Just hearing the name “Carl Czerny” and I’m feeling Pavlovian dread at the memory of all of his studies and piano exercises I had to practise for hours on end. Like with a lot of things that kids dislike – homework, exercise, vegetables, chores, and going to bed at a sensible hour – Czerny wasn’t fun at the time, but upon reflection, one was really glad to have learned his studies.
Born into a musical family and considered a child prodigy, Czerny was part of an incredible musical teaching dynasty. He studied with Beethoven at age 10, and noted Beethoven’s attention to proper fingerings and physical restraint at the keys. He also observed the symptoms of Beethoven’s increasing deafness years before the public knew. Czerny performed the premiere of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1805, and years later, gave the Vienna premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”. After becoming a piano teacher at age 15, he taught the young Franz Liszt, whose performance style was radically different than Beethoven’s. He was amazed at the raw goods, though, and took Liszt on as a student.
Czerny’s influence as a technician is felt for generations of pianists. Pianists today can trace their teaching lineage back to Czerny, such as pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, who studied with Edwin Fischer, who studied with Martin Krause, who studied with Franz Liszt, who studied with Czerny.
The Art of Finger Dexterity is a series of studies to teach the young pianist how to play quickly with an even touch. The very first study in this clip is something just about every piano student has played (and quite a bit slower, I might add). If you walk through the hallways at the Royal Conservatory of Music, you will likely hear someone practising Czerny. As a kid, I considered these mind-numbingly dull piano workouts, the way I now consider doing plank at the gym. With the perspective I have today, I can hear some creativity in these studies. I doubt I’ll look back on plank the same way.
Carl Czerny was born February 21, 1791 Vienna, Austria, and died July 15, 1857, also in Vienna.