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An underestimated master: A critical analysis of Carl Czerny's eleven piano sonatas and his contribution to the genre

Levi Larson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Carl Czerny is unquestionably a well-known figure in the history of nineteenth-century pianism. He was a pupil of the great Beethoven, and later taught young Franz Liszt, thereby initiating a pedagogical lineage that continues to this day. Czerny’s pedagogical material is still relevant to contemporary piano education, and many of his treatises are valuable resources for understanding Classical and early Romantic musical culture. Although Czerny is known for being an accomplished piano teacher, he was also a highly prolific composer. His oeuvre totals 861 opus numbers, many of which contain multiple pieces. Czerny also penned a variety of compositions that did not receive opus numbers. Aside from his etudes and pedagogical treatises, Czerny’s reputation as a composer was centered on his opera fantasies and potpourris, for which he gained favor with the public and disdain from music critics. Robert Schumann wrote many scathing remarks about Czerny’s music in the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik; other composers, including Chopin and Liszt, respected Czerny as a musician but rarely said favorable things about his music. While Czerny’s output does include trite pieces of shallow virtuosity, it also contains substantial works of careful craftsmanship, such as his eleven masterful piano sonatas. This document focuses primarily on the eleven piano sonatas, with special attention given to form and the holistic structure of the eleven sonata cycle. A deeper understanding of the composer’s particular genius will emerge through discussion of his use of form, harmony, and texture in his sonatas, and a compelling argument will be made for burnishing his reputation. A movement devoted to the promotion of Czerny’s music is already in progress, thanks to the efforts of the Carl Czerny blog, Basel-Classics releasing new editions of his works, and the Carl Czerny Festival held at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada in 2002. This research will contribute to the ongoing campaign to recognize the significance and quality of the previously undervalued music of Carl Czerny.^

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Recommended Citation

Larson, Levi, "An underestimated master: A critical analysis of Carl Czerny's eleven piano sonatas and his contribution to the genre" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3737753.