Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Czerny in Canada

Carl Czerny (1791-1857) has been described as simultaneously all too familiar and virtually invisible. Pianists will know some of his works from their training, but those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Let David Gramit – editor of a recent Rochester publication,
Beyond the Art of Finger Dexterityexplain:

What project might bring together classical music performers of the caliber of Anton Kuerti, the piano duo of Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet, as well as numerous scholars, in the apparently unlikely location of Edmonton, Alberta? The perhaps equally unlikely answer: Carl Czerny, the Austrian composer, performer and piano pedagogue whose name is familiar to (but not necessarily beloved of) every pianist for his innumerable and still indispensable studies aimed at developing piano technique. On closer examination, though, Czerny’s central importance becomes comprehensible, for, along with those etudes, he wrote a great deal of music that has increasingly been recognized as worthwhile and interesting in its own right. Furthermore, his astonishingly diverse roles in early nineteenth century musical life — as teacher (of Liszt), composer, editor, scholar, and lifelong advocate for the cause of his erstwhile teacher Beethoven — offer a unique window into the breadth of European musical culture during and after his life.

Few recordings of Czerny’s music were available when Kuerti came across a score for one of Czerny’s few published “serious” works, a piano sonata, at a music store clearing out its stock before closing—a story he recounts here. Since that time, Kuerti has become one of Czerny’s most prominent and determined advocates. The 2002 Edmonton festival of his music that gathered the performers listed above and many others represented a kind of high water mark (so far) for the revival of his music in performance. (The support of the Canadian Centre for Austrian and Central European Studies [now the Wirth Institute] at the University of Alberta helps explain the festival’s location; the festival came about through Kuerti’s musical directorship and the sponsorship of the Centre and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien.) The more than a dozen recordings now on the market and the music performed at the festival are only the tip of the iceberg. The Gesellschaft’s archive holds a hundred Czerny manuscripts (the archivist, Otto Biba, is another great promoter of Czerny) and even more copies of unpublished works in virtually every genre, from Masses to symphonies to string quartets, not to mention the piano pieces.

All of this made it obvious that Czerny should be examined more closely than he has been in the few scholarly works devoted to him, and, as I edited Beyond the Art of Finger Dexterity, it quickly became apparent to me that the variety of issues to which Czerny was relevant meant that an equal variety of perspectives would have to be represented. Kuerti’s and Biba’s passion for Czerny made them obvious contributors, and their cooperation provided starting points for both the performers’ and the scholars’ viewpoints, at the very highest level. Stylistic and archival studies from musicologists as well as performers provided a counterpoint to cultural studies and considerations of performance practice, and what finally emerged, with the sage editorial guidance of Ralph Locke, series editor for Eastman Studies in Music, is an examination of Czerny’s work and his peculiarly unrecognized but deeply influential legacy. The result is a book that, I think it is fair to say, is as idiosyncratic and multifaceted as its subject.

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