THÉODORE RITTER - PIANIST
Truly rare autographed 7.5” x 11” lithograph of the French pianist and composer by H. Imbert and printed by Lemercier Publisher et Cie. 1881. Ritter inscribes to his friend, the pianist and baritone Edmond Duvernoy, To my dear and old friend Edmond Duvernoy, Good affectionate memory of Th. Ritter, Monte Carlo, 1885.
Ritter (1840-1886) was raised in Nantes as Toussaint Prévost the third “son” of the conductor Eugène Prévost. In reality he was the illegitimate son of the wealthy Marseilles shipbuilder and amateur bassoonist Toussaint Bennet. Interestingly, Bennet quietly supported his son for a number of years and in December, 1854 took him to the Paris world premiere of Berlioz’s “L’Enfance du Christ”. An exchange of letters occurred and the young prodigy was brought before the composer who challenged him to write the piano reduction of his new work. Berlioz writes to the playwright Ernest Legouvé on January 18, 1855,
If you will allow me I will come one of these days to your place accompanied by an accompanist in order to do my best to calumny Faust. The accompanist is a child prodigy, called Ritter, who has the self-assurance of a very intelligent man, and whom I believe is destined to a great musical future. He has already written several piano pieces of very real merit and quite exceptional value. His father is M. Bennet from Cette, whose fortune allows him to steer his son right away from the muddy paths of productive music.
(HectorBerlioz.com, Berlioz and Marseilles, Friends and Acquaintances)
A year later the two Toussaints travelled to London with Berlioz to hear him conduct “Romeo et Juliette” which down the road Berlioz assigned to the younger Toussaint to write the piano reduction to that work as well. The young pianist was introduced to Franz Liszt in Paris who after hearing the young pianist perform gave him the stage name of Théodore Ritter. Berlioz wrote later in 1855 to his friend Auguste Morel,
Apart from the little Bennet - Théodore Ritter, a splendid child whose future I really believe in - and Camille Saint-Saëns, another real musician aged nineteen, and Gounod, who has just produced a very fine mass. I see only ephemera swarming above this stinking swamp called Paris….
(Berlioz, Volume Two, Servitude and Greatness, David Cairns, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989, p. 581)
The same year, Berlioz took Ritter to a Soiree, where it was expected that the composer would play some of his works. Instead Ritter performed at the piano a selection from
...you will find at dinner a really extraordinary young man called Ritter, who plays the piano in a way that makes mad with despair those who have not heard him, and who composes in a way that makes mad with joy those who have been able to hear his works. (Hector Berlioz, A Selection From His Letters, Humphrey Serle ed., Vienna House, NY, 1973, p. 148)
In 1857, Ritter decided he would not pursue the career of a concert pianist and instead he would become an operatic baritone. He sung at the Theatre Monnaie under the single name of Félix in Brussels for a short period of time.
While we are unsure how long he spent with Liszt after his diversion in Brussels, Ritter left Brussels to pursue the career of a concert pianist and went back to Liszt for a time to prepare for the next stage in his career. He was back in Paris in August 1859 and at Berlioz’s request was the accompanist in a preview for select guests of scenes from his opera “Les Troyens”. Berlioz raved about his performance there to several friends. Ritter began to take on students privately and his father stepped in with his money once again and founded the Beethoven Conservatoire in Paris where Ritter taught. In 1860, Bennet founded the Société des dermiers concerts de Beethoven and Ritter was a founding member. He toured throughout Europe with brilliant reviews. His father, Toussaint had made his fortune and often acted as his manager until his death in 1875 accompanied him on a concert tour through Germany and Austria in February, 1864.
One of the most interesting events in Ritters life as a pianist started with his acting as an accompanist from time to time for Carlotta Patti, Adelina’s older sister who was more of a concert singer than an opera singer. Her brother-in-law Maurice Strakosch the impresario arranged a farewell tour for her in North America with the possibility of South America for the years 1869 and 1870. Ritter and his father Toussaint Bennet, once again acting as his manager agreed to the tour with the understanding that he would be both her accompanist in recital and conductor with orchestra and also play recitals and concerts with orchestra in between the initial 5 arranged concerts/recitals. Toussaint would go to South America and arrange that part of the tour from Brasil. Very soon after their arrival, violinist Pablo Sarasate who was making his American debut was added to the program as a divertissment. Sarasate wrote a series of letters now in the possession of the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music to Amélie de Lassabathie in Paris. She and her husband Théodore had taken Sarasate in whilst he was studying at the Paris Conservatoire and had given him a home. He looked upon her as a second mother and he wrote to her frequently from the tour. It would seem from the endless letters Sarasate sent to her that the tour started well, but by the end, he was at war with the Ritter and his father as he was cheated by Toussaint of several thousands of dollars in performance fees. He goes into great detail and the letters in French have been translated and well worth reading. It would seem Ritter and his father made out very well on the tour.
Patti would send her nephew the pianist and pedagogue to study with Ritter in Paris. Ritter’s some of his other pupils, albeit private as he did not wish to be buckled down teaching at the Conservatoire included: James Gibbons Huneker, Hjalmar Meissner, Helena Munktel, Isidor Philipp, Samuel Sanford.
As a composer, ritter was well known for his well crafted salon pieces for solo piano, as well as a few attempts at opera. His most important work however were the piano reductions at Berlioz’s request of his “L’Enfance du Christ” and “Romeo et Juliette”. Berlioz instilled in him a love for the music of Gluck and he also edited the composer’s “Orphée et Euyridice”. For Saint-Saëns, he arranged the piano reduction of “Danse Macabre” and the incidental music to Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Ritter also championed his mentor Berlioz. After Liszt’s Weimar performances in the mid 1850’s, Berlioz did not have a champion in Germany. In 1875 whilst on a German concert and recital tour, the pianist met Felix Mottl and after their conversation, Mottl became the great champion of Berlioz in Germany. He was known to program his works in his concerts with regularity.
Ritter passed away on April 6, 1886, the day after his 46th birthday. His teacher Franz Liszt passed away 3 months later at the age of 75. Ritter is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Soprano Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi and pianist Maurice Ciampi were the niece and nephew of Théodore Ritter. Ciampi first studied with Ritter’s pupil, the Spanish pianist Marie Perez de Brambilla. Ritter’s wife the soprano Alice Desgranges was immortalized in artwork by Edgar Degas which is entitled “Music Hall Singer”.
Edmond Duvernoy (1844-1927) was a pianist and later Opera Comique comprimario baritone. He was a Professor of voice at the Paris Conservatoire for over 20 years, Aino Ackté was his most important pupil.
The original lithograph is quite well known and in a number of museum collections. Our example was framed and has mat markings as seen in our scan at the edges. There are a few fox marks, else fine.