Carl Czerny

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Carl Czerny, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber, 1833

Carl Czerny (German: [karl ˈtʃɛrni]; 21 February 1791 – 15 July 1857) was an Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist of Czech origin whose vast musical production amounted to over a thousand works. His books of studies for the piano are still widely used in piano teaching.

Early life[edit]


The young Czerny. Picture based on the original by Josef Lanzedelly at Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

Czerny was born in Vienna to a musical family of Czech origin. His grandfather was a violinist and his father, Wenzel, was an oboist, organist and pianist. His family came to Vienna from Nymburk, Bohemia and Carl himself did not speak German until the age of ten. A child prodigy, Czerny began playing piano at age three and composing at age seven. His first piano teacher was his father who taught him mainly Bach, and Mozart. His later teachers were to include Clementi, Hummel, Salieri and Beethoven.

He began performing piano recitals in his parents' home. Czerny made his first public performance in 1800 playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor. However, he was never confident in his abilities as a "showman" piano performer (as required at that time) and resolved to withdraw permanently from the stage, devoting himself only to private recitals and piano teaching.[1]

Meeting with Beethoven[edit]

In 1801, the Czech composer and violinist Wenzel Krumpholz scheduled a presentation for Czerny in the house of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven asked Czerny to play his Pathétique Sonata and Adelaide. Beethoven was impressed with the 10-year old and accepted him as a pupil.[2] Czerny remained under Beethoven's tutelage for the next three years and later became his assistant.

Czerny's autobiography and letters give inportant references to Beethoven at this period. Czerny was the first to report symptoms of Beetoven's deafness, years before the matter became public: "I also noticed with that visual quickness peculiar to children that he had cotton which seemed to have been steeped in a yellowish liquid, in his ears."[1][3]

Czerny was selected by Beethoven for the premiere of the latter's Piano concerto no. 1, in 1806 and, at the age of 21, in February 1812, Czerny gave the Vienna premiere of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor". Czerny wrote in his autobiography[4] that his musical memory enabled him to play all the Beethoven works by heart without exception and, during the years 1804–1805, he used to play these works in this manner at Prince Lichnowsky's palace once or twice a week, he calling out only the desired opus numbers.[1] Czerny maintained a relationship with Beethoven throughout his life, giving piano lessons to Beethoven's nephew Carl, and proofreading many of Beethoven's works before they were published.[5]

Later career[edit]


Czerny introduces his pupil Franz Liszt to Beethoven

At the age of fifteen, Czerny began a very successful teaching career. Basing his method on the teaching of Beethoven and Clementi, Czerny taught up to twelve lessons a day in the homes of Viennese nobility.[5]. (See List of music students by teacher#Carl Czerny). He left Vienna only to make trips to Italy, France and England. After 1840, Czerny devoted himself exclusively to composition. He wrote a large number of piano solo exercises for the development of the pianistic technique, designed to cover from the first lessons for children up to the needs of the most advanced virtuoso. (see List of compositions by Carl Czerny). Other works by Czerny include:

A religious person, Czerny used to play organ in churches and composed a collection of masses (perhaps 21 Masses, all of then unpublished). Many of Czerny's didactic works for piano, his arrangements and variations of popular opera themes and other concertant and brilliant works for piano were published during his life with very good acceptance. In 1842 Czerny published an autobiographical sketch, "Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben" ("Memories from My Life").

Czerny lived in Vienna with his parents until their deaths. He never married and lived alone the rest of his life, surrounded by many cats. He nurtured a platonic admiration for a lady, possibly the Countess of Eisenach, to whom he dedicated his Gradus et Parnassum, "Composed and most respectfully dedicated to Her Royal and Imperial Highness Marie Paulowna, Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach by Carl Czerny".


Czerny died in Vienna at the age of 66. He had no near relatives. Shortly before his death, he disposed of his considerable fortune with the help of his best friend and lawyer Leopold von Sonnleithner.[1] His fortune estimated at 400 thousand florins, he willed to charity (including an institution for the deaf), his housekeeper and the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna.


Czerny can be considered as a father of modern pianistic technique and the basis of an entire generation of pianists that extends to the present day. Considering that many of Czerny's students, such as Theodor Leschetizky, Franz Liszt and Theodor Kullak, also became teachers and passed on the legacy of Czerny, one may consider that many modern pianists are the fruit of a musical tree headed by Czerny:[7]

"Czerny, the forefather of Pianoforte Technic", illustration from The Etude magazine, April 1927

Czerny wrote an essay on the correct performing of the piano sonatas of Beethoven, "On the Proper performance of all Beethoven´s works for piano" (1846)[8] Johannes Brahms wrote about it to Clara Schumann in a letter of March 1878: "I certainly think Czerny´s large pianoforte course Op.500 is worthy of study, particularly in regard to what he says about Beethoven and the performance of his works, for he was a diligent and attentive pupil ... Czerny´s fingering is particularly worthy for attention. In fact I think that people today ought to have more respect for this excellent man"[9][10]

In a letter written to Otto Jahn of October 30, 1852, Liszt wrote: "Of all living composers who have occupied themselves especially with pianoforte playing and composing, I know none whose views and opinions offer so just an experience. In the twenties, when a great portion of Beethoven's creations was a kind of Sphinx, Czerny was playing Beethoven exclusively, with an understanding as excellent as his technique was efficient and effective; and, later on, he did not set himself up against some progress that had been made in technique, but contributed materially to it by his own teaching and works."[11]



Czerny composed a very large number of pieces (more than a thousand pieces and up to Op. 861).

Czerny himself divided his music into four categories:

  • 1) studies and exercises;
  • 2) easy pieces for students;
  • 3) brilliant pieces for concerts;
  • 4) serious music.[4]

Czerny's works include not only piano music (études, nocturnes, sonatas, opera theme arrangements and variations) but also masses and choral music, symphonies, concertos, songs, string quartets and other chamber music. The better known part of Czerny's repertoire is the large number of didactic piano pieces he wrote, such as The School of Velocity and The Art of Finger Dexterity. He was one of the first composers to use étude ("study") for a title. Czerny's body of works also include arrangements of many popular opera themes.

The majority of the pieces called by Czerny as "serious music" (masses, choral music, quartets, orchestral and chamber music) remained unpublished. The manuscripts are held by Vienna's Society for the Friends of Music, to which Czerny (a childless bachelor) willed his estate.

Piano music[edit]

Duo Concertante, Op. 129

[[File:Carl Czerny - Duo Concertante - 3. Andantino Grazioso.ogg|]]

Performed by Alex Murray (flute) and Martha Goldstein (piano)

Problems playing these files? See media help.

Czerny's piano sonatas show themselves as an intermediate stage between thgew works of Beethoven and Liszt. They blend the traditional sonata form elements with baroque elements, such as the use of fugato, and free forms of fantasy.Recordings of these sonatas have been made by Martin Jones,Anton Kuerti and Daniel Blumenthal. Czerny's sonatas The pianists also recorded sonatas of this cycle.

Czerny's piano nocturnes show and maybe anticipate some of the elements present in Chopin nocturnes, such us the rhythmic fluidity and the intimate character. Chopin met Czerny in Vienna in 1828 and may have been influenced by hi Nocturne cycle.

Czerny composed approximately 180 pieces that bear the title "Variations". Among them, the best-known may be La Ricordanza, Op 33, which Vladimir Horowitz recorded and many pianists widely performed. Czerny uses not only his own themes but themes from other composers as well, such as Daniel Auber, Ludwig van Beethoven, Vincenzo Bellini, Anton Diabelli, Gaetano Donizetti, Count Wenzel Robert von Gallenberg, Joseph Haydn, Heinrich Marschner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Niccolò Paganini, Giuseppe Persiani, Pierre Rode, Gioachino Rossini, Franz Schubert and Carl Maria von Weber. These works range from solo piano pieces to piano pieces for four, six, and eight hands, with some variations having optional accompaniment of orchestra or string quartet. Czerny sometimes combined his variations with other genres, such as fantasy, rondo, or impromptu. Czerny was one of 50 composers who wrote a variation on a theme of Anton Diabelli for Part II of the Vaterländischer Künstlerverein (published 1824). He also wrote a coda to round out the collection. Part I was devoted to the 33 variations supplied by Beethoven, which have gained an independent identity as his Diabelli Variations, Op. 120.

Other compositions[edit]

(1857–2007) 150th anniversary of Czerny's death, Central Cemetery, Vienna

The seven symphonies of Czerny began to be recorded in 1990s. In the 21st century, two new symphonies came to light (The Symphony Nr. 6 and a large Symphony written in 1814)' also two overtures (in C Minor and E Major) and some symphonic choral music (Psalm 130 and "Die Macht des Gesanges").

Czerny was a prolific composer of chamber music, normally including the piano: Trios for strings and Piano, Quintets for strings and Piano, Sonatas for Violin and Piano, and also Piano Variations with Flute, Horn and other instruments. However, there are some works without piano, including string quartets.

Czerny was a religious person and devoted himself seriously to religious musical production. These works include:Graduale for Soprano & Organ (Op.662); Salve Regina, Offertorio for Chor and Orchestra (Op.726); Benedicat', Offertorio for 4 Voices & Orchestra (Op.737); Ave Maria, Offertorie for Soprano & Orchestra (Op.760); 6 Pange Lingua for SATB (Op.799); Offertorium, Salva nos Domine, for Bass and Organ (Op.812); Collection of Sacred Music for Voice & Piano (Op.562); Religion, Poem Allemande for Tenor & Piano (Op.764); 6 Graduals for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, & Bass with ad lib Accompaniment for Piano/Organ (Op.318); In questa tomba oscura for Bass Voice & Piano (1808?); De Profundis, for Chorus & Small Orchestra; Exsulta filia Sion, Offertorium Pastorale (Op.155); also a number of Masses.

Czerny also made his contribution to the Viennese song literature: Die Schiffende, for Voice & Piano with words by Holtz (Op. 48); Romance from W. Scott's "Fraulein vorn See" for Voice & Piano (Op. 83); 5 Unvergangliche Blumchen for Voice & Piano (Op. 109); 24 Canzonette Italiane for Voice & Piano (Op. 432); The Spirit's Song by Shakespeare (Op. 457); 6 Songs for Voice & Piano (Words by Mrs. Hemans) (Op. 558); Der Engel der Geduld, Chanson Allemande Voice & Piano (Op. 596); 3 Ariette Italienne for Tenor Voice & Piano; 3 Popular Irish Airs (Op. 287).


Opinions and debates about the value of compositions[edit]

From Czerny's death until the end of the 20th century there was a predominance of negative views about his work. Robert Schumann in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Musical Gazette), said of Czerny's op. 424: "It would be difficult to find a failure of imagination greater than that of Czerny." Liszt included several Czerny compositions in his repertoire and also dedicated his twelve Transcendental Études to Czerny. He also collaborated with Czerny on the Hexaméron. However, even Liszt had an unfavorable opinion about Czerny's music. In a letter written to Otto Jahn on October 30, 1852, Liszt regrets Czerny not having composed other works such as the Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 7:"It is only a pity that, by a too super-abundant productiveness, he has necessarily weakened himself, and has not gone on further on the road of his first Sonata (Op. 7, A-flat major) and of other works of that period, which I rate very highly, as compositions of importance, beautifully formed and having the noblest tendency."[11]In "Men, Women and Pianos" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954), Arthur Loesser, an American classical pianist and writer, describes Czerny's music as "without depth, intensity, or wit, but always smooth and pretty and rather ear-tickling when played fast ... endless variety of patterns and endless monotony of import."

A more positive view was stated by musicians such as Anton Kuerti[12] and Leon Botstein.[13] Johannes Brahms wrote about Czerny to Clara Schumann in a letter of March 1878: "In fact I think that people today ought to have more respect for this excellent man"[9][10] Igor Stravinsky wrote in Chronique de ma vie (ISBN 2207251772, ISBN 978-2207251775) about his admiration for Czerny also as a composer: "As to Czerny, I have been appreciating the full-blooded musician in him more than the remarkable pedagogue"

Homages and tributes[edit]

  • In Vienna, in the 20th district Brigittenau, in 1907, a street was named Karl-Czerny-Strasse (with "k").
  • In 1915 Claude Debussy composed his 12 Études for piano (L 136). The first is a homage to Czerny: "pour les cinq doigts d'après Monsieur Czerny" (for the five fingers after Monsieur Czerny).
  • Czerny received a star in the Hall of Fame in Vienna's Kärntner Strasse.
  • The world's 1st Carl Czerny Music Festival and International Symposium took place from June 13–26, 2002 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
  • "Carl Czerny: Composer, Pianist, Pedagogue", an exhibition by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien im Berliner Musikinstrumenten-Museum took place from 19 October 2007 to 26 January 2008 in Berlin, Germany.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed. 1954, Eric Blom ed.
  2. ^ Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Thayer's Life of Beethoven Part 1, edited by Elliott Forbes. Princeton, New Jersey Princeton University Press, 1992 pp. 225–228.
  3. ^ The original manuscript is in the archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, and the translation used here is from "Beethoven, Impressions of Contemporaries", New York, 1926.
  4. ^ a b Czerny, Carl (ca. 1860) "Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben" mit Anmerkungen versehen von Walter Kolneder.
  5. ^ a b Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield, Carl Czerny, Charles-Louis Hanon, 2001. Burgmuller, Czerny & Hanon – Piano Studies Selected for Technique and Musicality, Alfred Music Publishing, USA. ISBN 0-7390-2030-7, ISBN 978-0-7390-2030-2
  6. ^ Bertoglio, Chiara (2012). Instructive Editions and Piano Performance Practice: A Case Study. Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing. ISBN 978-3-8473-2151-4
  7. ^ The famous US music magazine The Etude, founded by Theodore Presser (1848–1925) at Lynchburg, Virginia and published from October 1883 until 1957, presented in its issue of April 1927 an illustration showing how Czerny should be considered the father of modern pianistic technique, and the basis of an entire generation of pianists that extends to the present day. The Etude
  8. ^ Britannica, Carl Czerny
  9. ^ a b Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, ed. Berthold Litzmann, 2 vols. New York: Longamnn, Green, 1927; rep., New York: Vienna House, 1973
  10. ^ a b "Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music: Their Principles and Applications" by Sandra P. Rosenblum
  11. ^ a b Autograph in the Liszt archives of the Musik-Verein in Vienna.
  12. ^ Carl Czerny: In the Shadow of Beethoven, Magazine article from Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 104, No. 3
  13. ^ Leon Botstein, Musical Director American Symphony Beethovens pupil
  14. ^ Download the program, (German); accessed 22 August 2014.

External links[edit]