#34 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #1 child prodigies, the terz guitar

From Wikipedia,

“Catharina Josepha Pratten (15 November 1824* – 1895) was a German guitar virtuoso, composer and teacher, also known as Madame Sidney Pratten.  She was born Catharina Josepha Pelzer in Mülheim on the 15 November 1824, the daughter of the German guitarist and music teacher Ferdinand Pelzer.  On 24 September 1854, she married the flautist Robert Sidney Pratten.”

* many other sources said Pratten’s birth year was 1821

The internet is so great because there are new resources being made available every day. One such resources are old books that are digitized. I am referring to my friend Daniel Nistico again, as I learned about this short and sweet book from 1899 – Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten by Frank Mott Harrison – from his website. Daniel has provided highlights of the book on his site. I would like to do the same, and hopefully I am not repeat too much of what he has already mentioned. Of course, the best way to learn about Madame Sidney Pratten is to read this book yourself.


I have always wondered what kind of a childhood did famous music prodigies have – Mozart, Clara Schumann, Edward and Leonard Leonard Schulz, Giulio Regondi, and of course, Madame Sidney Pratten (coincidentally, Leonard Schulz, Regondi and Pratten were all based in London?!). I can’t speak for sure if all of these musicians had a rough childhood, but Clara had “an unyielding father“, Friedrich Wieck (who was teacher of Clara’s future husband Robert Schumann), and Regondi’s self-proclaomed father treated him harshly after learning about the kid’s musical talent. Pratten had probably received rigorous training as well. But she had a strong mind:



What can be more adorable than the image of two “little” virtuosi, with angelic look (Regondi) and locks (Pratten), playing guitar duets on a table (some say a piano top, could that be a different concert?)?

It made a lot of sense that Pratten played a terz guitar – a 19th century guitar with shorter scale and tuned to G, and mostly featured in chamber music. Today (or even back in the 19th century), one can put a capo on the third fret of the guitar to mimic a terz guitar (see details of terz guitar at earlyromanticguitar.com and Tecla).

Many questions here:

  • terz guitar was used a lot in guitar duets – the terz guitar usually plays the first part, and the standard guitar the second. Did Regondi played a standard guitar while Pratten played a terz guitar? I have never heard any accounts of Regondi performing on a terz guitar. And from the picture below, Regondi’s guitar didn’t seem to be too big?
Giulio Regondi at the Royal Adelphi Theatre in London in 1831
  • Perhaps both Pratten and Regondi were playing terz guitars? If so, the guitars would be in the same tuning, and that would open up a lot more options for their repertoire (although they probably could learn music very fast…)
  • Unrelated to Pratten – from the Regondi picture – was he reading music that is placed on the floor?! It might be seen as unprofessional today, but that’s acceptable (perhaps, cute) for a child, especially for a prodigy? Moreover, using a music stand might just completely block the audience’s view.
  • (there are a lot more questions about Regondi I would like to discuss. See here)
  • To echo an earlier point – many guitar duets were written for terz/standard guitars – it makes perfect sense then that Pratten and Regondi played the terz guitar, as they both played duets with their fathers.
  • It was mentioned that Pratten performed Giuliani’s Third Concerto – a concerto for terz guitar. So lucky that the great Giuliani wrote a terz guitar concerto, and it happened that your daughter could play it? I have flipped through issues of the Giulianiad in the Special Collections of the Sibley Music Library, and faintly remember there were much praise on Giuliani’s third concerto. Is it trying to perpetuate Giuliani’s legacy and prasing the concerto? Or was it really trying to praise the little Pratten? And the editors of the Giulianiad were believed to be… Ferdinand Pelzer (Pratten’s dad), Leonard Schulz (who also performed Giuliani’s third concerto), and Felix Horetzky (a student of Giuliani). I should go re-read the Giulianiad to find more clues…


And now, a few questions regarding Madame Pratten’s harmony lessons:

  • Often times, I find students (music majors) uninterested in learning figured bass (maybe I sensed it wrong and they actually loved it?). Is it because it doesn’t matter to most of them, since they do not play a chordal instrument?
  • “matter-of-fact’ solutions” – was the instruction not good? There are multiple ways to realize the same figures and a complete bass line, no?
  • Was figured bass included in Pratten’s training, because that was part of a “complete” music education for a “music major”? Or did she learn it because she was a guitarist?
  • Has the curriculum and students’ attitude toward the curriculum not changed since 1830s?

Concluding chapter 1 of the book, the author wrote:


It’s a pity the author decided more detail s of Madame Pratten’s childhood would be boring… I want to know more! Perhaps that’s why this book is so great, short and concise. Just like the guitar solo of Little Wing?

(Continue to Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #2)

2 thoughts on “#34 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #1 child prodigies, the terz guitar

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