About this Recording
GP656 - CRAMER, J.B.: Air Anglo-Calédonien Varié / Piano Sonatas, Op. 25, No. 2 and Op. 27, No. 1 / La Gigue (Napoli)
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Johann Baptist Cramer (1771–1858)
Piano Sonatas


The musical activities of the Cramer family span centuries. Johann Baptist Cramer, the most distinguished of them, was born in Mannheim in 1771. His grandfather, Jakob Cramer, a native of Silesia, had settled in Mannheim, where he was employed as a drummer, then as a violinist and copyist for the court orchestra. His elder son, another Johann Baptist, followed in similar occupations, with the latter’s sons Franz-Seraph and Gerhard Cramer, also finding employment as court drummers, now in Munich, where the Electoral court had moved in 1788. Jakob Cramer’s eldest son, Wilhelm Cramer, was born in Mannheim in 1746 and became a pupil of Johann Stamitz, creator of the famous Mannheim orchestra, of Domenico Basconi and later of Stamitz’s successor, Christian Cannabich. He became a violinist in the Mannheim Court Orchestra from the age of ten. Wilhelm Cramer soon won wider distinction as a violinist and composer, travelling in the Netherlands and in Germany, before a longer stay in Paris, where he had gone in the entourage of Duke Christian IV of Pfalz-Zweibrücken, who did his best to entice him away from Mannheim. In Paris Wilhelm Cramer married a French singer and harpist, Angélique Canavas and in 1772 he travelled to England, securing further leave from Mannheim. In London he took part in the concerts organized by Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel and established himself as a violin virtuoso, orchestra leader and composer, finally securing release from his obligations in Mannheim through the intercession of the English Queen Charlotte. On the death from small pox of his wife, he married an Irish singer, Mary Maddan. In the later years of his life he still continued to appear as a violinist, with a visit to Amsterdam as late as 1791, and he played a leading part in the concerts over which Haydn presided during his visits to England in the 1790s. Wilhelm Cramer died in 1799.

Johann Baptist Cramer, who was to establish a formidable reputation as a pianist, was the son of Wilhelm Cramer and the latter’s first wife, with whom he moved to London at the age of three. He made his first appearance as an infant prodigy at the age of ten and three years later, in 1784, joined Muzio Clementi, briefly his teacher, in a sonata for two pianos. Cramer’s early lessons had been with his father, and then with Johann Schroeter, whose widow was to provide solace for Haydn during the latter’s visits to London in the 1790s. Johann Baptist’s other teachers included Carl Friedrich Abel, and, for counterpoint, lessons based on the writings of Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg and Johann Philipp Kirnberger. In 1788 Cramer embarked on his first European tour, which took him to Paris and to Berlin, while in London he made his name as one of the leading pianists of the day and as a successful teacher. A further European tour in 1799 took him to Vienna, where he became a friend of Beethoven, admiring the latter’s powers of improvisation and exciting the respect of Beethoven for his own abilities as a player. Cramer was in Vienna again during a journey from 1816 to 1818, admired in particular for his sensitivity and command of a singing tone on the keyboard, creating a style of playing that had a strong influence on the next generation of pianists. Further journeys took him in 1835 to Munich and Vienna, and he spent several years in Paris, before his final return in 1848 to London, where he died in 1858. His long life and career had taken him from the age of Mozart to that of Liszt, with whom he played duets in 1841. As a composer he had been prolific, and he had also been involved in music publishing and in the sale of pianos, his name continuing its commercial connection in London well into the twentieth century.

Cramer’s An Anglo-Caledonian Air, with Variations for the Piano-forte was announced in London in The Monthly Magazine of August 1812, dedicated to Miss Baillie of Grosvenor Street, presumably the poet and playwright Joanna Baillie. The Monthly Magazine announces the Air and Variations in appreciative terms: Mr Cramer has produced, in the present emanation of his genius, an exercise for the piano-forte, from which the juvenile practitioner will derive much pleasure as well as profit. The general style of the music of these pages is florid, free, and playful; the most is made of the theme, which, if not strikingly sweet, is considerably attractive, and the aggregate effect is worthy the long-acknowledged talents of the composer. Marmontel’s French edition of the work, in 1817, also makes much of the educational benefits to be derived from a study of the work. The Introduction ends with a flourish, followed by the D major theme, the da capo repetitions of which are preserved in the nine variations, the fifth in the tonic minor and the seventh an Andante espressivo, with a cadenza leading to the coda.

The Sonata in D major, Op. 25, No. 2, the second of a set of three, dedicated to the Baronne de Kloest, née Jacobi, dates from about 1801, at a time when Freiherr von Kloest was Prussian ambassador in London. The first movement, marked Allegro spiritoso and in 6/8, is in clear sonata form, with a cheerful dotted first subject duly leading to a related second theme, in the dominant key of A major. The exposition is duly repeated. and the central development goes on to explore various keys, before the first theme returns in recapitulation. The gently lilting second movement, marked Andantino con moto, is in G major, with a central excursion into E minor. It is followed by a final Rondo quasi presto, a movement of greater dash and ebullience, marked by the use of acciaccature, the crush-notes with which the finale begins and ends.

La Gigue is the third of a set of three sonatas from 1807, the first two of which have additional parts for violin or flute. In G major, the sonata starts with a set of variations, leading to an E flat scherzo, with a contrasting trio section in B flat. The sonata ends with a movement that gives the work its name, a lively Gigue.

Cramer’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 27, No. 1 dates from 1802 and suggests a new world of music. It starts with an operatic slow introduction, Patetico e lento, followed by a dramatic Allegro, dominated by the dotted rhythm of its principal theme and containing virtuoso passage-work. The steady tread of the succeeding Andante con moto and its ominous theme is capped by a cheerful final Rondo, in a work that altogether anticipates something of Beethoven.

Keith Anderson

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