Carl Czerny (1791-1857) occupies a pivotal niche in music history, linking Beethoven - his teacher, the ultimate archetype of profoundly spiritual music - with Liszt, Czerny's student, who exemplifies the ultra-romantic and often exhibitionistic virtuoso. Squashed between two of the most heroic, colourful and influential personalities in the history of music, each of whom is adulated and imitated to this day, Czerny, quite in contrast, led a very modest, uneventful and withdrawn life, and his name remains known only for his technical studies and etudes. This is profoundly unjust, for hidden in his extraordinary output (well over 1000 works, even without counting the etudes!) lie dozens of glorious masterworks. These display a consistent perfection of craft, a freshness of invention and an engaging sincerity that is remarkable. The music surprises us constantly with unexpected little original touches, some elegant, others quirky - a secret reward for those who listen carefully. The traditional forms are harnessed with a confidence and finesse that allows them to flow seamlessly.
If Czerny wrote such outstanding works, why have they remained buried out of sight? The most plausible answer is that he became type-cast as a manufacturer of etudes and of the mass-produced junk music - the potpourris, fantasies and variations on the latest opera hits - that enriched his publishers (and which they kept begging him for). Even in his shallower works one must admire the infallible craft, the instinctive and uninhibited mastery of melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint and form, and the astonishingly inventive figurations that helped prepare the way for the music of Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Alkan and ever so many others. Czerny's ideas for possible permutations of patterns for ten fingers seem inexhaustible, as is also evident in his etudes (some of which are much more difficult than those of Chopin).
Many of the works included in this set have never been published, and had to be deciphered and transcribed from microfilm; almost all of the remaining ones are out of print today. Much of the material was obtained from the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, which acquired the composer's own collection from his estate and therefore has a hoard of unpublished Czerny manuscripts, plus most of his published works.