FERDINAND RIES (1784-1838)
Dr David C F Wright
I adore the music of Ferdinand Ries.
His life was full of interest and the
relationship between Ries and Beethoven
was an interesting one.
The recent BBC television programme
entitled Eroica, which was said to document
the events leading up to and including
the premiere of the Eroica Symphony,
was inaccurate and absurd. It also portrayed
Ries as a rather stupid adolescent being
constantly barked at by Beethoven.
The relationship between any master
and pupil is difficult and, in my capacity
as a psychologist, it reveals much of
the character of these two men. The
television programme overlooked facts
such as Ries's deformity - he having
lost an eye through smallpox as a child.
But there is so much rubbish written
about the Eroica that for the BBC to
add further to this misinformation was
unfortunate. People have called it the
French Revolution Symphony. Others have
said that Beethoven was attracted to
Napoleon in an unnatural way thus suggesting
that Beethoven was homosexual which
he was not. Carl Czerny opined that
the symphony was written in honour of
the English general Abercombie. Other
sources state that it is all about the
death of Admiral Nelson hence that magnificent
Even today there are people who promulgate
stories about composers and their works
which are accepted as facts and therefore
distort the truth.
Ries had a musical father in Franz
Anton Ries who was born in Bonn on 10
November 1755 and taught his son to
play the piano and the violin. Young
Ries studied the cello with Romberg.
Franz was the leader of the Bonn electoral
court orchestra until 1794 and was a
friend of Beethoven and of the German
violinist and impresario Johann Peter
Salomon who also played in the Bonn
Court Orchestra before settling in London
in 1786. Franz died in Berlin on 1 November
1846, eight years after his son.
Franz had another musical son, Hubert,
who was born in Bonn in 1802 while Ferdinand
was studying with Beethoven. Hubert
studied with Spohr and became a court
musician and the director of the local
Philharmonic Society from 1835. He specialised
in violin music and wrote a tutor and
at least two violin concertos. He died
in Berlin in 1866.
Ferdinand went to Munich in 1801 to
study with Winter but he was poor and
became an itinerant music copyist and
was paid a miserable amount per page.
But he was a prudent young man and saved
what he could often by going without
food. He went to Vienna in October 1801
with a letter of introduction from his
father to Beethoven and the older man
received him gladly. Recognising the
young man's abject poverty Beethoven
helped Ries financially and in many
other ways without being asked and Beethoven
never asked for repayment. These magnanimous
gifts were never bestowed as a business
transaction, or a loan with interest.
It was simply Beethoven's kind-heartedness.
While most sources state was Ries was
with Beethoven from 1801 to 1805 , by
1804, it appears that Beethoven could
teach him no more and sent him to Albrechtsberger
who, sadly, is another one of those
fine early composer who are now almost
forgotten. Johann Georg Albrechtsberger
was born at Klosterneuberg near Vienna
in 1736 and therefore 34 years older
than Beethoven. He became an organist
in the Viennese Court and at the cathedral.
He wrote excellent text books for their
time and much music and clearly inspired
Mozart who took Albrechtsberger's Adagio
and fugues as the model for his own.
Albrechtsberger died in his home town
in 1809. The grounding in composition
which he gave to Ries was invaluable.
Beethoven remained kind and acquired
a post for Ries as a pianist in the
Court and as pianist to Count Brown
the Russian charge d'affairs and, then
to Count Lichnowsky.
Then politics interfered. Ries as a
citizen of Bonn was subject to conscription
in the French army and was summoned
to Paris in 1805. It is said that he
made this journey mainly on foot some
650 miles as the crow flies perhaps
a little further than the distance from
Land's End to John o'Groats. After all
that exertion, he was turned down because
he only had one eye.
For the next two years Ries lived in
misery in decadent Paris. In August
1808 he returned to Vienna and received
an offer to be the kappellmeister to
Jerome Bonaparte, the King of Westphalia.
He accepted. Beethoven was furious apparently
wanting the position for himself and
feeling gazumped. As a result he would
have nothing to do with Ries and made
damaging comments about him. He would
not acknowledge him or say any kind
about him. Later when Ries was earning
respect as a composer Beethoven said,
"His compositions imitate me too much!"
Sadly that is the general attitude
today. I have heard well-meaning musicians
refer to Ries's six symphonies as Beethoven's
symphonies numbers 10 to 15 which is
grossly unfair. As previously said there
is a lot of rubbish written about composers
and their music and others perpetuate
it by repetition. For example, Michael
Kennedy writes that Salieri was hostile
to Mozart and there is the other apocryphal
story that Salieri poisoned Mozart.
This has done Salieri 's reputation
no good and, while I adore much Mozart,
Salieri is a finer composer and far
more original. The facts are that Leopold
Mozart wanted his son to have the positions
which Salieri attained because he was
more experienced and a better musician.
This infuriated Leopold and in the Mozart
household Salieri was always verbally
Circumstances intervened again. In
May 1809 Vienna was occupied by the
French. Ries was a French subject but
there was hostility which he found distressing.
He wanted a changed and so over the
next six years or so he toured Europe
and Scandinavia as a pianist. He went
to Hamburg and on to Stockholm in September
1810. He was very successful and gradually
made money and established his reputation.
Despite Beethoven's hostility he played
the music of Beethoven, amongst others,
on his tours.
Ries had his eyes set on Russia wanting
to perform there and enjoy the culture
but the destruction of Moscow in 1812
dashed his hopes of going there. Wanting
to broaden his horizons he went to England
arriving there at the end of April 1813
where he met up with Salomon whom his
father knew well . At a Philharmonic
Society concert on 14 March 1814 he
performed in one of his sextets.
Where Ries scores over Beethoven was
in some original ideas. for example
in his Sextet in B flat, Op.142, there
are parts for piano and also for harp.
His fortunes changed he found a very
attractive English lady and married
He stayed in London until 1824 mainly
working at composition and making money.
His farewell concert was on 8 April
1824. With his wife he moved to Godesburg
near Bonn and in 1826 they moved to
Frankfurt. He was in demand everywhere
. He directed the Lower Rhine Music
Festivals in 1825, shared these duties
with Spohr in 1826, with Klien in 1828,
and was sole director in 1829, 1830,
1832, 1834 and 1837.
In 1834 he was appointed conductor
and director of the local orchestra
and the director of the Singacadamie
In the last ten years of his life Ries
turned mainly to opera and oratorio.
Die Rauberbraut was premiered on 25
October 1828 and Liska (otherwise known
as The Sorceress) on 4 August 1831.
Two oratorios The Triumph of Faith and
The King of Israel were performed with
It is probably true to say that most
of his instrumental and orchestral work
was composed during his sojourn in London.
Altogether he composed six symphonies,
nine piano concertos, fourteen string
quartets, two sextets, a septet, an
octet, a quintet, three piano quartets,
five piano trios, twenty violin sonatas
and much more.
But the psychologist in me comes out
again. Beethoven had been dead for ten
years and had treated Ries very badly.
But Ries, along with Wegeler, wrote
Biographical Notes of Beethoven in 1837.
It more than suggests that Ries was
not a bitter or spiteful person.
Ries died in Frankfurt on 13 January
Is his music merely an imitation of
Many composers of that time wrote in
the same style and so their respective
music bears similarities. For example
some of the music of Haydn and Mozart
is very similar
In simple terms, Ries 's music is less
heavy than that of Beethoven and is
brighter and more cheerful. The Symphony
no. 1 in D, Op 23 is a marvellous starting
point. It is full of life. It sparkles.
It is very exciting and has stirring
horn parts which makes the blood rush.
The Symphony no. 2 in C minor is completely
different being somewhat dark and dramatic
and yet the drama is applied with a
small paint brush and not a trowel.
The violin sonatas are worthy and one
of the successful characteristics of
them is their forward motion. They do
not get bogged down with uneventful
episodes and academic ornamentation.
Dr David C F Wright
Copyright Dr David C F Wright 2003.
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