Vienna, 1791 – a composer of piano sonatas, concertos, chamber music, symphonies, masses, requiems – and no, I’m not referring to the death of Mozart in December of that year, but to the February birth of Carl Czerny. Three cheers for Czerny.
‘Studies,’ said the two musicians to whom I mentioned Czerny’s name this week. That is how he is remembered, but there was so much more to him as a composer. And as a teacher, having studied with Beethoven, he then taught, amongst others,Thalberg and Liszt. Although his works are not often performed, and although his Studies are sometimes dismissed, Czerny was one of those musical conduits and enablers, the right person at the right time, without whom the nineteenth century musical and pianistic landscape would be impoverished. As Beethoven’s pupil, he performed Beethoven’s music, wrote about it and taught it. As a caring teacher, he taught the young, precociously talented Liszt without charge and without exploitation, insisting that he spend time mastering technique, and encouraging Liszt’s early forays into composition.
In 1826, Liszt’s Etude en 48 Exercices was published. There were only twelve; the plan to emulate Bach’s ’48’ was never realised. But these are the seeds of the Twelve Transcendental Etudes, and it is worth comparing them with the finished product. Liszt did another two versions, in 1838 and in 1851, each of which was dedicated to Czerny.
Czerny, along with Liszt, Chopin, Thalberg, Pixis and Herz , was invited by Princess Belgiojoso to contribute a variation to the work known as Hexaméron. ‘Morceau de concert. Grandes Variations de Bravoure sur le Marche des Puritains de Bellini…‘
Hexaméron is a musical curiosity; Liszt wrote the piano arrangement of the theme, a variation, bridge passages between the variations, and a finale. Chopin chose to write a Nocturne instead of a bravura variation, but it doesn’t sound particularly Chopinesque, with its slow Marche melody by Bellini. The variation by Czerny is appropriately flamboyant.
In the video below, Horowitz performs Part 2 of the Hexaméron – variations by Herz, Czerny, Liszt’s bridging recitative, Chopin’s ‘Nocturne’ and Liszt’s Finale. All good fun, a bit of a jamboree, and not to be taken too seriously.
The high regard and gratitude Liszt had for Czerny are evident in this letter of 1828, from a measles-infected seventeen-year-old Liszt in Paris to his ex-teacher in Vienna.
My very dear Master,
When I think of all the immense obligations under which I am placed towards you, and at the same time consider how long I have left you without a sign of remembrance, I am perfectly ashamed and miserable, and in despair of ever being forgiven by you! “Yes,” I said to myself with a deep feeling of bitterness, “I am an ungrateful fellow; I have forgotten my benefactor, I have forgotten that good master to whom I owe both my talent and my success.”…At these words a tear starts to my eyes, and I assure you that no repentant tear was ever more sincere! Receive it as an expiation, and pardon me, for I cannot any longer bear the idea that you have any ill-feeling towards me. You will pardon me, my dear Master, won’t you? Embrace me then…good! Now my heart is light.
You have doubtless heard that I have been playing your admirable works here with the greatest success, and all the glory ought to be given to you. I intended to have played your variations on the “Pirate” the day after tomorrow at a very brilliant concert that I was to have given at the theater of H.R.H. Madame, who was to have been present as well as the Duchess of Orleans; but man proposes and God disposes. I have suddenly caught the measles, and have been obliged to say farewell to the concert; but it is not given up because it is put off, and I hope, as soon as ever I am well again, to have the pleasure of making these beautiful variations known to a large public.
Pixis [a notable pianist (1788-1874)] and several other people have spoken much to me of four concertos that you have lately finished, and the reputation of which is already making a stir in Paris. I should be very much pleased, my dear Master, if you would commission me to get them sold. This would be quite easy for me to do, and I should also have the pleasure of playing them FROM FIRST HAND, either at the opera or at some big concerts. If my proposition pleases you, send them to me by the Austrian Embassy, marking the price that you would like to have for them. As regards any passages to be altered, if there are any, you need only mark them with a red pencil, according to your plan which I know so well, and I will point them out to the editor with the utmost care. Give me at the same time some news about music and pianists in Vienna; and finally tell me, dear Master, which of your compositions you think would make the best effect in society.
I close by sending you my heartfelt greetings, and begging you once more to pardon the shameful silence I have kept towards you: be assured that it has given me as much pain as yourself!
Your very affectionate and grateful pupil,
December 23rd, 1828
P.S.–Please answer me as soon as possible, for I am longing for a letter from you; and please embrace your excellent parents from me. I add my address (Rue Montholon, No. 7bis).