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The Legacy: Following the Paths of Beethoven's Students

  • Czerny
  • Liszt
  • Jaell
  • Von Bülow
  • d'Albert
  • Backhaus
  • Schnabel

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)
Portrait engraving by Carl Mayer published by Schubert & Niemeyer in Hamburg and Itzehoe,  a. 1830
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

Carl CzernyBeethoven’s most famous pupil is perhaps best known today to piano students the world over as the composer of keyboard studies designed to develop advanced skills. By the time he was 10, Czerny had already made his public debut and could play many of the works of Mozart and Clementi from memory. Beethoven heard him play his own “Pathétique” Sonata and immediately offered to give him lessons. Carl later described these lessons in detail, recalling how Beethoven had him practice scales in all keys and exercises from the keyboard method book by C.P.E. Bach. Although the lessons did not continue regularly or for an extended period, Czerny became a lifelong friend and a champion of Beethoven’s music. Although much in demand as a teacher, he also agreed to give piano lessons to Beethoven’s nephew Karl (who had little of his uncle’s talent) in 1816-1818. He transcribed many of Beethoven’s orchestral works (including all nine of the symphonies) for fortepiano duet. His commentary on the interpretation of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, published in his Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano School in 1839, remains an invaluable resource.

Czerny's Three RondinosCarl Czerny, Three Elegant Rondinos for the Pianoforte on Favorite Motives of L. van Beethoven
Published in Bonn by N. Simrock, ca. 1838. Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2009

Among Czerny’s numerous fortepiano compositions are several based on themes by Beethoven. For these three short rondos, Czerny used themes from Beethoven’s song, “Das Glück der Freundschaft” (“The Happiness of Friendship”), Opus 88.






Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Woodcut engraving, ca. 1880
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2006

Franz LisztCzerny transmitted his knowledge and appreciation of Beethoven’s music to his pupil Franz Liszt, who studied fortepiano with him after the family moved to Vienna in 1822, when Liszt was 10. Czerny took his pupil to meet Beethoven, and the “little Liszt” wrote in Beethoven’s conversation book inviting him to attend his concert on April 13, 1823. Many years later, Liszt recounted that after the concert Beethoven praised his excellent performance by bestowing a “consecration kiss.” Scholars still argue about whether the story is true. However, there is no doubt that Liszt held a special reverence for Beethoven’s music and was a major influence in making it better known to nineteenth-century audiences. His edition of Beethoven’s sonatas was first published in 1857, and he transcribed all of Beethoven’s symphonies and several other works for solo fortepiano. Among his many philanthropic activities was his very generous financial support and fund-raising for the Beethoven monuments in Bonn (erected in 1845) and Vienna (erected in 1880). This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth.


Original concert program featuring Franz LisztOriginal concert program for the Philharmonic Society, London, June 8, 1840

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004This program included a performance by Franz Liszt and the violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880) of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, Opus 47. Also on the program was Beethoven’s Symphony in B-Flat Major, Opus 60.






Original handbill for a concert featuring Alfred JaellAlfred Jaell (a student of Czerny)

Original handbill for the Germania Musical Society concert in St. Louis, Missouri, May 31, 1853
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2005

This concert featured the first performance in St. Louis of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 2, Opus 36. Featured on the program was the Austrian pianist Alfred Jaell (1832-1882), a pupil of Czerny. Jaell’s very successful extended tour of the U.S. lasted from 1851-1854. The presenters of this concert found it necessary to admonish the audience to arrive on time, “it being very annoying to the performers, and to those who enjoy Beethoven’s masterwork, to be disturbed by late arrivals.” As a chamber musician, Jaell frequently appeared with the violinists Ole Bull (1810-1880) and Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), whose performances of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata were highly praised.












Hans von Bülow (1830-1894)
Photograph with autograph musical inscription dated Nov. 28, 1873
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1998

The prominent German conductor, pianist, teacher, and composer Hans von Bülow was also the first husband of Franz Liszt’s daughter Cosima, who left him for Richard Wagner. Bülow’s career as a conductor was already well underway when he turned to Liszt for retraining in piano, which as a child he had studied with Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann’s father. Under Liszt’s guidance, he followed a strict practicing regimen and earned his teacher’s praise as a talent that would place him “in the first rank of the greatest pianists.” He did extensive touring beginning in 1872, including 139 concerts in the United States in 1875-1876. In his 50s he demonstrated his stamina by performing all five of Beethoven’s late sonatas in a single concert. In 1872, his editions of many of Beethoven’s piano works appeared as volumes 4-5 of the Instructive Edition of Classical Piano Music, with a dedication to Liszt.

The music quoted in this autographed document is from the last movement of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, Opus 57, with fingerings added using the English system.

Hans von Bülow

Signed autograph letter from Hans von Bülow to an unidentified recipient in Heidelberg, dated March 31, 1888
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2005

In this letter, Bülow writes in the musical motto “Muss es sein?” (“Must it be”]) that Beethoven used for his String Quartet, Opus 135, here in the context of planning the repertory for an upcoming concert.

Hans von Bülow, autograph letter Hans von Bülow, autograph letter

Bismark based on Beethoven's Eroica“Bismark,” a rededication of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony by Hans von Bülow
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008

This score, printed in 1892, combines a text on Otto Bismark (1815-1898) with a theme from Beethoven’s Third Symphony that was originally titled the Bonaparte Symphony. As prime minister of Prussia beginning in 1862, Bismark was largely responsible for the unification of the Prussian states. He became the first Chancellor of Germany in 1871 but was removed from power by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890. Bülow caused a scandal when, at the conclusion of his final concert as artistic director for the Berlin Philharmonic on March 28, 1892, he announced that he was consecrating Beethoven’s symphony “to the greatest spiritual hero to have the seen the light of the world since Beethoven … to Beethoven’s brother, to the Beethoven of German politics, to Prince Bismarck!” The last two lines of text of the rededication, which incorporates a play on Bismark’s name, can be roughly translated as “Bismarck in You we trust, You united us!” This copy owned by the Beethoven Center includes the signatures and inscriptions of Bülow and the violinist Alban

Eugen d’Albert (student of Liszt)

Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932)
Postcard photograph with handwritten note about Beethoven
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010

Eugen d'Albert photographThe pianist Eugen d’Albert was still a teenager when he was sent to Vienna in 1881 to meet Liszt, who accepted him as a student. They worked together in Weimar, and Liszt came to consider d’Albert as one of his most outstanding pupils. However, d’Albert had less affinity for the programmatic music that was then in vogue (including the music of Liszt) than for the German masters. He became a leading interpreter of Beethoven’s music. In 1961, the American pianist Andor Foldes published this reminiscence of hearing d’Albert in concert:

"I will never forget Eugen d'Albert, that great titan of the piano, whose solo and orchestral concerts were the delight of my childhood and the never-to-be-topped ideal of my youth. Especially do I cherish one particular matinée he gave about 1924 in Budapest's largest theatre, the Varosi Szinhaz, seating some 2,200 people. It started with the Emperor, after which the interval enabled the audience to catch its breath, and provided occasion at the same time to clear the stage of desks and chairs, so that in the second half the Master occupied the entire tremendous platform himself, playing various solo works of Beethoven, including the Appassionata and the Rage over a Lost Penny in a grandiose, royal manner which still rings in my ears. The beginning of the Emperor finale was - or so it seemed to me at the time - a unique miracle of ferociousness and dare-devilry. It was, I felt, the epitome of heroism, the last word in what a human being was able to do in recapturing the untamed spirit of one Ludwig van Beethoven - long gone from our midst, yet triumphantly alive thanks to such an interpreter as d'Albert.”

Handwritten inscription by Eugen d'AlbertThe handwritten inscription on display underneath the photograph reads “Auf Ihre ges. Anfrage jedenfalls: Beethoven” (“To answer your question, of course: Beethoven”).

Autograph letter from Eugen d’Albert to Herr Kraus, Coburg, April 26, 1886
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010 [m2b030]

In this letter d’Albert mentions his upcoming performances of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Opus 31, no. 3 and the “Waldstein” Sonata, Opus 53.

Autograph letter from Eugen d'Albert Title page of d'Albert's edition of Beethoven's piano sonatas

First Edition of Eugen d’Albert’s “Critical-Instructive Edition” of Beethoven’s Fortepiano Sonatas, published in Leipzig by Otto Forberg, 1902
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2009

D’Albert’s critical notes (printed in German, English, and French) at times refer to the rival edition of Hans von Bülow, which was still much in use at the time. He often agrees with Bülow’s interpretations.

Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969), a student of d'Albert
Photograph with autograph musical inscription to Henry Effling in Manchester, dated Feb. 27, 1902
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1998

After studies at the Leipzig Conservatory, a young German pianist named Wilhelm Backhaus went to Frankfurt am Main in 1898 for private lessons with Eugen d’Albert. Although at that time d’Albert refused to take pupils, the precocious Backhaus “forced the door open. “How did I dare to do it?,” he later pondered during an interview. “D’Albert didn’t even give lessons, his time was very precious and he was determined not to waste it! By a miracle, however, I found favor in his eyes. At any rate he didn’t begrudge me his attention for in that year (1898) he let me play to him more than twenty-five times!” Backhaus returned to London two years later to embark on a solo concert career, and in 1902 performed Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Hans Richter after the scheduled pianist fell ill. The music he quotes in this autograph is from the slow movement the Fourth Concerto, under which Backhaus added the caption “Orpheus in the Underworld.” It was d’Albert’s teacher Franz Liszt who first attached the description of Orpheus taming the Furies in Hades with his lyre to the second movement of Beethoven’s concerto.


Pianola roll for a performance of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Piano Sonata by Wilhelm Backhaus, 1911
Gift of Cateau van der Hoog, 2004

Wilhelm Backhaus piano rollBackhaus was one of the earliest concert pianists to make recordings. In the early 20th century, technology for recording on phonograph records was still in its infancy. However, at the end of the nineteenth century several piano makers had developed piano roll technology to reproduce performances on a pianola, or player piano. The piano roll consists of a roll of paper with punched holes. Each hole represents the position and length of the note played on a piano. As the role moves over a tracker bar in a player piano, the note sounds.  As early as 1904, the Welte-Mignon firm in Germany began using this technology to record famous pianists/composers such as Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss. The following year, the rival company of Ludwig Hupfeld in Leipzig began producing his own series of Künsterlermusikrollen (Artist’s Music Rolls) that could be played on his Phonola pianos.  The website of the Pianola Institute describes the recording process:

Pianists visited the Hupfeld studios in central Leipzig, in similar fashion to those who were recording for the Welte-Mignon, at the Popper salon a few streets away. Although the resulting hand-played rolls were immediately available for the Phonola, with printed dynamic markings for the player to follow, they were also designed with Hupfeld's recent Phonoliszt in mind, an expression piano powered by an electric suction pump, with three levels of automatic dynamics, and variable speed crescendos between the levels. The grand piano used for recording was linked pneumatically to the machine that marked the master rolls, and an additional five tubes allowed for limited dynamic information to be recorded in real time. It is not yet clear whether there were separate sets of dynamic tubes for the treble and bass, since the Phonola had a divided mechanism, whereas the Phonoliszt did not.

Backhaus contributed to Hupfeld’s catalog by recording works by Grieg. However, this performance of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, which could be played using Hupfeld’s patented “Soladant” system, appears to be unknown in the discography of Backhaus’s recordings. The paper of this piano roll contains the “Phonola” watermark and the date 1911. In the 1950’s, when long-playing records were being produced, Backhaus recorded all of the Beethoven piano sonatas for the London label. His project to re-record the sonatas in the 1960’s was unfortunately unfinished at the time of his death.

Teatro Colon program featuring BackhausOriginal program for an all-Beethoven concert by Wilhelm Backhaus at the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, July 30, 1938
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

After Backhaus won the Anton Rubinstein competition in 1905, his touring took him frequently to North and South America. This program was for one of eight concerts in Buenos Aires featuring the complete cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas and other works. The program contains a slight misprint: the Sonata no. 25 is Opus 79, not Opus 69 as printed here. By the 1950s Backhaus was regarded as a Beethoven interpreter with few rivals, and his series of Beethoven recitals at Carnegie Hall received wide acclaim. 

Backhaus program for the Teatro Colon

Autograph note from Backhaus to KlugeSigned autograph note from Wilhelm Backhaus to Lotte Kluge, with a musical quotation, dated June 17, 1941
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010

In this autograph, Backhaus transcribes the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Fortepiano Concerto.




Artur Schnabel (1882-1951), student of Leschetizky, a student of Czerny
Autographed program for an all-Beethoven concert at the Curran Theater, San Francisco, April 16, 1939
Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008

Concert program signed by Artur SchnabelArtur Schnabel studied piano in Vienna with the great Polish pianist Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915), one of Czerny’s students, and began his concert career at the age of 8. However, his years in Berlin from about 1919-1924 were the most formative in his development as a musician. During this period, in addition to exploring contemporary music and composing his own works, he was also developing his own personal style in the interpretation of Beethoven. In 1927, for the 100th anniversary of Beethoven’s death, Schnabel performed a complete cycle of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas, repeating this series in 1932 and then in London in 1934. His free approach lacked the technical polish of some other pianists (such as Backhaus), but his interpretations have been described as imaginative and visionary, “still faithful to the composer’s intention, to the spirit rather than the letter.” Leschitzky described his student not as a pianist but as a musician, one who transcended the boundaries of his instrument (an assessment that Beethoven himself would likely relate to). In 1939 he and his wife fled Nazi Germany to the United States, and he became an American citizen in 1944. Schnabel’s famous editions of the Beethoven sonatas first appeared in installments in 1924-1927 and have been reprinted many times as a tw0-volume set. The pianist Claude Frank, who studied with Schnabel, described this edition as “an inspiring, detailed and eloquent description of Schnabel's conception.”

Cover of a recording by SchnabelRecording by Artur Schnabel of Beethoven’s Fortepiano Concerto no. 5,
Opus 73, on the Victor “Red Seal” Label, 1943

In 1932 Schnabel contracted with His Master’s Voice to record all of the Beethoven sonatas, the first pianist to undertake such a project. Shortly afterward he also recorded all five of Beethoven’s concertos. For this 78 rpm recording, five discs were required to capture the entire Fifth Concerto.