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“Do you know Mr. Czerny?” – The discovery of Carl Czerny as a “serious” composer. World premiere recording of two unpublished string quartets by the Sheridan Ensemble Berlin for Deutschlandradio.

 

This February, the Sheridan Ensemble Berlin will record two as yet unpublished string quartets and the 4th Piano Trio of Carl Czerny for Deutschlandradio in Berlin’s Siemensvilla.

 

Our attention was first brought to Carl Czerny as a composer to be taken seriously through the research of Dr. Heinz von Loesch from the “Staatlicher Institut für Musikforschung” in Berlin, culminating in an International Symposium held on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of Czerny’s death in Berlin in October 2007.

 

Famous as a piano pedagogue - whose works are known to almost any student pianist - and maybe also as a student of Beethoven, Carl Czerny is not regarded today as a composer of any significance.

 

Many of Czerny’s contemporaries also seemed to have nothing good to say about his compositional talents, as is obvious from the many citations handed down to the present day. The damning comments of Schumann are perhaps the most famous – “….One should really retire this esteemed composer and give him his well-earned pension, so he would stop writing” -  is just one of many examples.

 

Czerny was a prolific writer (over 800 printed works) and earned a great reputation (and fortune) through teaching and writing pedagogic literature for the piano as well as composing music which the market expected of him and through which he earned a good living.

A nice description of a contemporary review: ”Mr. Czerny has the knack of producing new favourite melodies for the many accomplished, accurate and delicate pianists who exist among music-lovers, and to arrange these according to their needs”.

 

Czerny himself writes that all his pedagogic compositions were only written at the request of his publishers, and further in a letter ten days before his death: “I also write to you in order to say how absolutely repellent this production of such puerility is to me, as it can only be detrimental to my artistic career. It is through the serious compositions, to which I have dedicated myself for years - quartets, symphonies, sacred works etc. - that I hope, God willing that I live long enough, to correct this mistake once more, which I only committed in order to oblige these said publishers…”

 

For us musicians, Czerny being a composer of “serious” music is a completely new and exciting discovery! Seven string quartets are presently known to exist, of which four were probably marked down for publication. Czerny composes in the tradition of Haydn and Beethoven and certain similarities to Mendelssohn can also be found. A characteristic romantic style full of drama and deep expression comes to the fore in two these quartets, both written in minor keys (E minor and D minor), to which we have turned our attention first.

These quartets only exist in manuscript form as part of the Czerny estate which is now kept in the archives of the “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” in Vienna. On his own private initiative, Otto Biba, the Archive’s director, produced computer-printed versions of these two quartets from the hand-written scores and these parts were made available to us with the help of Dr. Heinz von Loesch. The Archive also kindly made available to us microfilms of the original manuscripts.

 

After recording the pieces, the Sheridan Ensemble will perform both quartets as part of the series "residenz@sendesaal” in the Sendesaal Bremen.

Apart from performances during special festivals dedicated to Carl Czerny, these works have never before been heard on the concert platform.

 

Our thanks go to Stefan Lang of Deutschlandradio, as well as to the “Archiv der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” in Vienna. Special thanks go to Dr. Heinz von Loesch who inspired us initially to pursue this worthwhile project. The book “Czerny - Komponist, Pianist, Pädagoge“  Mainz: Schott 2009 (Klang und Begriff 3), edited by Heinz von Loesch, served as the basis for this text.

 

Sheridan Ensemble Berlin, Januar 2011

 

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