of most pianists, rather than as an observed general trend: rubato playing is done well only by superb musicians. Montgeroult apparently was one of them, and Herz, who studied with Montgeroult's student Louis Pradere, may have referred to her as well in the last sentence of the quotation above.

Montgeroult often uses the phrase, "l'art de bien chanter", reminiscent of the titles of seventeenth-century French singing treatises. (36) To achieve "singing on the piano" she adds to the use of rubato other techniques. One of them is an overlapping legato:
   All my fingerings are calculated in such a way as to correct the greatest
   defects of the instrument: a hammered sound, dryness, and the thinness of
   the sound ... by a fingering that enables one to sustain together all the
   notes that belong to one harmony for as long as one can or as long as is
   pleasant to the ear, in order to augment the sound volume of the piano by
   the combination of several vibrations. (37)

Adam suggests a similar use of overlapping legato, but only in accompanimental figures or arpeggiated passages. (38) Montgeroult takes this a step further by saying that all notes should be sustained as long as they are "pleasant to the ear." Obviously, piano music was conceived by her along vocal lines. This in itself was not new: as mentioned before, Adam had also suggested in his method that students should imitate great singers, especially the inflections of the voice. (39) The idea originated with C. P. E. Bach, who encouraged keyboard performers to listen to great singers, and who was known for his emotionally charged keyboard improvisations. (40) Montgeroult, however, extends the use of sustained sound to almost all piano playing, and it is significant in this context that she hardly discusses articulation at all. In the first volume there is one short chapter devoted to "exercises of slurred and detached notes in order to vary the execution of passages." (41) Whereas Adam showed three ways of detaching notes--staccatissimo, staccato, and detached notes--Montgeroult mainly discusses slurred and detached notes as a way to add nuances to passages, while staccato is used only occasionally to imitate the martele of string instruments. (42) Of the 117 etudes in volumes 2 and 3, only one (no. 4) focuses on articulation: the left hand has to play staccato while the right hand maintains a legato touch. Although Montgeroult follows Adam in mentioning the importance of imitating the inflections of the voice, she introduces a new perspective by concentrating mainly on imitating the voice in terms of its ability to sustain sound.

In the introduction Montgeroult mentions a type of ornament that she calls appoggiaturas,
   ornaments that one introduces in a song to increase its effect, and
   especially to fill, in very slow pieces, the gap produced by the
   instrument's brevity of sound. These appoggiaturas must always participate
   in the character of the music to which they are joined. (43)

When using the word "appoggiaturas" she is obviously not referring to what we usually mean by this term but to ornaments added to a melody in a varied reprise. Montgeroult warns the pianist not to indulge in senseless passagework or excessive speed but to remain within the boundaries of the character of the piece. As a model for tasteful appoggiaturas she presents Zingarelli's aria "Cara negli occhi tuoi" arranged for piano: the left hand plays a simple orchestral accompaniment, while the right hand plays the vocal part.

Four different varied versions are given for the vocal part, which, she wrote, had been written out by Luigi Marchesi, "the most famous singer because of the skill and variety of his taste." (44) Example 1 shows the first part of this exercise.


These four versions appear to have been adapted to the piano and supplied with fingerings. The style is unmistakably Italian but not excessively ornamental, partly because they are intended for an advanced beginning piano student, but also no doubt partly because of Montgeroult's aversion to excess. The four versions do not appear to have separate characters or functions: sometimes the first is more difficult, sometimes the second, third, or fourth. Syncopated passages are often used, as in measure 7 of the top melody. The contour of the original melodies is not kept in the variations: the original part is mostly built around a second-inversion triad, whereas the variations stretch over a much greater range. Yet the variations do not stray wildly from the original melody; the phrases almost always end on the same note, and many begin on the same note as well.

Marchesi supplied cadenzas at only one point: at the end of the B section before returning to the [A.sup.1] section of the [ABA.sup.1] aria, although there are many other rests with fermatas where one would expect a singer from the period to improvise. In the cadenza the versions are distinctly different. One cannot help thinking that only the top one might have been written by Marchesi; the others seem much more pianistic (ex. 2).


What makes Montgeroult's exercise different from other transcriptions of vocal music is that they are intended to teach a student the proper way of embellishing a melody. More than merely imitating a singer, they imbue the pianist with a singer's ability to phrase, breathe, and be expressive. The student is then expected to apply this technique to instrumentally conceived music. The exercise illustrates a way of transferring vocal techniques to the piano that is similar to the types of variations Chopin used to embellish melodies.

It seems that this manner of imitating bel canto singing on the piano took place earlier than is generally thought. Jonathan Bellman writes, in his article "Chopin and the Cantabile Style," that "the concept [of a vocal ideal in instrumental music] is evident as far back as Telemann, but it doesn't seem ever to have been particularly prevalent among pianists." Bellman mentions "John Field's essays in singing style, his Nocturnes, ... but," he says, "too often [the Nocturnes] become mechanical and dependent on keyboard configurations." (45) John Field's first Nocturnes were published in St. Petersburg in 1812 and in Leipzig in 1814. These works were not published in Paris before 1820 and were probably unknown in Paris until such pianists as Liszt and Chopin promoted them. It is therefore more likely that Field was influenced by a vocally inspired piano style he encountered during his visit to Paris in 1802 than that his Nocturnes had any impact on pianists such as Montgeroult.

A more vocal style can be seen to develop between 1800 and 1810 in Montgeroult's own compositions. Example 3a shows part of the opening theme of the slow movement of her Sonata for Piano with Violin ad libitum, op. 2, no. 3 (1800); when the same theme returns in the reprise, she writes changes in the left hand, as well as some added ornaments in the right hand (ex. 3b). This is a rather conventional, classical type of variation.


In contrast, when one compares the opening theme of the slow movement of Op. 5, No. 1 (1810) (ex. 4a)with its return (ex. 4b), the left-hand accompaniment is unchanged, while the right hand adds not merely ornamental figures but also expressive figures in a more vocal, romantic style.


After laying the groundwork for piano technique in the first volume, the second and third volumes of the Cours complet contain 114 more etudes, each preceded by a discussion of its main purpose (a relatively new procedure). More than one-third of these focus on cantabile playing, not only in slow movements, as would be typical in the classical style, but in fast movements as well. In spite of the more traditional assertion, in the introduction to volume 1, that "genres should not be mixed," the introduction to Etude no. 91 in volume 3 states that "All fast pieces ... are easier when played detache, and they seem more brilliant to the average amateur. However, connaisseurs know that fast legato [playing] does more justice to the style and all the effects of good music, even though it is much more difficult." (46)

Many etudes show a piano texture that uses three levels of sound: long sustained bass notes (often in octaves), batteries (a term that can apply to quick repeated notes as well as to arpeggiated figures and Alberti basses) or other continuous accompanimental figures, and cantabile melodies. This texture is the basis for most of Chopin's Nocturnes and for much piano music of the romantic period; the double accompaniment makes the melodic line sound more sustained. Montgeroult's etudes nos. 26 and 38 in volume 2 (exx. 5 and 6) are examples of this texture.


In the observations preceding etude no. 26, the author instructs the student to play with an extreme legato touch and refers to a chapter in volume 1 that is devoted to the development of independence of the fingers in order to play a singing line and accompanying figures in the same hand. (47) The top line has to be played expressively and louder than the batteries. The observations to No. 38 begin with philosophical reflections on the acquisition of real expressivity by mechanical means and end with the application of the earlier described tempo rubato: the left hand should be steady while the right-hand melody can anticipate or delay the beat. Again, holding the lowest notes in the left hand creates a three-layered texture and helps the right hand to create a more sustained effect. This texture was described later more fully by Charles de Beriot in his method, Mecanisme et style:
   The different melodic or harmonic parts [i.e., voices] are each placed on a
   different level, depending on their greater or lesser importance. On the
   first level: the melodic design, to whichever voice it belongs. On the
   second level: the bass notes, which form the harmonic basis. On the third
   level: the parts that consist of chordal or accompanimental figures, like a
   type of lace that always allows the main voice to come through.

   Sometimes it occurs that different parts, of unequal importance, are
   written in the same hand; this is a difficulty one must overcome. (48)

The metronome markings given for Montgeroult's etudes, both marked Andante, are rather fast; even though con moto and con un poco di moto are added, they sound a bit too fast when played on the piano. One has to keep in mind, though, that the tone of the French piano of the period (such as the Erard piano that Montgeroult owned; see below) had a faster decay than that of a modern piano, even though it was able to sustain sound longer than most contemporary Viennese pianos and square pianos, still widely used at that time. Etude no. 38 would, at the given speed, have produced indeed a beautiful singing tone.

Etude no. 110, pour chanter d'un style large (ex. 7), is another example of Montgeroult's capacity to make the piano sing. In the observation preceding this etude, she again encourages the piano student to overcome the apparent limitation of the piano, its incapacity to sustain sounds. "In simple, prolonged phrases, a pure style, the grandeur of appoggiaturas, and rhythmic independence of the singing hand from the accompanying hand ... [as well as] the illusions of the art are needed to produce the same effect as a voice or string instrument." She adds that not all the appoggiaturas and other expressive nuances are written in the music; "some are inspired by the moment, since they tend to change according to the fashion of the day." This is relevant information for pianists today, who tend to shy away too often from improvised embellishments in music of this type. (I suppose that is the fashion of our day?) According to Montgeroult, "the appoggiaturas should match the style of the piece," and they should possess two qualities: "the legato ornaments should unfold without haste, and they should only be inspired by the need to fill the space between notes on the piano, which cannot sustain sounds." Finally, she says that "the left hand should stay strictly in time no matter how much the right hand changes [the beat] owing to the expression of the melody and the development of the added appoggiaturas; the batterie in the bass should be as legato as possible, and almost always piano." (49) She must have had fairly big hands, because it is not easy to play the left hand strictly legato (and the key width of the pianos of the period was not much smaller), unless one would use a slightly raised and flexible wrist, such as one would need for the right hand in Chopin's Etude op. 10, no. 1.


Etude no. 113 also focuses on the application of tempo rubato and on the addition of "appoggiaturas". In some ways, this etude is more difficult because of the slower tempo, but Montgeroult leaves no choices here:
   Although one should not write out appoggiaturas in a classic work, which,
   since they are merely gestures, change and age just like the fashion that
   creates them, I nevertheless thought it useful to give one sole example of
   the proper way to add some appoggiaturas to a piece in the grand style, and
   to choose not those ornaments which have an air of novelty, which may not
   last, but those which are sanctioned by time and good taste.... The only
   way to really perform them with the freedom that makes them graceful is to
   use ... tempo rubato. The necessity to assign [rhythmic] value to the notes
   robs appoggiaturas of their elegance, when one plays them with the exact
   rhythm in which they are written. (50)

Example 8 shows the first ornamented version of the opening theme. Even though Montgeroult refers to her ornaments as time-tested and in good taste, some of them sound to us rather modern for the time. Presumably, she means that they derive from the Italian vocal school, which had already applied such ornaments for a long time. This etude uses "appoggiaturas" in Montgeroult's sense of the term along with more traditional turns and trills.


Montgeroult dealt with the pedal reluctantly; only the very last etude is devoted to it. She believed that it can get in the way of nuances that should be produced by the fingers alone, and that it is often used either too much or not at all, leading to dry and colorless playing. According to her, it should only be used for special effects, in crescendos, or in music of a pathetic character. (51) Yet it is hard to believe that she used it sparingly, looking at the music she wrote (see exx. 5, 6, and 7) and knowing how much it was used by her former teacher Dussek. Friedrich Kalkbrenner, discussing the pedal, wrote in his Methode in 1830 that "Dussek, especially, was remarkable ... for he kept the dampers almost constantly lifted when he played." (52) Dussek was probably the first pianist who used a syncopated way of pedaling, whereby the pedal is lifted and lowered after the next harmony has been played. This results in a more continuous and seamless sound and must have greatly contributed to his famous "singing tone." Chaulieu, who was a piano student at the Conservatoire at the beginning of the nineteenth century, wrote that Dussek moved the pedal up and down constantly while playing. (53)

Example 9 shows the beginning of the etude devoted to the damper pedal, and it is clear that Montgeroult uses it to increase the general sound level rather than to connect notes or add to the sustaining power of the instrument. In measures 4-6 it is supposed to enhance the crescendo, but the effect must have been rather muddy. It is difficult to see whether this rather old-fashioned use of the pedal was a result of the mechanics of her own piano, a prejudice against the use of pedals (still associated with battle pieces, Turkish music, and other program music of the time), or a real conviction that pianos sounded better when legato is produced by holding the key down only. Obviously, her approach is didactic; she disapproved of the way her contemporaries abused the pedal. We may be reminded here of Madame Brillon, described by Charles Burney on his 1770 trip to Paris: when she played on her piano for Burney, he could not convince her to play without raised dampers. She said, "C'est sec," but he found that, except in arpeggios, nothing was distinct this way. (54) It may not be surprising, then, that the damper-raising pedal became a popular means in France to sustain sound and, as such, was often severely abused.


Finally, Montgeroult's method needs to be understood in relation to the changes in the construction of the piano between 1800 and 1820. The interaction between performers, composers, and builders generally works in all three directions: builders respond to demands made by performers, while composers and performers are inspired by new possibilities on an instrument. Montgeroult's use of "illusion" indicates that her preconceived notions of piano sound prevailed over her actual perceptions, and it is therefore probably more correct to say that the piano builder Sebastien Erard tried to satisfy the demands made by pianists such as Dussek and Montgeroult than that these pianists reacted to the new sounds on Erard's piano. We know that Erard delivered "a piano in the form of a harpsichord with six octaves, no. 89," to Montgeroult on 15 July 1802. (55) (As a reference, Beethoven's piano, built in 1803, was registered under no. 133.) (56) The registers of the firm of Sebastien and Jean-Baptiste Erard show that they started to make the first French grand pianos (as opposed to square pianos) in 1796, with an action similar to the ones made by Broadwood. (57) Montgeroult's instrument would most likely have had an action with single escapement; the double-escapement action, Erard's most famous invention, was not available until 1821. Her instrument would have had three strings for each note but would not have had an agraffe yet, invented by Erard in 1808. Normally, the piano would be equipped with four pedals (damper pedal, moderator, jeu de luth, and una corda), although Montgeroult might have declined all but the first. This type of instrument was designed to be more sonorous than the square piano. Adam wrote in 1804 that the range of the piano was extended to five and a half or six octaves "because this made it possible to imitate the high notes of the piccolo and the violin," but Montgeroult preferred not to make use of the added notes, saying that "the good effects that [the piano] can produce are enclosed in five octaves. (58) The music of Mozart, Clementi, Beethoven, Dussek, and the beautiful etudes of Cramer prove this." (59) In all of Montgeroult's works, she used notes from the extended upper range only once: in the last movement of the Sonata in F Minor, op. 5, no. 2 ([g.sup.4] and [a.sup.4]), which means that the notes were available to her but that she chose not to use them.

In spite of some old-fashioned traits, such as restriction to a five-octave range, and a certain reluctance to promote the use of the pedal, the piano idiom emerging in Montgeroult's etudes clearly belongs to a new age. Its main characteristic is a singing line with a vocal type of rubato and ornamentation, sustained by batteries and long bass notes. Montgeroult combined the application of vocal techniques with the legato school of piano playing of Clementi, Dussek, and Cramer, emphasizing the increased capacity of the piano to sustain its sound (or an illusion to this effect). The dramatic lyricism of violinists such as Viotti and his students Baillot, Rode, and Kreutzer, as well as the expressive power of the Italian singers of the time, was clearly influential on Montgeroult's concept of piano technique. But it was the pianist Dussek, famous for his "singing tone," who convinced his audience that a piano can "sing" and explored the various ways of transferring the illusion of producing sustained sounds on the piano. This ideal is mentioned by Montgeroult on almost every page of her method.

As we saw earlier, Montgeroult made a connection between rubato and the illusion of sustained sound in the introduction of her method. In addition, Montgeroult's piano technique included a less rounded, more flattened hand position and flexible wrist, such as Chopin advocated. (60) Consequently, Montgeroult's method indicates that features of a romantic piano style developed in Paris before the arrival in Paris of the great virtuosos Moscheles, Thalberg, Liszt, and Chopin. Other contemporary French composers reflected this style in their piano compositions as well, such as Montgeroult's students Louis Pradere, Marie Bigot, and Ferdinand Herold.

Montgeroult's Legacy

To evaluate the position of Montgeroult's method among her contemporaries, it becomes important to establish more precisely when she wrote it: the method was published in 1820, but there are indications that it was written much earlier. Her friend Louis Tremont suggests that she started to write it as a favor to him: he would teach her English if she would give him piano lessons. He asked her to compose etudes for him and offered to give her feedback on their effectiveness. According to him, she wrote the whole method without the intention of publishing it. Only in 1812 would she have consented to make any of it public. (61) Tremont is not an altogether trustworthy source, for he gives many wrong dates and what seem like rather self-serving interpretations of events in her life. But his statements are corroborated by the tone of the method: it is filled with high-minded theories on art and music, and it seems directed toward an older student with a more intellectual approach.

In any case, it would take a considerable amount of time to write a work of this magnitude: evidently, the author must have begun working on the method long before 1820. Although it is impossible to determine exactly when she started to write the method, it is likely that the first volume was written shortly after Adam's Methode (1804), and that the etudes and observations in the second and third volumes were written over the course of the next ten years, between 1805 and 1815. The preface was probably written shortly before she published the complete work.

As mentioned before, Moscheles wrote in 1821 a complimentary remark in his diary about Montgeroult's Cours complet. The work is mentioned in passing in the Methode des methodes by Fetis and Moscheles (1840); discussing the importance of acquiring independence and equal strength in all fingers, they write: "Clementi, Dussek, Wolf, and Mme. de Montgeroult were convinced that the best exercise to achieve this [i.e., equal strength in all fingers] is to play long trills with all the fingers." (62)

Although she is not mentioned among the main authors whose methods form the basis of this work, the fact that she is included in the sentence quoted above implies a matter-of-fact familiarity with her and her work. The pianist Antoine Marmontel, who taught at the Conservatoire from 1848, wrote that he had learned to play the piano using Montgeroult's method during the late 1820s, but that her theory of "the art of singing well on the piano", still made good sense and was not outdated, even fifty years later. (63) However, the most telling evidence of Montgeroult's legacy is found in Sigismund Thalberg's preface to his work L'Art du chant applique au piano, a didactic collection of piano transcriptions of famous vocal works from circa 1853. It starts as follows:
   The art of singing well, a famous woman has said, is the same for every
   instrument to which it is applied. In fact, one should not make concessions
   or sacrifices to the particular mechanism of each instrument; it is up to
   the interpreter to adapt this mechanism to the demands of the art. Because
   the piano cannot, rationally speaking, reproduce the beautiful art of
   singing in its most perfect quality, that is to say, the ability to prolong
   its sounds, one should by means of skill and art overcome this imperfection
   and not only learn to produce the illusion of sustained and prolonged
   sounds but also that of breathed sounds. [The right] sentiment makes one
   ingenious, and the need to express that which one feels can create
   resources which escape the mechanic [i.e., one who looks at the piano from
   a mechanical point of view]. (64)

A glance at the beginning of Montgeroult's preface, quoted before, will show that she is undoubtedly the "famous woman" to whom Thalberg refers. He evidently knew her piano method well enough to quote it practically verbatim and to present her ideas as the guiding spirit of his own approach to piano technique. In the next paragraph he emphasizes the importance of the melody over harmony, which suggests that the ideas of Montgeroult, passed on to Thalberg, originated in the old controversy between Rameau and Rousseau concerning the supremacy of harmony versus melody.

Thalberg presents eleven rules to help the young pianist master the "art of singing well." He sometimes uses phrases that are similar to Montgeroult's, for instance, in rule no. 2, where keys should be felt rather than struck in gentle songs. (65) What is equally interesting, though, is what Thalberg does not quote from Montgeroult's preface: in his preface he also refers to "illusion" but sails around the question of how to realize this. He does not refer to the use of rubato and in fact warns against it in rule no. 5: "It will be indispensable to avoid, in performance, that ridiculous and tasteless manner of delaying with exaggeration the striking of the notes of the singing line long after those of the bass, and to produce thus ... the effect of continuous syncopation." (66)

This implies that a manner of using rubato had developed that, under the hands of lesser musicians than Montgeroult and Dussek, had deteriorated into a sloppy mannerism whereby left and right hand played almost in syncopated rhythms throughout a piece of music. Thalberg does advise the use of the two pedals (sustaining and una corda) as an aid in producing sustained sounds. He studied with Hummel in Vienna as well as with Kalkbrenner in Paris, and was famous for his refined singing style and grand virtuosity. Thalberg was born in 1812 and became Liszt's main rival--preferred by, among others, Mendelssohn and Fetis because of his greater refinement, lyricism, and control.

Fetis wrote a lavishly admiring entry on Thalberg in his Biographie universelle des musiciens (first edition, 1835-44). He claims that Thalberg was the pianist who fully integrated the brilliant school of pianists, formed by Clementi and his pupils, with the school of the pianistes harmonistes, such as Mozart and Beethoven. Fetis said that even if some pianists (Hummel and Moscheles) followed both schools, the two styles remained separate in their music; only Thalberg was able to fully integrate both styles. As demonstrated above, Montgeroult started this process by promoting a singing style not only in slow movements but in fast ones as well.

Adelaide de Place devotes one paragraph (and a few shorter references) to Montgeroult's work in a 1991 article about the first French piano methods, written in 1991:
   H. de Montgeroult takes up the theories of J. L. Adam again and adds her
   own very personal concepts about the touch of the pianoforte, based on her
   perfect knowledge of the defects and strengths of the instrument. For her,
   certain imperfections of the hammer action force the performer to acquire a
   real sense of illusion [!] in music.... Another question dealt with by
   Montgeroult is taste in music.... Like Chopin, she chooses her good models
   among Italian singers. (67)

It is true that the Montgeroult seems to take Adam's method as her starting point in the first volume; although she does not include fundamental music theory and the layout of the keyboard, she does begin her method by teaching the correct position of the body and the hand and the basic principles of fingering. She also addresses the student consistently in the third person, as Adam does. At the same time, there are differences from the start: Adam begins directly with scales, while Montgeroult begins with a chapter with exercises in a five-finger position, saying that one should develop the independence of the fingers before practicing scales. Secondly, she devotes a whole chapter (no. 6) to arpeggios, while Adam practically ignores them as a separate technical problem. This, together with Montgeroult's teaching of a more flattened hand position and less emphasis on articulation, is indicative of a later piano style. More importantly, de Place completely ignores the greater emphasis Montgeroult places on the singing style on the piano and the expressive use of rubato.

Helene de Montgeroult's contribution to the emerging romantic piano style of her time may have been more influential in the private salons than at the Paris Conservatoire, where Louis Adam set the standard, but she was well recognized by her contemporaries. She fought the increasingly mechanical approach to the instrument by making an expressive cantabile style the main voice of the piano, not only in slow movements or free-form genres, but in all types of compositions. This new direction can be seen to develop in her own works between 1800 and 1810; more research needs to be done in this area to analyze the extent of this change more precisely. Adam hints at the beginning of this new style of playing, which could easily deteriorate into an irritating mannerism; Thalberg voices a similar reservation fifty years later. But the "illusion" of sustaining the sound on the piano took hold, and in the hands of the best pianists the use of rubato helped to realize its power. Although her method all but disappeared, many of the techniques Montgeroult used can be found in later piano methods: they certainly are central to the music and teaching of Field, Herz, Thalberg, and especially Chopin.

(1.) Jean Mongredien, French Music from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, 1789-1830, trans. Sylvain Fremaux (PortlandOR: Amadeus Press, 1996), 227. Pierre-Jean Garat was a popular French singer of the time who performed primarily in salon concerts

(2.) Journal de l'Empire review of a concert by Dussek, given on 20 March 1810 at the Theatre Italien. Quoted in Mongredien, French Music, 234.

(3.) Reichardt's comments on the orchestra of the Rue de Clery: "I must repeat what I already said seventeen years ago after the excellent performance by the Concert des Amateurs: Haydn should come to Paris to hear how perfect his symphonies are. Nowhere else could he hear them this way" (J. F. Reichardt, Vertraute Briefe aus Paris, geschrieben ... 1802-3 [Hamburg, 1804], quoted in Mongredien, French Music, 221-22).

(4.) She was appointed Professeur de premiere classe on 22 November 1795, receiving a salary of 2,500 livres. Constant Pierre, Le Conservatoire National de Musique et de Declamation (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1900), 129.

(5.) Charles Timbrell, French Pianism: A Historical Perspective (Portland OR: Amadeus Press, 1999), 47-48.

(6.) Isser Woloch, The New Regime; Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820s (New York: Norton, 1994), describes how education was kept segregated under the Convention and under Napoleon. In 1813 a certain Madame Juin was forced to oust all the boys from her private primary school because the school was managed by a woman, even though she had hired a male teacher for them (214). Moreover, since 1793 the government's official policy excluded women from politics and public service. See The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, ed. Lynn Hunt (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 135-39.

(7.) This undocumented story was first put forward by Eugene Gauthier in Un Musicien en vacances: Etudes et souvenirs (Paris: Leduc, 1873), and quoted by many other authors, including Remo Giazotto, who quoted the story in his biography Giovan Battista Viotti (Milan: Edizioni Curci, 1956). According to Antoine-Francois Marmontel, Montgeroult spent this period in Germany, as described in Marmontel's Les Pianistes celebres (Paris: Heugel, 1888), 264-65. Gustave Vallat credits the violinist Alexandre Boucher with her release from prison in his book Etudes d'histoire, de moeurs et d'art musical sur la fin du XVIIIe siecle et la premiere moitie du XIXe siecle: D'apres des documents inedits (Paris: Maison Quantin, 1890), 84-85. For more details regarding the events in Montgeroult's life during the Revolution, see Anne-Noelle Bailly-Bouton, "La Vie et l'oeuvre d'Helene de Montgeroult," master's thesis (Paris: Sorbonne, 1993), 25-36, or Calvert Johnson, "Helene Montgeroult," Women of Note Quarterly 1, no. 1 (May 1993): 19-21. Many thanks to Calvert Johnson for sending a copy of Bailly-Bouton's thesis.

(8.) Robert Palmer, The Twelve Who Ruled (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941), 335.

(9.) Pierre, Conservatoire Nationale, 88-89.

(10.) Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 30-31.

(11.) The competition took place on 6 November 1795 and consisted of sight-reading compositions in front of a jury consisting of nine musicians. Pierre, Conservatoire Nationale, 12.

(12.) Pierre, Conservatoire Nationale, 134.

(13.) Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 25.

(14.) Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 29, 121.

(15.) C. Moscheles, ed. Recent Music and Musicians, trans, A. D. Coleridge (New York: Holt, 1873), 27.

(16.) Other works dedicated to Montgeroult include Johann David Hermann, Concerto for Pianoforte or Harpsichord, op. 2 (1786); Louis-Emmanuel Jadi, two volumes each of Trois Sonates pour forte-piano, avec accompagnement de violon ad libitum (1795); Julie Candeille, Une grande Sonate pour le forte-piano, op. 5 (t 798); and J. B. Cramer, Dulce et utile: Six Pieces for forte-piano, op. 55 (1816).

(17.) Louis Tremont wrote: "Toute la direction du talent de Madame de Montgeroult etait portee vers l'expression et l'art de chanter. Elle s'etait faire une etude particuliere de phraser comme les grands chanteurs d'Italie; Marchesi, Crescentini, & a." ("Madame de Montgeroult's talent was wholly directed toward expression and the art of singing. She made a particular study of phrasing in the manner of the great Italian singers Marchesi, Crescentini, etc.") (Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 122). All translations are by the author unless otherwise noted.

(18.) Concerto No. 1 in Et, Major (1786) is a transcription of Viotti's Violin Concerto No. 6 in E Major. Concerto No. 2 in B [flat] Major (1787) is a transcription of Viotti Concerto No. to in the same key. Bailly-Bouton also includes in her catalog of Montgeroult's compositions the Concerto No. 3 in A Major for harpsichord with violin obligato (1788), a transcription of Viotti's Concerto No. 9 in the same key (Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 47-48). Montgeroult's versions do not always literally copy Viotti's themes but tend to be more ornamented.

(19.) "C'est elle qui tantot invente et conduit la melodie, et dont la verve, maitrisant celle de Viotti, l'entraine irresistiblement. Tantot le genie de Viotti, s'elevant a son tour, commande Euterpe de le suivre et de l'accompagner par ses accords. La partie principale et celle de l'accompagnement passent ainsi successivement de l'un a l'autre, sans que ce changement ait jamais rien de brusque, de vide ou de languissant. On ne s'apercoit meme que par la variete d'effets qui nait de la difference et des moyens particuliers qui tiennent a la nature des deux instruments. Est-ce la meme ame qui les anime, le meme Dieu qui les inspire? Oui, car c'est le meme sentiment" (Ange-Marie d'Eymar, Anecdotes sur Viotti, precedes de quelques reflexions sur l'expression en musique [Geneva: Imprimerie de Luc Sestie, 1801], 47).

(20.) The development section of the first movement of the Piano Sonata in F Minor, op. 5, no. 2, is a good example: starting in Al [flat] major, the relative major key, it moves through A [flat] minor, F minor, F# minor, E minor, G minor, D minor, and back to F minor.

(21.) For example, in the Piece, op. 3, 220 of the total 402 measures consist of driving syncopated passages

(22.) Jean-Fracois Tapray wrote, in the preface to his Premiers elements du clavecin ou du piano, op. 25 (Paris: Bonjour, 1789), "No masters have yet produced a method that saves all the others the trouble of writing out for each student the elements of music and exercises for their advancements." J. P. Milchmeyer, on the other hand, wrote in the preface of his Die wahre Art da[beta] Pianoforte zu spielen (Dresden: Meinhold, 1797): "[My intention is to show how one can] learn to play the pianoforte, with all its modifications [use of pedals], and according to current tastes, without a teacher" (1).

(23.) Louis Adam, Methode de piano du Conservatoire (1804). Chapter 6 is entitled "De la maniere de toucher le piano et d'en tirer le son" (On piano touch and how to draw sound from it). Here he writes that one should never play a note that is not expressive, after the manner of great singers (149).

(24.) Adam, Methode, 23.

(25.) "Chaque instrument a son expression qui lui est particulier et qui tient la nature du son qu'il produit--si le forte piano a des sons moins soutenus que les autres instruments, ila sur eux l'avantage de puvoir faire entendre plusieurs parties ensemble et de donner en quelque sorte une idle de l'orchestre" (Meysenberg, Nouvelle methode, 106-7).

(26.) The improvements made to the piano were principally concerned with two things: the ease and responsiveness of the action, and the ability to sustain sound with greater volume. Whereas Viennese pianos were judged primarily on the basis of the first quality, the English pianos fulfilled the second requirement. Since Paris was situated in some respects between these two piano centers, piano builders such as Erard tried to combine both qualities in his instruments: his "double escapement" improved the ease of repetition dramatically. He experimented with improved actions for many years before his "double escapement" was patented in 1821; on 20 October 1810 Dussek performed on a new Erard piano with improved repetition with huge success. Therefore, it depended on the background and predilection of the pianist which improvement caught his attention: pianists from Vienna with a tendency for fast virtuoso playing preferred a light action, while pianists such as Dussek who were concerned with sustained, singing sounds preferred English-type instruments. Erard tried to combine both qualities and eventually succeeded. Montgeroult was apparently the first to order one of Erard's grand pianos in 1802.

(27.) "Les nombreuses observations que nous avons faites sur le mode d'enseignement du Piano, et sur le genre d'execution qui en resulte, nous ont demontre que ce mode etait vicieux.... Si la voix ou si les instruments a archet suivaient la methode qui dirige ordinairement l'execution des chants sur le piano, il est incontestable que l'effet en serait tres choquant: l'art de bien chanter est le meme quelque instrument qu'on l'applique; il ne doit pas faire de concessions et de sacrifices au meanisme particulier de son interprete; c'est donc cet interprete qui doit plier son mecanisme aux volontes de l'art." "Ici l'illusion doit venir au secours de la realite Comme le Piano ne peut imiter le bel art du chant dans ce qu'il a de plus parfait, c'est a dire dans la faculte de prolonger les sons, il faut s'emparer d'une des imperfections qui lui sont propres ... la necessite de couper les phrases par la respiration; dans la bonne ecole d'Italie, elle est soumise a une methode si precise, que presque tous les chanteurs ... respirent aux memes intervalles dans la phrase musicale. La respiration prend un temps plus ou moins long dans chaque mesure, cependant l'orchestre exact dans sa marche suit rigoureusement la mesure; mais le chanteur developpe librement le cours de la phrase, et ce n'est qu'a la fin, qu'il doit se retrouver en mesure avec l'orchestre. En appliquant ce procede au Piano, on trouvera que la main droite qui joue la partie du chant peut-ere comparee au chanteur et la main gauche a l'orchestre qui accompagne.... Il est necessaire de changer le doigte [du main droite ... de maniere que la main se deplace entierement apres chaque note sur laquelle un chanteur eut pris sa respiration" (Helene de Montgeroult, Cours complet pour l'enseignement du forte-piano [Paris: Janet et Cotelle, 1820], vol. 1, Introduction, p. i). The "illusion" Montgeroult applies is reminiscent of Beethoven's use of dynamic markings such as a crescendo on a held note: for example, at the beginning of the development section of the first movement of his Sonata op. 110, where cresc, is written in measure 39, just after the last D [flat] in the right hand.

(28.) "Tantot il presse fortement la note apres qu'elle a ete touchee afin d'en prolonger le vibration, ne la frappant que dans des cas tres rares" (Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, Introduction, p. ii).

(29.) "La Syncope est une figure, ou valeur, dont l'expression semble refusee a un instrument qui, comme le Forte-Piano, ne peut soutenir les sons, puisqu'elle n'est en effet qu'une prolongation du son, obtenue par l'archet dans les instrumens a cordes, et par les levres dans les instrumens a vent. Le Piano doit donc suppleer par l'artifice du jeu a ce qui lui manque de moyens mecaniques, et appeler l'illusion la place de la realite.... Dans la premiere partie le doigt pose sur la touche, et penetre progressivement dans son enfoncement pendant la moitie de la valeur de la note syncopee.... Dans le milieu le doigt aura deja touche et presse la touche, mais son plus grand degre de pression sera sur ... la derniere moitie de la note syncopee, laquelle devient la premiere moitie du tems fort qui suit, et doit etre la plus fortement sentie." (The syncope is a figure, or [rhythmic?] value, the expression of which would seem to be denied to an instrument that, as is the case with the fortepiano, cannot sustain sounds, because it [i.e., the syncope] is in fact nothing but a prolongation of sound, obtained by bowing on string instruments and by the lips on wind instruments. During the first part [of the syncopated note] the finger rests on the key and progressively depresses it

during half the value of the syncopated note.... At the middle point, the finger should already have touched and depressed the key, but its greatest degree of pressure will be on ... the last half of the syncopated note, which becomes the first part of the strong beat that follows, and should be felt the most strongly.) Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, chapter 13, 190.

(30.) Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin: Pianist and Teacher, as Seen by His Pupils, trans. Naomi Shohet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 4.

(31.) Kalkbrenner was a student of Louis Adam, who still believed that all movement must be restricted to the fingers. Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Methode pour apprendre le piano a l'aide du guide-mains, op. 108 (Paris: Meissonier, 1831).

(32.) "La main qui sera legerement arrondie, mais point bombee comme dans la vieille methode" (Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, Introduction, p. vii).

(33.) Pier Francesco Tosi, Observations on the Florid Song (Bologna, 1723; trans. J. E. Galliard, 1742), 156: "The stealing of time in the pathetic is an honorable theft in one that sings better than others, provided he makes a restitution with ingenuity." Note added by Galliard: "[Tosi speaks of rubato] ... when the bass goes an exactly regular pace, the other part retards or anticipates in a singular manner for the sake of expression, but after that returns to its exactness, to be guided by the bass." C. P. E. Bach, Versuch uber die Wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, part 1 (1759), trans. William Mitchell (New York: Norton, 1949), 161. Wolfgang Mozart, in a letter to his father, 23 October 1777: "They cannot understand how I keep the left hand independent in the tempo rubato of an adagio, for with them the left hand always follows the right" (Hans Mermann, ed., Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, trans. M. M. Bozman (New York: Dover Publications, 1972.).

(34.) "Quelques personnes ont voulu mettre en vogue de ne plus jouer en mesure, et d'executer toute espece de musique comme une fantaisie, prelude ou caprice. On croit par la donner plus d'expression a un morceau et on l'altere de maniere a le rendre meconnoissable. Sans doute l'expression exige qu'on ralentisse ou qu'on presse certaines notes de chant, mais seulement dans quelques endroits ou l'expression d'un chant langoureux ou la passion d'un chant agite exigent un retard ou un mouvement plus anime Dans ce cas c'est le chant qu'il faut alterer, et la basse doit marquer strictement la mesure" (Adam, Methode, 16).

(35.) "Le double charactere de l'accompagnement et de la melodi exige de chaque main un effet rhythmique different.... Ce cas ... exige non seulement des mains parfaitement independantes l'une de l'autre, mais ... une ame differente dans chacune d'elles. C'est ainsi que Dussek repandait une teinte vaporeuse et melancolique sur certaines periodes en laissant chanter la main droite d'une maniere vague et nonchalante, tandis que la gauche executait des batteries rigoureusement en mesure. J'ignore pourquoi cette maniere de phraser, rant pronee naguere, est tombee maintenant dans l'oubli" (Henri Herz, Methode complete de piano, op. 100 [Paris: Meissonnier, 1831], 20).

(36.) Jean Millet, La belle methode ou l'art de bien chanter (Lyon: Jean Gregoire, 1666); Benigne de Bacilly, Remarques curieuses sur l'art de bien chanter (Paris, 1668).

(37.) "Tous nos doigtes sont calculus de maniere a corriger les plus grands defauts de l'instrument: le martelle, la secheresse, l'exiguite du son ... en doigtant de maniere a soutenir ensemble le plus tongtems qu'on le pourra les notes formant une harmonie reguliere, ou seulement agreable a l'oreille, afin d'augmenter par la reunion de plusieurs vibrations le volume de son du Piano" (Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, Introduction, p. vii).

(38.) "Quand les notes les plus hautes peuvent former un chant dans les endroits ou il y a une liaison, et que les notes qui accompagnent ce chant peuvent former un accord, on peut tenir alors les notes sous les doigts, tant que ce meme accord peut durer" (When the highest notes can form a melody with a slur, and when if the notes that accompany this melody can form a chord, one can hold the keys down under the hand, as long as the same chord continues). In the left hand: "Si la main gauche fait des accords arpeges et il y a une liaison, il faut l'executer comme ci apres" (If the left hand plays arpeggiated chords and there is a slur, they should be executed as follows," followed by example) (Adam, Methode, 151-52).

(39.) "[L'eleve] ne touche jamais une note sur le Piano sans qu'elle ne lui dise quelque chose; c'est en imitant, autant que possible, les diverses inflexions de la voix, le plus riche et le plus touchant de tous" (One should never play a note that does not say anything ... imitating, as much as possible, the different infections of the voice, the richest and most moving of all [instruments]) (Adam, Methode, 149).

(40.) Bach wrote: "As a means of learning the essentials of good performance it is advisable to listen to accomplished musicians.... Above all, lose no opportunity to hear artistic singing. In so doing, the keyboardist will learn to think in terms of song.... A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience ... he must make certain that he assumes the emotion which the composer intended in writing [the piece].... Those who maintain that all of this can be accomplished without gesture will retract their words when ... they find themselves obliged to sit like a statue before their instrument" (C. P. E. Bach, Versuch uber die Wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, part 1 [1759], trans. William Mitchell [New York: Norton, 1949], 152, n. 13). Charles Burney described Bach's performing manner at the clavichord: "He grew so animated and possessed, that he not only played, but looked like one inspired. His eyes were fixed, his under lip fell, and drops of effervescence distilled from his countenance" (C. H. Glover, ed. Dr. Charles Burney's Continental Travels, 1770-1772 [London: Blackie, 19Z7], 239). Others warned pianists not to grimace when trying to be expressive, such as Dussek and Pleyel (Instructions on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte [London: Corri, 1796]) and Sebastien Meysenberg (Nouvelle methode pour le piano forte [Paris: Meysenberg, 1818]).

(41.) Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, chapter 14, "Exercises sur les notes coulees et detachees, afin de varieer l'execution des traits," 200.

(42.) Adam, Methode, 15; Montgeroult, Cours complet 1:20.

(43.) "Ou ornaments qu'on introduit dans un chant pour en augmenter l'effet, et surtout pour remplir dans des morceux tres lents la lancune produite par la brevete du son de l'instruments. Ces appoggiatures doivent toujour participer du caractere de la musique a laquelle on les joint" (Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, Introduction, p. ii).

(44.) "Marchesi est le chanteur le plus celebre pour l'entendue et la variete de son gout" (Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, chapter 17, 234).

(45.) Jonathan Bellman, "Chopin and the Cantabile Style," Historical Performance 2, no. 2 (fall 1989): 63.

(46.) "Le bon sens consiste a ne pas confondre les expressions, les genres, et les styles divers" (Good sense consists of not confusing the expressions, the genres, and the different styles) (Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol 1, Introduction, p. ii). "Tous les morceaux d'un mouvement rapide.... S'executent plus aisement lorsqu'on les joue detache, et leur execution ensemble mime plus brilliante au vulgaire des amateurs; mais les vrais connaisseurs savent que si le jeu rapide et lie est beaucoup plus difficile, il est aussi bien preferable pour faire valoir le style et tous les effets de la bonne musique" (Montgeroult, Cours complet 3:95).

(47.) Montgeroult, Cours complet, vol. 1, chapter 10, "Exercices de notes tendues pour l'independance des doigts," 152.

(48.) "Le role plus ou moins important des differents parties melodiques ou harmoniques assigne a chacune le plan qu'elle doit occuper. Au premier plan, le dessin melodique, a quelque partie qu'il appartienne. Au deuxieme plan, les notes de basse formant l'assise harmonique. Au troisieme plan, on releguera les parties formant le noyau des accords ou les dessins d'accompagnement, sorte de guipures dont la legerete doit toujours permettre au chant de transparaitre.... Dans la repartition des differents plans, il arrive quelquefois que plusieurs paties, d'inegale importance, se trouvent dans une seule main; c'est une difficulte a vaincre" (Charles de Beriot, Mecanisme et style: Le Vade-mecum du pianiste [Paris: Hamelle, 1889], part 2, p. 16).

(49.) "C'est dans des phrases simples et prolongees, que la purete du style, la largeur des Appogiatures, l'independance ou doit etre la main qui chante de la main qui accompagne ... que les illusions de l'art sont indispensables pour produire l'effet de la voix, ou d'un instrument a archet." "Nous n'avons pas note tous les Appogiatures, ... parceque le terns fait vieillir les tournures qui sont plus que le chant sujettes a l'empire de la mode." "Les ornemens composes de sons lies s'ecouleront sans hate, et seront inspires seulement par le besoin de remplir le vide que laisse sur le Piano la trop longue duree d'un son qui ne peut pas etre soutenu." "L'exacte mesure de la main gauche doit etre rigoureusement maintenue, quelque alteration que causent dns la droite l'expression du chant et le developpement des Appogiatures qu'on y introduit. La batterie de la basse sera jouee aussi liee que possible, et presque toujours Piano" (Montgeroult, Cours complet 3: 182-83.

(50.) "Quoique l'on du s'interdire dans un ouvrage classique l'emploi des Appogiatures, qui, n'etant que des tournures, varient et vieillissent comme la mode qui les a crees, nous avons cependant juge qu'il serait utile de donner un seul example de la maniere de placer avec sobriete quelques Appogiatures a un morceau d'un style large, et dans le choix de ces ornemens nous avons prefere a ceux qui ont la fleur de la nouveaute, et dont la duree n'est pas certaine, ceux que le tems et le bon gout ont consacres. Le seul moyen de leur conserver dans l'execution cette liberte qui en fait la grace, est d'employer ... IL TEMPO ROBATO. La necessite de donner aux notes une valeur pour les faire entrer dans la mesure, enleverait aux Appoggiatures toute leur elegance, si on les jouait exactement dans les proportions ou elles sont ecrites" (Montgeroult, Cours complet 3: 204).

(51.) "Il est fort common de ne trouve chez les artistes qui font un abus de l'usage des pedales qu'un jeu sec et tout d'une couleur, lorsqu'il se privent de ce moyen. L'eleve ne devra donc se le permettre ... que dans ls cas tres rares ou l'on veut obtenir un effet frappant et inattendu ... ou bien lorsqu'apres avoir presse et pour ainsi dire exprime tout le son de la touche dans un crescendo; ... ou enfin dans la musique pathetique" (Montgeroult, Cours complet 3: 210).

(52.) Kalkbrenner, Methode, 10.

(53.) C. Chaulieu, "Des pedales du piano," Le Pianiste 9 (Paris, 1833-34): 131-32.

(54.) Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1773; reprint, ed. Percy A. Scholes, London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 19-20.

(55.) Listed in the registers of the firm Erard. Anne-Noelle [Bailly-]Bouton and Florence Gretreau, "Un Portrait presume d'Helene de Montgeroult dans l'ancienne collection d'A. P. Mirimonde," in Musique, images et instruments, vol. 1 (Paris: Klincksieck, 1995), 71.

(56.) Christo Lelie, Van Piano tot Forte (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Lyra, 1995), 212.

(57.) Rosemary Harding, The Piano-Forte, rev. ed. (Old Woking UK: Gresham Books, 1978), 78.

(58.) Adam, Methode, 7.

(59.) Henri Tremont, Notice inedit, quoted in Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 121.

(60.) Chopin instructed students to find the right hand position by placing the thumb and little finger on white keys, the others on black ones, for example, on E-F [sharp]-G [sharp]-A [sharp]-B. The result is a more flattened position than when all fingers are placed on adjacent white keys. Eigeldinger, Chopin, 194.

(61.) Tremont, Notice inedit, quoted in Bailly-Bouton, Montgeroult, 121.

(62.) "Clementi, Dussek, Wolf, et Mme de Montgeroult etaient persuades que le meilleur exercic pour arriver a ce but est de faire de long trilles avec tous les doigts" (Fetis and Moscheles, Methode de methodes [1840], 10).

(63.) Marmontel, Pianistes celebres, 267-68.

(64.) "L'art de bien chanter, a dit une femme celebre, est le meme a quelque instrument qu'il s'applique. En effet, on ne doit faire ni concessions, ni sacrifices au mecanisme particulier de chaque instrument; c'est a l'interprete de plier ce mecanisme aux volontes de l'art. Comme le piano ne peut, rationellement parlant, rendre le bel art du chant dans ce qu'il a de plus parfait, c'est a dire la faculte de prolonger les sons, il faut a force d'adresse et d'art detruire cette imperfection, et arriver non-seulement a produire l'illusion des sons soutenus et prolonges, mais encore celle des sons enfles. Le sentiment rend ingenieux, et le besoin d'exprimer ce que l'on eprouve sait creer des ressources qui echappent au mecanicien" (Sigismund Thalberg, L'Art du chant applique au piano, op. 70 [Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel, ca. 1860], 2). German translation next to French text.

(65.) "Dans des chants simples, doux et gracieux, ... les touches ... doivent etre plutot SENTIES que FRAPPEES" (Thalberg, L'Art du chant, 2); both Thalberg and Montgeroult capitalize these words.

(66.) "Il sera indispensable d'eviter, dans l'execution, cette maniere ridicule et de mauvais gout de retarder avec exageration le frappement des notes de chant longtemps apres celles de basse, et de produire ainsi ... des effets de syncopes continues" (Thalberg, L'Art du chant, 3).

(67.) Adelaide de Place, "Les premiers methodes de Piano-Forte," in Le Musique du theorique au politique, ed. Hugues Dufourt and Joel-Marie Fauquet (Paris: Aux Amateurs de Livres, 1991), 122-23.

This article is an extended version of a paper that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society at Toronto on 4 November 2000. The author, who was prevented from attending the meeting, wishes to extend her gratitude to Professor Stanley Boorman of New York University, who graciously offered to present the paper at the meeting and gave invaluable comments and suggestions

Maria Rose, a native of the Netherlands, studied piano in the Netherlands, London, and the United States. She specializes in historical instruments and has given numerous recitals and lectures on historical performance practice. She has performed at early music festivals in Antwerp, Berlin, Utrecht, Sopron, and Boston and has collaborated with ensembles such as the Festetics String Quartet (Budapest) and the Gamerith Consort (Vienna). She has recorded on the fortepiano works by Haydn (complete piano trios), Mozart (complete sonatas), Beethoven, Hummel, Field, and Clementi for Musical Heritage Society and Newport Classic/Sony. Presently, Ms. Rose is completing a Ph.D. in musicology at New York University, writing a dissertation on French piano styles, 1780-1820.
COPYRIGHT 2001 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rose, Maria
Publication:Women & Music
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Previous Article:Baakisimba: constructing gender of the Baganda (of Uganda) through music and dance.
Next Article:"Eve ... blowing in our ears"? Toward a history of music scholarship on women in the twentieth century.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters