Tag Archives: Etudes

Rudy Apffel’s Czerny For Ballet Class blog

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Rudy Apffel's Czerny for Ballet Class Blog

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Absolutely thrilled to discover Rudy Apfells’ Czerny for Ballet Class blog  — lovely recordings of huge numbers of Czerny exercises, together with reimaginings/reworkings of them (see here for a description of the project) lots of interesting commentary, and downloadable scores. 

Not content with just one reworking, some exercises, like Op 335 No. 6 have six.

Czerny Op. 335 No. 6

Czerny Op 335 No. 6: reworked in six different versions by Rudy Apffel

In the wrong hands (what a great metaphor for a pianist-related post!) this kind of music can  sound so drab, just the kind of thing that should be banned from ballet classes forever. But Apffel’s reworkings are witty and clever, and hold a mirror back to the original that make you hear it differently. There’s one in the style of Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights,” for example, but my favourite is the jazz waltz rendering. If you didn’t know it was based on Czerny, you could believe it had been a No. 1 chanson in Paris in the 1950s. Sometimes when you come to rearrange things like this you realize that the underlying composition is cleverer than you realized, obscured by a patina of tired familiarity. 

This is such a magnificent labour of love, but I fully understand Apffel’s fascination with Czerny.  I think it’s Taruskin who said that there are two Beethovens (or Bachs? Or Mozarts?—I’ll correct this if I’m wrong another time) —there’s Beethoven, and “Beethoven.”  The one in scare quotes is the composer that comes with all the baggage—the music appreciation classes you hated, the feeling that you had to like the music even if you didn’t, the way that people look in concert halls as they’re listening to his music. Without the scare quotes, you might feel quite differently about the music (for good or ill, as it happens, with some of the great names). 

Likewise, with Czerny: there’s Czerny the fun composer, Czerny the man who worked like crazy, with so many simultaneous projects on the go that he reputedly set them all out on different desks in his study, spending an hour at each in succession in order to make progress on them all (even if the story isn’t true, I love it); Czerny whose exercises dance and sing and convey drama. Then there’s “Czerny,” the scourge of young pianists, who are handed the books of exercises as if they were not really music, but “merely” technical machines to improve technique, like those things 19th dancers used to splay their feet in to improve their turnout. “Czerny” the abandoned sheet music in the Oxfam shop, with a stained cover, musty smell, and pencilled ticks and music teachers’ fingerings in.  I feel sick just thinking about it. 

Take away the scare quotes, and there’s a joyful, imaginative composer here with a staggering wealth of material, and that’s what Rudy Apffel is mining with his new arrangements and reimaginings. There’s a danger that you might miss Apffel’s humour and ingenuity if you just turn on a single track and think “I wonder if I could use this for tendus?” Get inside the music, listen to them as a series, compare one with the other, and this is a wonderful musical journey.  One of the things I especially like is the use of technology to do the impossible—freely admitted by Apffel!— as in this Schubert-Impromptu-Meets-Czerny-Op 335 No. 18

And finally: *that* Tarantella by Czerny is finally identified

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For anyone who was following my posts about the sources for Czerny’s music in Etudes, I’m very happy to say that someone has finally filled in the last piece of the jigsaw: the tarantella is from  Op. 834 No. 27 (see comment here).  Thank you Gabri!

That Czerny tarantella from Etudes – found but unidentified

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Posters in an Italian piano forum have been playing the same game as me – trying to identify the Czerny studies used in Riisager’s ballet Etudes. In my post on the subject, I managed to trace all of them (leaving aside any short quotes that Riisager may have thrown in along the way that I failed to recognise as quotes).

The one that I couldn’t trace was the tarantella – but those Italians have found it. Or nearly. They’ve found a score of it, in an anthology of Czerny studies published by Presser in 1906, freely available at Open Library. The tarantella is on page 66-67. The only trouble is, Emil Liebling may have “revised, edited and fingered” the studies “with annotations”, but he didn’t bother to identify them. Someone (like me) has been through with a pencil, marking the opus numbers of each study, but (also like me) couldn’t identify the tarantella.

The Italians found my page on Czerny and posted a link to it, noting that I hadn’t – (unlike them) – found the tarantella. “Per solidarietà, potrei scrivergli e dargli il suo pezzo mancante” says one of the posters – out of solidarity, you could write and give him the missing piece (message 50).  Yes, out of solidarity, you could have done, that would have been very nice. But it would be even nicer if you could actually identify which book/opus number the study is.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The joy of libraries and my Czech mate Czerny

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It’s not often that I get goosebumps sitting in a library, but I came pretty near to it yesterday on a trip to the University of London Library. I have been looking for months for the Czerny piano studies on which Riisager’s ballet Etudes was based. I had traced about half of them, but some – in particular those that I like most – I simply could not find. Having trawled through all the online, digitized scores, I kept coming across the same old books over and over again (the School of Velocity). Then I spent a day walking round London’s music shops – the same story.

My last hope (and I’d nearly given up) was a library, and Senate House appeared to have some Czerny I hadn’t heard of on the stacks. Possibly one of the nicest people ever to sit behind a stack service desk fetched me four enormous volumes of Czerny from somewhere in the bowels of Malet Street.

And there they were, those elusive etudes, in a set of books that from their good condition appeared not to have been opened since 1838 when they were published. This was a different Czerny to the one I knew from being a piano student, and it was suddenly easy to see how Riisager got the inspiration for Etudes. Dance permeates these studies to the extent that you’d think Czerny must have done the 19th century equivalent of clubbing every night and come home so loved-up and buzzing that he just had to write exercises the way other people put on their favourite trance album. Saint-Saëns did him an enormous disservice by caricaturing him in Carnival of the Animals with the exercises in thirds. He might have been born in Austria, and associated with Beethoven, but he was Czech – his father came from Nymburk in Bohemia, which explains a lot about the good-naturedness of his music. It also explains why there’s a Czerny Piano competition in Prague.

Think about it – these books are 166 years old, and still in perfect condition. It took less than 5 minutes to get them from the stack shelves, and probably about half an hour to flick through about 1500 pages to find what I wanted. By conrast, I have already lost innumerable music files that I created using version 1 of Logic on my Atari only 12 years ago, and even with broadband, you can’t ‘flick’ through a digitized score.

All of which reminds me of an article I read in July this year by Bruce Stirling of Wired Magazine. He wrote a piece in the Daily Telegraph called Delete Our Cultural Heritage?. His point is that the world is suffering ‘a silent phenomenon of “digital decay”‘; whereas books last centuries, the rapid obsolescence of computers and electronic storage methods means that things that we created only 10 years ago may be irretrievable unless they have been printed out, filed and catalogued – and as Stirling says, can you be bothered? It’s not until you come across an endangered species such as the Czerny pieces, that you realise that future generations may have less to remind them of the 20th century than they do of the 19th.