Czerny: Meeting Beethoven

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This article will make all its readers feel the gasp of breath at the end of the 10 floors where Czerny, who is only 6 years old, took small steps to reach Beethoven's apartment, while at the same time, it will make the life anxiety of a father for his son live in their bones. The memoir, which you will read below, was written by Czerny himself in 1842 and has been translated from the original, which is now in the Vienna archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde / Musikverein (Society of Friends of Music).

First of all, I would like to write the main protagonists of the story and the background information: An old man named Krumpholz, the brother of the man who invented the harp pedal, used to visit us almost every night. A violinist, Krumpholz was also a member of the palace orchestra. He was a complete music lover, and his technical knowledge was quite advanced. He would examine and criticize his compositions with a very agile wit and quality. When the young Beethoven's name was just beginning to be heard, it was not too late to get to know this extraordinary composer in Krumpholz, and he soon became one of the figures you can see in his house. They spent almost the whole day together, young Beethoven playing him his compositions, smiling at the old-fashioned Krumpholz's criticism. Young Beethoven, whose compositions could not be understood during his lifetime, was heavily criticized by old-fashioned Mozart-Haydn followers. This old man (Krumpholz), with whom I play Beethoven compositions almost every day, helped me a lot with tempo and dynamics, even though he did not know how to play the piano.

He was someone who had the chance to listen to all these works from Beethoven himself. I must have been so impressed by his excitement that I soon found myself continuing my life with the admiration of Beethoven. Krumpholz would stop by us some afternoons and play the melodies of new compositions Beethoven was working on, with his violin, which have not yet been published. This gave me the chance to get to know and hear his compositions before anyone else. Another advantage was how long the master worked to perfect his works… Because sometimes it would take years for the melodies I heard to be printed! Let's get back to that day: I was only 10 years old when Krumpholz took me to meet Beethoven. I did not sleep at all that night, and in the morning I was full of excitement and fear. It was such an excitement that while I was writing these lines, I can say that the most vivid memory of my life was that day!

It was winter when my father, Krumpholz and I went to see Beethoven. We walked through Leopoldstadt to a street called “der tiefe Graben” (deep ditch). Later, we climbed the stairs to the 6th floor of a building, and were met by a rather shabby servant and taken to Beethoven's house. The room was quite messy. There were pieces of paper everywhere. The bare-walled room had hardly any chairs, save for the chair in front of the master's Walter piano (the best of the time!). The Wranitsky brothers, Süssmayr, Schuppanzigh, and one of Beethoven's brothers were also there. Without interrupting the story too much, I would like to briefly introduce these names to you; Paul Wranitzky – Violinist and composer Anton Wranitzky – student of Mozart and Haydn, violinist and composer Franz Xaver Süssmayr – Austrian composer. The person who completed Mozart's unfinished Requiem. Ignaz Schuppanzigh – Austrian violinist, teacher of Beethoven. Let's continue from where we left off; Beethoven was wearing a gray, long-haired dressing gown. His trousers were the right fit. His charcoal-colored hair was cut short. His beard looked like it hadn't been trimmed for a week, and his face was dark. In his ears were certain cottons that had been dipped in a yellow liquid. At that time, it was not possible for you to catch the slightest evidence that he was deaf.

I was told to play something, because I did not dare to play one of his compositions, I started playing Mozart's concerto in C-major (No.21). Soon Beethoven took his interest in me and sat next to me. He started playing the orchestra part of the piece with me using his left hand. I remember her hands, they were pretty hairy. Fingertips are wide. When the satisfaction on his face encouraged me, I first played his own Pathétique sonata (Op.13) and then accompanied my father and played Adelaide. As soon as the piece was finished, Beethoven turned to my father and said: “The boy has talent. I will teach him myself and accept him as my student. Send it to me several times a week. But first get Emanuel Bach's book 'the art of playing the piano'. He should come to the next lesson with that book.” Others in the room also congratulated my father, I still remember the satisfaction on Krumpholz's face. As soon as we left the house, my father ran away and went to the music shops to find Bach's book.

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