The connecting link between the harpsichord and the early piano was undoubtedly Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), whose treatise Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments was revered by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), Johann Baptist Cramer (1717-1858) and Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), and laid the foundations for their method books.

Muzio Clementi required his students to practise with a penny on the back of the hand so that the hand remained still, all the work being done by the fingers (which were to stay close to the keys) with the arm staying fixed, quiet and passive. His music is written idiomatically for the piano and includes octaves, tremolos, double thirds, rapid repeated notes, crossed hand passages, and so on. He is known for his many sonatas and sonatinas, his method book Introduction to the Art of Playing the Pianoforte, op. 42, and the set of studies Gradus ad Parnassum. In the opening piece of Children’s Corner, Debussy pokes fun at Clementi. Here is Ivan Moravec in a gently lyrical reading of Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum.

Carl Czerny (1791-1857) has been hailed as the forefather of modern piano playing, and most of us can trace our lineage directly back to him. For example, Rachmaninov was taught by Alexander Siloti who was taught by Eugen D’Albert who was taught by Emil von Sauer who was taught by William Mason who was taught by Moriz Rosenthal who was taught by Liszt who was taught by Czerny. If you wish to see a fuller family tree, here is the link.

Czerny-Carl-Portrait

Czerny’s father, Wensel, was a piano teacher and trained Carl from an early age, presenting him before the public at the age of 9 (Carl commenced his own career as a teacher at the tender age of 14). He became a student of Beethoven, played the 32 sonatas from memory and was selected to be the first to play the Emperor Concerto. Thanks to Beethoven’s recommendation, Czerny soon became the most popular piano teacher in Vienna and attracted a host of students, including Franz Liszt, Theodor Kullak and Theodor Leschetizky. Czerny’s multi-volume Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano Forte School was the encyclopedia of pianistic knowledge of the time. A prolific composer, his opus numbers run into the 800s. He was a very capable composer but is mostly remembered today for his books of studies and exercises. Czerny’s favored approach was that finger development must be built solely on mechanical gymnastics and therefore endless mechanical repetition was necessary. All five fingers were supposed to be equally well trained and equally strong. Czerny believed in developing technique independently from music, hence the vast number of studies and exercises he published.

Czerny’s Studies and Exercises

There are some 20 sets of studies and exercises, supplying the elementary, intermediate and advanced levels. These have been in constant use ever since they were published, and are still assigned to many a developing piano student today. For a complete list, see the page at pianoexercises.org, which also has links to the downloadable pdf scores. The 125 Exercises, op. 261 are very useful as they are extremely short and don’t take much learning, but my gripe with many of the other studies is that they are very pedestrian, with little or no artistic merit and often centred in C major. While they have their place, there are other studies that are more modern, more interesting and more useful. I highly recommend the studies and exercises of Moritz Moskowski, and for younger players there is nothing better than the 20 Petites Etudes, op. 91. Other etudes by Moszkowski include:

Resources

If you would like to explore Czerny and his legacy further, here is list of his compositions by opus number.

For a selection of Czerny’s compositions click here

Czerny’s Letters to a Young Lady

For a blog devoted to Czerny click here

Here is an excellent article by Anton Kuerti (click here)

Free pdf scores from allpianoscores.com (click here)

And finally, Horowitz’s recording of Czerny’s Variations on a Theme by Rode, a work I myself have performed many times. It always goes down well, and surprises those who don’t know Czerny’s music.

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