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Rediscovering Czerny: More than Dexterity

It feels that there is certainly an injustice when you mention Czerny to piano students and most piano teachers: The stigma of "just plain mechanical " or "superficial" had been on him quite a while. I certainly disagree- you just have to explore more of his output.

When I play this etude to my students the reaction is often: "Is it really Czerny? sounds like Chopin!"

Always a treat to discover Czerny again-recently I decided to go back to the Etudes op. 299 as a warm-up towards a Beethoven 4th concerto performance. I always admired this set of etudes , especially the 3rd and 4th volume: Unfortunately many piano teachers and students never pass the first ones. Maybe this is the reason why Carl Czerny was never respected fully: The stigma of "boring" and "Mechanical" or the remark of many musicians as heard in masterclasses: "do not play it like a Czerny excercise"(meaning: do not play mechanical, but make music: beautiful tone, phrasing,etc.) always made me think: why actually not playing Czerny etudes with sense of phrasing, beautiful tone and other features? there is certainly a prejudice that has to be changed. Dexterity and phrasing are not seperated as most of pianists and teachers agree.

We all know that Czerny established a very  important contribution  to the developement of piano technique- as a student of Beethoven and the mentor of LIszt and as a"father" of piano legacy from Theodor Leschetizky , Ignacy Jan Paderewski to Claudio Arrau and Arthur Rubinstein.

Without Czerny our pianism will never be the same : and there are so many wonderful pieces to choose from , as performers and teachers.

Out of all his enormous output, I discovered recently the etudes op. 821- a wonderful set of 160 short , eight-measures miniatures in different and varied keys and pianistic experimentations. Great for a 15 min warm-up. Students find it very efficient.

The Toccata op. 92 is a great piece to warm up with - the inspiration for Schumann's op. 7. 

Unfortunately later, Schumann did not respect Czerny as much- he was not familiar with his late compositions like the beautiful concerto for four hands. op 153.

Back to op 821 : there are some wonderful examples: notice that the interesting sonorities, the dramatic keys and the romantic manner. A long way from the Beethovenian C major pieces! a real practicing challenge.

And to op. 299 again. Some etudes are shorter than others, so they are better- here is my favorites.

no 21 in  c minor: very much influenced by the Beethoven "c minor" character:

And the beautiful no 37 in A flat major (notice the sudden change to G major in the middle!)

No. 24 in D major: Certainly one can work on beautiful tone, Phrasing, etc.

More interesting facts about Czerny:

1. As a child prodigy, began to play at age 3, and to compose at age 7

2.He played Mozart's conerto k.491 when he was 9 years old.

3. He played for Beethoven on their first meeting the Sonata op. 13 ("Pathetique") and after started his studies with Beethoven was the first to find out about Beethoven's condition and deafness on the first stage.

4. Czerny started to teach when he was 15 years old. He was teaching 10 hours a day and enjoyed very much his teaching and students,

5. He taught Liszt since he was 8 years old and gave him free lessons. In return Liszt performed Czerny's compositions in his recitals later on. He also dedicated him his Transcendental Études

6.When Liszt was 12, Czerny introduced him to Beethoven in 1823. Although Beethoven did not like child prodigies he was impressed by the young Liszt and kissed him on the forehead.

7. After Czerny's death, his fortune went to charity (He had no family of his own) and to the deaf union.

Back to practicing. Not mechanically.

As to Czerny, I have been appreciating the full-blooded musician in him more than the remarkable pedagogue.

Igor Stravinsky


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