November 28, 1784 - January 13, 1838
composed during the Romantic period
Ferdinand Ries came from a line of German musicians of the Rhine region who are traced back to Johann Ries (1723-1784), a trumpeter in Bonn. His first son, Franz Anton Ries (1755-1846), a child prodigy on violin who chose to remain in Bonn, was Beethoven's teacher, and lived long enough to be honored as such when he was ninety and attended the unveiling of the famous statue to Beethoven there.
Ferdinand Ries was Franz Anton's eldest son, who was also his first piano and violin teacher. At the age of five he was also sent to study cello with B.H. Romberg. The boy was so accomplished that he was slated for a job playing in the elector's orchestra. But in 1794 the electoral court was dissolved, and the position never materialized. Ferdinand continued to study with his father. In 1797 he went to Arnsberg for more violin study, found out he was better than his intended teacher, and stayed to give him lessons.
In 1801 he moved to Munich and studied for a short time with Peter von Winter. He also earned money as a music copyist. Working very hard and living frugally, he saved up enough to go to Vienna in October of the same year. Beethoven was glad to see the son of his old teacher, and took him on as a piano pupil and as a secretary and copyist. Beethoven referred him to Albrechtsberger as a composition teacher.
Beethoven also secured for him a job as pianist on the staff of Count Browne in Baden in 1802, and with Prince Lichnowsky in the summer of 1805.
In 1804 Ries made his debut as a pianist. Beethoven turned out to be a nervous teacher, worried about his pupil's success. He advised Ries to simplify a particular difficult passage, but Ries played it as written, and perfectly, much to Beethoven's delight.
As a citizen of Bonn, Ries in 1805 became subject to conscription into the French army. To avoid this, he moved to Koblenz. This is a rather strange turn of events, since he had lost the sight of one eye in childhood to a smallpox infection. When he was actually rejected for military service, he moved to Paris. He lived poorly there.
He moved back to Vienna in 1808, but he had a temporary breach with Beethoven due to a misunderstanding. In 1809, he went on an extended series of tours that lasted nearly four years in Northern Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia. The tour was quite lucrative, and by 1813 brought him to London. There he met the famous impresario J.P. Salomon (who was another teacher of his father's), who arranged his first appearance with the Philharmonic Concerts in March 1814. He remained in London for 11 years. His music was very popular there, and frequently appeared on concert and recital programs. In July 1814 he married Harriet Mangean, an English lady.
He was a prolific composer, but there is little originality in his music, charming as it often was. Beethoven rather tactlessly but with considerable accuracy commented, "He imitates me too much." Very little of it is played today.
Ries had earned enough to retire in 1824, and returned in the Rhineland, finally moving to Frankfurt am Main in 1827. Although he toured no more, he did accept a position as head of the orchestra there and conductor of the Singakademie of Aachen. He was a co-author of one of the most important early biographies of Beethoven. He also did much in establishing the Lower Rhine Music Festivals. ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi