Taught by Beethoven, teacher of generations

Carl Czerny wrote over a thousand pieces. © Charles Thibo
Carl Czerny wrote over a thousand pieces. © Charles Thibo

The apple never falls far from the tree. Carl Czerny studied with Ludwig van Beethoven and it shows. He has written one of those wonderful pieces that merit a larger audience than they usually get. Take his Concerto for two Pianos and Orchestra in C major, Op. 153. From the first bars you would be reminded of Beethoven’s signature, though you would probably be astonished that you can’t remember to have ever heard the melody.

Practice, practice, practice

Czerny was born in 1791 in Vienna and is best known today for the many pieces he has written for piano students: 100 Easy Studies (Op. 139), The School of Velocity (Op. 299) and The Art of Finger Dexterity (Op. 740). Czerny was a thorough and highly motivated piano teacher and one of the most important teachers of the 19th century. He believed in methodological learning, he believed in daily hour-long practice and he believed in playing from memory at concerts. Beethoven taught him between 1801 and 1802, and Czerny gained the reputation that he could play all the master’s piano solo works from memory.

The earl’s classical jukebox

This ability secured him a part-time job as a pianist: For some time, he would perform “on call” for Earl Karl von Lichnowsky, a patron of Mozart and Beethoven. The earl would pronounce the opus number of one of Beethoven’s works and Czerny would start to play. Despite his talent, Czerny never made an international career as a pianist or as a composer. His family had little money to support such ambitions and was not inclined to let him travel abroad or even across the Empire when he was young. At the same time, travel was difficult when Europe was torn apart by the Napoleonic Wars. And then there was another issue: His music was deemed intellectual, just like Beethoven’s, and not suited for an audience used to light distracting works or “brilliant, calculated charlatanism” as Czerny would call it.

Forgotten and resurrected

The quantity of Czerny’s outpost is awesome: symphonies, piano concertos, masses, chamber music, sonatas and as I already mentioned, a substantial number of piano exercises. Over 1000 works – and most of them are forgotten. The Concerto for two Pianos and Orchestra in C major, published around 1827, lay dormant for many, many years in the archives of the  Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde* in Vienna, but the Duo Tal-Groethuysen and the Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra have recorded this piece in 2013. It has brilliance and depth at the same time, it has lovely melodies and it is a wonderful tribute to the early Romantic era. You are not going to miss that, are you?

© Charles Thibo

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3 thoughts on “Taught by Beethoven, teacher of generations”

  1. What a pity he is only known today for his training pieces for piano. I played them too.
    By the way Charles can I email you? I would like to send you a draft to review on a German/Danish composer from the same period called Weyse.
    I find it difficult to write on music but I still give it a try

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