The Ferdinand Ries Society

Ferdinand Ries, 3 Sonaten für Klavier und Violine, 1817, Nikolaus Simrock gewidmet, op.38For much of the twentieth century the composer Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was known primarily as Beethoven’s friend and biographer. During his lifetime, however, he was renowned as a virtuoso pianist and composer throughout the whole of Europe and it is as such that he has become increasingly esteemed by the music world in recent years.

This is evidenced by the many CDs that have recently been made of Ries’s symphonies, oratorios and chamber music. Indeed, Ferdinand Ries left a copious oeuvre comprising as many as 186 compositions with opus numbers and approximately 100 without opus numbers in all of the genres common at that time (with the exception of church music). The great historical significance of this oeuvre, which dates from the transitional period between Viennese Classicism and Romanticism, is today on the verge of rediscovery.

Ferdinand Ries was born into a well-known family of musicians in Bonn, all of whom were active in the court orchestra of the Elector of Cologne in Bonn. His father, Franz Anton Ries, had taught Beethoven the violin, and so Ferdinand had known the latter well since his youth. In 1801 he left Bonn for Vienna, where he became not only Beethoven’s pupil but also his “private secretary”, his copyist and an interpreter of his piano works. It was out of this close collaboration that their lifelong friendship was to grow.

The most important milestone in Ferdinand Ries’s career was London, where he took up residence in 1813 (after previous stays in Paris, Saint Petersburg and Stockholm) and where he soon made a name for himself as a pianist and composer. In 1814 he married Harriet Mangeon, a well-to-do young London woman. Johann Peter Salomon, his father’s erstwhile violin teacher and now the doyen of the London concert scene, introduced him into this city’s world of music. In 1815 he was appointed director of the London Philharmonic Society, of which Salomon had been one of the founders, and in this capacity commissioned Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in 1817.

In 1824 Ries left London with his family and settled in Bad Godesberg, on the Rhine near Bonn. In 1827 he moved from there to Frankfurt , where he worked as a freelance composer. Between 1825 and 1837 he directed the Lower Rhenish Music Festival eight times, alternating  between Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), Düsseldorf and Cologne. Ries composed several overtures and his two oratorios for this music festival.

In 1837, in collaboration with Franz Gerhard Wegeler, an old friend of the Ries family and a  friend of Beethoven’s since his youth, Ferdinand Ries wrote his “Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven”, a significant and reliable collection of memories of his friend and teacher. It was published in Koblenz in 1838, just a few months after his death.

Ferdinand Ries died in Frankfurt on 13th January 1838 at the age of 53.

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Lorenz Janscha, Johann Ziegler: Ansicht des Theaters und Redoutensaales zu Godesberg, kolorierter Kupferstich 1729, markiert: Ferdinand Ries Geburtshaus
Ferdinand Ries around 1820, Oil/Lwd., Beethoven-House Bonn