Pianists the world over are familiar with Carl Czerny — or at least his keyboard exercises. But Czerny, a student of Beethoven, also composed many other types of works, including symphonies. Unlike Beethoven, though, Czerny could produce, and produce quickly.
Pianist John Field wrote about Czerny’s system after visiting with him:
A large cabinet served [Czerny] as a receptacle for models of all kinds of passage work, figurations, etc., which were immediately available as required.
In the adjoining room assistants worked on what the master had assigned to them… pieces were produced section by section and inserted during the copying process. Thus, the difficult-to-negotiate development sections could also be produced with ease. One just had to fit the passages together correctly, and already the next sonata-form movement was finished.
So what do these paint-by-number symphonies sound like? Actually, they sound pretty good.
Czerny’s Grande Symphony No. 2 is a model of late-classical/early romantic construction. This four-movement work is big, with big motifs and grand gestures. And yet it’s also somewhat unassuming and matter-of-fact. To my ears, it seemed to resemble Schubert or Mendelssohn more than Beethoven.
The 1854 Symphony No. 6 receives its world premiere recording here. The score remained in manuscript and (presumably) unperformed until recently. The work is leaner and more tightly organized than Symphony No. 2. It also seems to be a more personal work, somehow.
The conductor Grzegorz Nowak has researched Czerny and was responsible for the first concert performance of the Sixth Symphony. These are knowledgeable, unapologetic performances of these finely-crafted works.
Make no mistake: Czerny isn’t about to knock Schubert or Beethoven off their pedestals. But these are compelling symphonies that can both excite and delight. And they definitely deserve to be heard.
Carl Czerny: Symphony No. 6 in G minor; Grande Symphony No. 2, Op. 781
SWR Rundfunkochester Kaiserlautern; Grzegorz Nowak, conductor
SWR Music SWR19419CD