In 1772, Wilhelm Cramer, a virtuoso violinist from Stuttgart in the Duchy of Württemberg, settled in London, becoming a leading figure in concert halls and in the Court of King George III. Soon afterwards, his infant son Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858) joined him in England.
BY 1784, thirteen-year-old Johann Baptist Cramer was such a naturally gifted pianist that Muzio Clementi, his distinguished teacher, performed a duet with him in public.* Four years later, Johann toured Europe, and again in 1799, attracting the notice of both Haydn and Beethoven, who declared him the finest pianist of the day.
Cramer returned to England in 1800, and settled down. London was very proud of him, calling him ‘Glorious John’, but he preferred private music-making to the stage, and made his living as a teacher, composer and publisher: it was John who handled the publication of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, and memorably nicknamed it ‘the Emperor’.*
Both Beethoven and Chopin used Cramer’s Eighty-Four Studies for the piano in teaching, and Schumann reckoned them the best of their kind; but his nine piano concertos and scores of sonatas, capriccios and variations have been sadly neglected, chiefly because his forward-looking harmonies and passage-work are often obscured by his nostalgic fondness for Bach and Mozart.
* See our post Muzio Clementi. Clementi was apparently highly influential, though he had Cramer for only a year before Clementi’s own international career called him away. Other teachers in London included Carl Friedrich Abel, J. D. Benser, and Johann Samuel Schroeter.
* See Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major at YouTube (Murray Perahia and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields).
* Cramer was born in Mannheim on February 24th, 1771, and died at home in Kensington, London, on April 16th, 1858. His younger brother Franz, a violinist like their father, was appointed Master of the King’s Musick in 1837, remaining in the post until his death in 1848.
Sonata for Two Pianofortes Op. 24
Much of JB Cramer’s later music was written for the popular market, and consequently dismissed as unserious on the near Continent. It was, however, an astute choice for a music publisher, and this Duet shows that his compositions, though tuneful and Mozartian, were far from trivial. It is performed here by Joo-Hye Lee and Sangyoun Lee.