Do you follow me on Twitter? Then you are certainly aware of one of my most precious possessions – my tea mug. The one with the dots. It’s my official office tea mug, and let me tell you, it brightened up many a grey office day. Just like the classic music that I enjoy while I work at the computer. Yeah, I am a nerd, a computer nerd, a music nerd, a blogging nerd and a piano nerd. And I have the most beautiful tea mug ever. I recently bought a matching tea-pot, and once it’s full of delicious Indian tea, I am ready to confront any conceivable office disaster.
But let’s not talk about disasters here, let’s talk about Carl Czerny’s Quatuor Concertant, Op. 230, that recently saved me from despair when I struggled with an Excel sheet that had developed a life of its own. Czerny – that’s the guy who wrote all that piano training material. He was a student of Ludwig van Beethoven, he was a teacher for Franz Liszt, he wrote over 800 works and Robert Schumann despised him. “‘It would be hard to discover a greater bankruptcy in imagination than Czerny has proved”, he wrote in the music journal he founded, the “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik”. With all due respect to Schumann, this was the judgment of a young hothead, arrogant in his views and absolute in his verdicts, himself not exactly open to criticism from third parties.
It’s all about motivation
Czerny’s Op. 230 is a compilation of pieces popular at his time, a pot-pourri for four of his female students, arranged for four pianos. The piece has been recorded by the Baynov Piano Ensemble, and rarely has a piece of music made me smile so often (and distracted from that bedeviled Excel sheet). The piece was written in 1830 and has eleven sections:
2. Il Pirata, Act II: Aria (by V. Bellini)
3. La Muette de Portici, Act II: Barcarolle (by D. F. E. Auber)
4. La Muette de Portici, Act IV: Air and Cavatine (by D. F. E. Auber)
5. Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 7, III. Rondo (by N. Paganini)
6. La Muette de Portici, Act I: Aria (by D. F. E. Auber)
7. Aria (by V. Bellini)
8. Le petit Tambour (anonymous composer)
9. Othello, Act I: Duo (by G. Rossini)
10. La Muette de Portici, Act IV: Chorus (by D. F. E. Auber)
Being a piano student myself, I know that clever teachers need to be imaginative to bolster their students’ motivation to practice, and clever editors today sell popular classic, blues, jazz or rock pieces arranged for piano. Czerny was an old hand and knew this trick too. The four Viennese ladies certainly were eager operagoers. Bellini, Rossini and Auber were all the rage, and Czerny came up with a playlist to teach and entertain his students.
A pedagogical innovator
Czerny was not an innovator to composition, certainly not, but he was no dumbass either as Robert Schumann’s unjustified harsh judgment may suggest. He did not mean to be an avant-garde composer. His ambition was of another kind. Czerny saw himself as an heir to Beethoven and a custodian of Beethoven’s legacy. He sought to standardise piano teaching by writing a theoretical treatise and inventing exercises of different degrees of difficulty to train the hands for complex figures.
He strived to educate new generations of highly able pianists, pianists that could perform complex Baroque works as well as the compositions of the Viennese masters. If there hadn’t been amateur pianists able to perform Schumann’s works, he might well be forgotten by now. Czerny was an innovator to music pedagogy and as such he deserves the highest respect. Now raise your mugs please, here’s to Carl Czerny!
© Charles Thibo
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