Czerny and Beethoven
Carl Czerny's autobiography from 1842 lies In the archives of Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. Here Czerny tells the story of his relationship to Beethoven and of their first meeting in 1801: ( ) are Czerny's and [ ] are mine.
At this time we were often
visited by an old man: [Wenzel or Vaclav] Krumpholz (a brother to the inventor of the pedal
Harp) - indeed he almost came every day [old? - well he was fifty]. He was a violinist and member
of the orchestra at the Court Theater and a music lover of almost
extravagant passion. Although his technical knowledge was rather limited -
mother nature had endowed him with such a precise instinct for musical beauty
that with his judgment of any piece he was able to predict the verdict of
the musical world.
I was about ten years old when he took me to see Beethoven - it was a day that I both dreaded and looked forward to - the day when should finally meet the admired master. Even today it stands before me in the most vivid manner. It was winter [probably February 1801] when my father, Krumpholz and I left Leopoldstadt where we lived and drove to the inner part of Vienne to the street called Tiefer Graben and ascended an endless amount of stairs to the fifth or sixth floor [in fact Beethoven only lived on the fourth floor - but to young Carl it must have been an endless journey] where a rather disorderly servant opened the door and announced us to Beethoven. The room was a total mess; papers, pieces of clothes were lying all over, some trunks, bare walls and there was hardly a chair except for the rickety one at the Walter piano (this piano being the best in Vienna at that time).
room about 6 or 8 persons were assembled - among them the two Wranitzky
brothers, [Franz Xaver] Süssmayr [who completed Mozart's Requiem], Schuppanzigh and one of Beethoven's brothers.
Beethoven himself was wearing a dressing gown made of some longhaired
darkish gray material and trousers that matched. He reminded me of
Robinson Crusoe of whom I was reading at that time - his hair was coal
black - cut like emperor Titus' - and it stood unkempt out in all directions from his
head. He had not shaved for several days which made his already brown face
look even darker. With my childish quick perception I at once noticed that
in his ears were cotton wool that had been soaked in some yellow
fluid. But at this moment there were no obvious signs of his coming deafness.
There are a lot of interesting things to be learned from this story. First of all Czerny's remark about the cotton wool in Beethoven's ears. This is probably one of the first observations we have about the problems with his ears. Later - in a letter to Otto Jahn - Czerny tells that Beethoven had been tormented by pains in his ears since 1800 but up till 1812 he was able to hear speech and music almost perfectly - and even after that he was able to hear to some degree partially with the help of different devices constructed by Court Mekanicus, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel (inventor of the metronome) before he became completely deaf. On the other hand Beethoven must have been frightened by the obvious consequences already at that time since he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament one and a half year later in October 1802 in which he informs his brothers about his progressing deafness.
It is also interesting to know that Beethoven must have known Mozart's concerto since he was able to play the orchestral part by heart accompanying Czerny. Of course a trained musician will always be able to fake an accompaniment of any piece by a minor composer just by hearing the themes from the solo passages - especially a composer whose music is very predictable - but not a Mozart. In those pre-CD-days there were only two possibilities to get to know a work - either go to a concert where it was played or study the score yourself. The chances of hearing such a concert more than a very few times was were very small, so we must assume that Beethoven had studied the score.
Beethoven was not very willing to take pupils but he did make exceptions to this in case of special talents and the remark about several times a week must have been a proof of this very special talent of Czerny's. And according to him Beethoven - the teacher - was quite different from Beethoven - the man. In this capacity - and with a talented pupil he was very patient and kind - not showing the violent temper that otherwise was customary - even resulting in fights at restaurants where he would throw the whole meal in the face of the waiter if he didn't like it.
The lessons focused in the beginning on scales and technique and then moved on to Beethoven's major emphasis on legato technique. This could be seen as some sort of starting all over for a boy, who could play both a Mozart concerto and the Pathétique sonata, but it could also be seen as a sign of Beethoven's emphasis on details. He must have seen Czerny as a diamond in the rough and wanted to make the perfect gem out of him - according to his own ideals. The lessons stopped around 1803 when Beethoven needed more time to concentrate on composition but the two remained on very close terms indeed - with Czerny being asked to proof read all his newly published works and the composer entrusting his pupil to make the piano reduction of the opera Fidelio in 1805. And when Beethoven had taken over the responsibilities of his nephew Karl - it was Carl Czerny who in 1816 was chosen as his piano teacher.
(Some few more words about Krumpholz: he was also a mandolin player
(Thayer describes him as a mandolin virtuoso) and it was probably for him Beethoven wrote two
sonatinas for mandolin and piano in C minor WoO 43 (1795) and C major WoO