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Learn about the French pianist-educator, Charles Hanon, and his works & life.

Charles-Louis Hanon: Overview 

  • Born: July 2, 1819 - Renescure, France
  • Died: March 19, 1900 - Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
  • Historical Period: Romantic

Charles Hanon

As a piano teacher and composer, Charles-Louis Hanon lived a long life, during which he wrote a number of works. Born in 1819, Hanon is perhaps most famous for his The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises. It’s still in use at piano lessons, despite several criticisms surfacing over the years. He passed away in 1900. 

Charles-Louis Hanon: The Bedrock of Piano Teaching

Hailing from a rural area in France, Hanon learned the Organ early from a local master. At the age of 27, he moved to his brother François’ place in Boulogne-sur-Mer. François was also a man of musical artistry. Apart from his life as a musician, Hanon was also a religious man. He embraced Roman Catholicism, held a membership in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, along with being a Third Order Franciscan. An 1869 article revealed that he was also associated with “Les Frères Ignorantins”, a monastic order, which was established in the 17th century. Its primary purpose was to provide free academic instructions to poor children. 

Charles Hanon’s Le Pianiste virtuose or The Virtuoso Pianist was published in 1873. It consists of a collection of sixty exercises. These were composed to instruct a pianist in the skills of agility, speed, precision, combined with finger strength and wrist flexibility. This is Hanon's most identifiable and revered work, even though the effectiveness of such nineteenth-century and archaic exercises, are frequently questioned by experts today. 

Although many accept Hanon’s virtuosity as real and valuable, there are many who question the independent finger technique utilized in the exercises. In fact, there are some pedagogues who believe The Virtuoso Pianist to be outright misleading. One of the most glaring criticisms has been that students only get to practice on the physical aspects and miss out on precious hours of musical practice. This allegedly creates a mechanistic attitude, and experts say that this method of practice deteriorates musical talents. 

Further arguments state that the efficaciousness of music and technique practiced together is greater than what Hanon had stated. Music is supposed to precede physical techniques, and musical flow should drive the latter. Hanon has also written other instructional pieces, which were about 50 in number, in addition to the Méthode Élémentaire de Piano and 50 Ecclesiastical Chants.

Today, many music schools stage a Hanon Marathon, paying respect to the legacy of the composer. The Church Street School for Music and Art was the first to do so, and it has since become a tradition. One may also remember Charles Nunzio, who composed Hanon for The Accordion, an exercise set comprised of two separate volumes. A guitar and bass version of Hanon has also been written in 2013. 

Charles Hanon may not have had an extremely prolific career like Bach or a prodigious one like Beethoven. But, he did, however, write a piece which has inspired and set the benchmark for piano instruction for generations. Even though heavily criticized today by a segment of critics, his contribution to musical teaching is undeniable. 

 

Reference Links: 

Free piano exercise sheets by Charles Hanon at Galaxy Music Notes: