Carl Czerny (21 February 1791 – 15 July 1857) was an Austrian pianist, composer and teacher. He is best remembered today for his books of étudespiano. Czerny knew and was influenced by the well-known pianists Muzio Clementi and Johann Nepomuk Hummel.
He was born in Vienna to a musical family of Czech origin. His grandfather was a violinist and his father was an oboist, organist, and pianist. His family came to Vienna from Nymburk, Bohemia and Carl himself didn’t 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, Wenzel Czerny, who taught him mainly Bach, Mozart, and Clementi. Czerny began performing piano recitals in his parents’ home. Beethoven, attending one such recital, was so impressed with Czerny’s performance of his Sonata Pathétique that he took on the 10 year old as a student. Czerny remained under Beethoven’s tutelage for the next three years. Czerny went on to take lessons from Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Antonio Salieri. Carl Czerny also attended courses which Muzio Clementi held in Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Prague, Rome and Milan.
Carl Czerny made his first public performance in 1800 playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, No. 24. However, he was never confident in his abilities as a performer and resolved to withdraw permanently from the stage. At age 21, in February 1812, he returned to the public to give the Vienna premiere of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, «Emperor».
At age 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. His notable students included Sigismond Thalberg, Stephen Heller, Alfred Jaëll, Theodor Leschetizky, Theodor Kullak, Theodor Döhler, and Anne Caroline de Belleville.
Perhaps his most famous student was Franz Liszt, who began studying with Czerny at age nine. Czerny was Liszt’s only teacher. Upon taking him on as a student, Czerny forced Liszt to abandon all repertoire for the first few months, insisting Liszt play only scales and exercises to strengthen his technique.
As a concert pianist, Liszt went on to include several Czerny compositions in his repertoire. Liszt also dedicated his twelve Transcendental Etudes to Czerny, who was among the first composers to pioneer the «etude» form. Liszt also collaborated with Czerny on the Hexaméron; a joint work along with fellow composers Frédéric Chopin, Sigismond Thalberg, Henri Herz, and Johann Peter Pixis.
Czerny composed a very large number of pieces (up to Op. 861), including a number of masses and requiems, and a large number of symphonies, concertos, sonatas and string quartets. None of these pieces are played often today, however, and he is known as a composer almost exclusively because of the large number of didactic piano pieces he wrote, many of which are still used today, 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.
On a minor note, he was one of 50 composers who each wrote a Variation on a theme of Anton Diabelli for Part II of the Vaterländischer Künstlervereincoda 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. (published 1824).
Czerny’s published compositions number nearly 1,000 and include arrangements for eight pianos, four hands each, of two overtures of Gioachino Rossini. He also left an essay on performing the piano sonatas of Beethoven. He published an autobiographical sketch, Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben (1842; “Memories from My Life”).
Czerny maintained a relationship with Beethoven throughout his life, giving piano lessons to Beethoven’s beloved nephew Carl, and proofreading many of Beethoven’s works before they were published.
Czerny remained in Vienna for most of his life, only leaving three times (he visited Leipzig in 1836, Paris and London in 1837, and Lombardy in 1846). Czerny died in Vienna at the age of 66. He never married and he had no near relatives. Shortly before his death, he disposed of his considerable fortune with the help of his friend Leopold von Sonnleithner.