Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838): Beethoven's right hand man

Ferdinand Ries was a former pupil of Beethoven's who went on to become indispensable to the composer as his hearing worsened.

Ferdinand Ries

Son of the Bonn court musician Franz Ries, Ferdinand was taught piano as a child by Beethoven, who fostered and encouraged his talent.

In October 1801 Ferdinand Ries was sent by his father to Vienna, where Beethoven took him under his wing. In return Ries became indispensable to Ludwig, helping him with the practicalities of composition, dealing with publishers, finding Beethoven lodgings, and generally looking after him as his hearing declined.

It was Ries who found the lodgings for Beethoven in the Pasqualati Haus, where Beethoven stayed longer than anywhere else and which is today a Beethoven museum.

Beethoven generally took Ries's kindness for granted, often treating him unkindly and blaming him for problems which were not his fault. Ries never allowed it to sour the love and respect he had for Beethoven.

In 1805 Ries - as a German national - was ordered to return to Bonn to be conscripted into the French revolutionary army which had occupied Bonn and the Rhineland. But the smallpox which he had contracted as a child had resulted in the loss of an eye, and he failed the medical.

He returned briefly to Vienna in 1808-9, but then left the city for good. He settled in London in 1813, marrying an English woman, Harriet Mangeon.

On 3rd April 1816 he wrote to Ries: "... All my good wishes, my dear R, and my kindest regards to your dear wife and also to all those beautiful Englishwomen to whom my greetings may give pleasure ..."

A month later he wrote: "... My best greetings to your wife. Unfortunately I have no wife. I have found only one whom no doubt I shall never possess. Yet I am not on that account a woman-hater ..."

As a member of the Philharmonic Society of London Ries was tireless in his promotion of Beethoven's music, and was instrumental in securing him the commission for the new symphony which was to become the Ninth.

He left London in April 1824 after giving a farewell concert, and moved with his wife to Godesberg. He had accumulated considerable wealth from teaching and composition, but lost much of it when the London bank in which he had invested failed.

About 1830 he moved to Frankfurt and in 1834 to Aachen, where he was appointed head of the town orchestra and Singakademie. But the duties of office did not suit him and he returned to Frankfurt two years later.

He died after a short illness in January 1838, at the age of just fifty-three.

Ferdinand Ries was a fine pianist and prolific composer, leaving nearly 180 works, including symphonies, operas, oratorios, chamber music and solo piano pieces - none of which have remained in the repertory.

As one of Beethoven's closest associates, his views on the composer - collated in a book he published with Franz Wegeler in 1838 - are hugely reliable, indeed invaluable.