The Lost Emperor. Rosemary Tuck introduces her latest recording of Czerny’s music for piano and orchestra.
September 3, 2019
by Rosemary Tuck
Carl Czerny gave the Viennese premiere of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ piano concerto on 12 February 1812. Just ten days later he sat down to begin composing a grand E flat major piano concerto of his own. A monumental work, it promised much to come from the young composer, who was then only 21 years old. The sheer scale of the work and the taxing demands on the soloist pushed the boundaries towards the romantic concerto even further than his great friend and mentor had done.
Czerny was Beethoven’s favourite pupil, and their continuing friendship and mutual admiration was sealed when the young composer read at sight Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ piano sonata at the home of his patron, Moritz von Lichnowsky. As Czerny recalled in his reminiscences: “From that time on, Beethoven remained favourably inclined towards me and treated me in a friendly way up to his last days.”
It was only through searching for piano duets on operatic themes that I started to look at Czerny in a different light. Along with many of my colleagues, Czerny for me at that stage still meant endless pages of studies and exercises. As well as discovering many duets I was amazed to find a whole series of wonderful pieces for piano and orchestra based on music from the Bel Canto era. Soon after, I heard of Czerny’s A minor concerto (published as his 1st, but which we now know to be his 3rd), the key alone seeming to promise the grand romantic affair that it turned out to be.
Even so, it was the discovery of the manuscripts housed in Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde that surprised me the most. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the pre-empting of the theme from Schumann’s celebrated A minor concerto in the first movement of Czerny’s D minor concerto, let alone for it to be presented so beautifully by the horns. And yet, Schumann famously wrote:
“A greater bankruptcy of the imagination than demonstrated in Mr Czerny’s newest creation could hardly exist. One should force him into retirement and give him his well-earned pension, so that he would stop writing.”
This review, quoted even today, did much to destroy Czerny’s reputation, a situation compounded by his endless reams of piano studies, even though they were so astonishingly successful and sufficient to seal his continued fame. But had Schumann heard these two concertos, until now existing only in manuscript form? Had he heard the wonderful string quartets, which also suffered the same fate? Schumann’s scathing review was for a parlour piece, a world away from the eleven piano sonatas and significant other works demonstrating the composer’s serious side. Parlour pieces, potpourris and fantasies were the fashion of the day and bread and butter for the many composers who wrote them. Czerny wrote for the public to make money, and for his art for himself. Moreover, Czerny was more concerned with promoting Beethoven’s music than his own.
Czerny’s ‘Emperor’ has a sweeping first movement, a romantic and substantial second movement, and a vibrant finale that explores unusual orchestral textures and effects. Along with his earlier D minor and later A minor concertos, they stand together as important repertoire that makes a worthy contribution to the piano concerto genre, bridging the classical/romantic divide.
Beyond that, Czerny also wrote many transcriptions of Beethoven’s music and that of other composers, and recent controversy over the origins of his Piano Concerto in F major Op. 28 echoed what must also have been the case during his time. Anonymously, it was leaked to The Musical World that “here we will bring no less a testimony than Czerny, the celebrated piano forte player, who, in great admiration of one of Giuliani’s concertos, has actually written the whole piece for the piano forte”. This was indeed so, as there are two different title pages for the work by the publisher Diabelli, one clearly confirming it as a rearrangement of Hummel’s instrumentation of Giuliani’s Guitar Concerto No. 3.
His Concertino, originally Op. 197, suffered a similar fate due to its publisher. Instead of publishing the three-movement work as a single entity, Haslinger published the first movement as Concertino Op. 210 and then the second and third as Andante and Rondo Op. 213. Czerny’s original Op. 197 then became utilised as one of the popular operatic transcriptions of the day. As with the Giuliani transcription, these misleading decisions were all made with an eye for making the most possible money from one original work.
Czerny held soirées each week at his apartment, where his pupils would play music by Beethoven, often in the presence of the composer himself. In later years he would write treatises on how to play Beethoven’s music. These became invaluable, as Brahms himself noted:
“Czerny’s great pianoforte school is well worth reading through. In particular also what he says about Beethoven and the performance of these works; he was an industrious and attentive pupil.”
Coincidently having been invited to perform Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th concertos during the same time as working on these recordings, it was wonderful to absorb Czerny’s comments on how Beethoven himself performed them. Czerny’s own ‘Emperor’ concerto, more a homage to and departure from Beethoven’s masterpiece, nevertheless contains a short two-bar passage which exactly mirrors part of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’. An intentional salute perhaps? or was it simply in his fingers?
Rosemary Tuck’s recording of Czerny’s E flat major concerto, the Concertino Op. 210/13 (manuscript 197) and Rondino sur un Thème favori de l’Opéra ‘Le Macon’ d’Auber, with the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge, is released on October 11.
Rosemary Tuck Biography & Discography
Carl Czerny Biography & Discography