About this Recording
8.573417 - CZERNY, C.: Grand Piano Concerto / Grand Nocturne Brillant / Variations de Concert sur la Marche des Grecs (Tuck, English Chamber Orchestra, Bonynge)
English  German 

Carl Czerny (1791–1857)
Grand Concerto in A minor


Carl Czerny found fame and fortune in 19th-century Vienna by writing fashionable works for the masses alongside being ideally placed to further the development of technique for the newly emerging piano. Living in a city where piano teachers outnumbered doctors by over 3:1, he wrote prodigious volumes of studies which were soon placed on every piano, where they largely remain today. By 1828, Wilhelm Fink, writing in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, noted that alongside Rossini Czerny was without a doubt “exceedingly well-liked by a large part of the musical public”.

Czerny was however modest by nature, and not prone to self-promotion or exhibitionism. As a pianist he wanted to play Beethoven sonatas, and the “brilliant, calculated charlantry” he perceived of the then virtuoso was simply not part of his natural demeanour. During his lifetime he was more preoccupied with promoting Beethoven’s music rather than his own, and much of what he classed as his “serious” composition remained largely in the desk drawer, while publishers lapped up his numerous potpourris, fantasies, teaching pieces and studies. Despite the famous anecdote about Czerny working on four different pieces at once, moving from one desk to another as the ink dried, extensive crossings out in manuscripts reveal another side.

Carl Czerny was born in 1791 to Bohemian parents in Leopoldstadt, Vienna. At his christening were the brilliant pianists Abbé Gelinek and Abbé Ferdinandi. Surrounded by music from birth, he was initially taught piano by his father, and by the age of seven he first started composing. He soon could play all of Mozart’s piano works, much Clementi and music by Beethoven, first performing in 1800 with Mozart’s Concerto in C minor, K491. The following year he so impressed Beethoven that the master took him on as a pupil for the next three years, and this grew into a lifelong friendship and association of mutual admiration. Beethoven chose Czerny to première two of his piano concerti, and such was his pupil’s musical memory that he could play all of Beethoven’s works by heart.

While Beethoven’s belief extended to having Czerny create piano versions of his orchestral works, enabling them to be more widely heard, their close friendship, coupled with Czerny’s tireless promotion, has led to much of our understanding of the master today. On this aspect Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann, “Czerny’s great piano school is well worth reading through. In particular what he says about Beethoven and the performance of these works; he was an industrious and attentive pupil”, adding “there should be more respect for this excellent man”. Czerny taught piano to Beethoven’s nephew Carl, and other pupils included Heller, Thalberg and, most famously, the young Liszt. Liszt presented Czerny’s music in Parisian recitals with much success, while his own Études d’exécution transcendante were appropriately dedicated to his master. Alongside Chopin and Thalberg, Liszt also invited Czerny to contribute to his Grand Variations from Bellini’s I Puritani, Hexaméron.

Czerny wrote an astonishing amount of music: over a thousand works including nine symphonies, piano concerti, string quartets, chamber music and many works for piano. Deeply religious, he also wrote much liturgical music, including cantatas, hymns and eleven Masses. Liszt, despite his great admiration—“compositions of importance, beautifully formed, and having the noblest tendency”—was also to note in a letter to Otto Jahn in 1852, “it is a pity that by a too super-abundant productiveness, he has necessarily weakened himself…” Early editions of Grove’s dictionary support this contention, stating “the host of lesser works have involved the really good ones in undeserved forgetfulness”. This factor alone puts Schumann’s critical attacks on Czerny into some perspective.

Interestingly, Wilhelm Fink, editor of the important Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, and who wrote favourably of Czerny, was an avowed enemy of Schumann, whose music he first criticised then ignored. As he was a rival editor, and ethically constrained from promoting his own music in his own publication, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, this put Schumann in a difficult position.

For an extended period of his life Czerny would teach throughout the day before devoting the evenings to composition. Yet despite this workaholic image, he was romantic enough to fall in love, and while he did not mix in fashionable circles and gave few promotional concerts of his own music, he held “musical circles” at his house, where Beethoven was played, often in the composer’s presence.

Czerny died in 1857 having supported his parents, to whom he was always close, and his will took into consideration his domestic staff besides the Society for the Friends of Music, and causes important to him including the Deaf-Mute Institute.

Grand Nocturne Brillant, Op. 95

Both John Field, who founded the nocturne, and Czerny, were strongly influenced by Clementi, Field’s master, and with whom Czerny had spent much time during the year 1810. Intriguingly, Chopin had been a recurring visitor to Czerny’s home during 1829, when the two played four hands music together, possibly including Czerny’s earlier Nocturne, Op. 71, a duet. Field’s nocturnes were obviously known to Czerny, and the Grand Nocturne Brillant, published by H.A. Probst around 1826, employs the singing style Czerny so admired in Bellini and Rossini arias. The nocturne unfolds in a spun out, romantic manner, and while the ensuing rondo is full of cheer, it is punctuated by yearning phrases and ebb and flow, which directly refer back to the piece’s earlier mood. Czerny’s contrapuntal prowess was exceptional, and the initial surprise of the central fugal entry is soon dispelled as it builds, contributing to the grandeur and brilliance of the work’s title before the playful nature of the second subject returns.

Grand Concerto in A minor, Op. 214

First published in 1830, this impressive work can be considered one of the first romantic concertos ever written. Czerny employs thematic transformation throughout, as the opening thematic idea in hushed strings builds and takes on various guises as the work progresses. Following the extended orchestral opening, the initial piano entry states the theme mezzo-forte. The contrasting dolce second subject leads to some gladiatorial writing for piano, and a grandiose statement in the orchestra before a beautifully tranquil texture with clarinet leads into the development. Here the piano states the thematic idea boldly, with diminished seventh harmonies adding to the tension, answered by a pensive oboe. After a strong orchestral return the piano solo transforms the theme again, now in the major key, the added seventh lending a yearning quality. The slow movement, marked Adagio con moto, is relatively brief, its reflective opening building to take in greater expanses of the keyboard before the cadenza leads attacca into the Rondo. Spirited and full of life, the pace does not let up until Czerny introduces a serene chorale, yet another thematic variant, taken up by the horns to much effect before the impish second subject leads to a blistering conclusion.

Variations de Concert sur la Marche des Grecs de l’Opéra ‘Le Siège de Corinthe de Rossini’, Op. 138

Czerny’s writings observed that “most melodies acquire their popularity by the fine performance of a human voice”, and his works based on operatic melodies are profuse. Published in 1827, this piece combines both the celebrated Czerny and Rossini. As the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung observed: “The crowd is as a rule most vividly affected by that which is in keeping with the times that these darlings of the day are able to represent so skilfully. And so it is with these two. In what, now does this consist? The oppression of days not long gone by felt by most, the burdens still felt by some, has brought most people to seek light recreation that diverts the spirit from the serious side of life after their occupation full of cares.” Brimming with sunshine and laughter, these spirited, well-crafted and brilliant variations do exactly that.

Rosemary Tuck

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