Czerny and Ballet Class...
Arranging and Re-Imagining

My “Czerny for Ballet Class: Arrangements and Re-Imaginings” is a library of arrangements I’ve made over the years of piano studies drawn from three of Czerny’s most famous collections: Op 299, The School of Velocity, Op 335, The School of Legato and Staccato, and Op 740, The Art of Finger Dexterity.  The library is made up of audio tracks of my performances of these arrangements, my technical commentaries on them, and, for the simpler arrangements, my piano score.

I’m presenting this library primarily to ballet accompanists and ballet teachers. The commentaries are technical and meant for accompanists (whom I address as “you,” and think of as “we”).  For teachers I’ve provided a headnote for each arrangement describing its character, meter and length.  But I hope that anyone who’s interested in Czerny and the piano, even with no interest in ballet class or ballet accompaniment, will explore this library.  There’s a larger purpose to this project than just adding to the stock of ballet class piano music.  Over the 45 years I’ve been using Czerny for my personal training and as a source of repertory for ballet class I’ve come to appreciate Czerny as a composer who often invests his piano studies--pieces we can assume he considered musically slight-- with considerable musical interest and fun.  I've come to appreciate Czerny as a composer, an artist who invested at least some personality in everything he wrote, no matter how slight.  I hope that my arrangements not only reveal some of that personality to music lovers but also inspire other pianists in their own arranging and their own re-imagining.

Czerny, Pianists, and Ballet Class...

 

There’s an exact analogy between the piano studies of Carl Czerny and the exercises of a typical ballet class.  In Czerny’s studies specific technical problems are presented in patterns of notes to be drilled and mastered by repetition, and these repetitions are shaped, with more or less sophistication, into pieces of music with more or less artistic interest.  Similarly, the exercises of ballet class are made up of repetitions of specific steps—plies, for example, or tendus, or frappes—and the repetitions are shaped into structures—“combinations”—of more or less artistic interest.  The only significant difference between such piano studies as Czerny’s and ballet class combinations is that the piano studies can be made up of any number of phrases and the phrases may be of any length, while ballet class combinations traditionally have the structural constraints of a preparation, 8-count phrases, and an "even" number of those phrases.  But both Czerny’s studies and most teachers’ ballet combinations are intended to be more than merely repetitive drills; both are intended to have some artistic appeal.

The mechanical character of Czerny’s studies is their great strength as training regimen and their great weakness as art.  As a pianist, if you want to project a Czerny study as a work of art you’ve got to project more than the mechanism.  Teachers who use Czerny to train students usually don’t bother insisting too much on “art” as much as accuracy.  But from very early on in the training of ballet dancers artistic expression is demanded in the execution of the simplest steps.  A ballet dancer’s “artistic expression” may in early training mean no more than showing a correct body line and not looking at the floor, but over time, as technique is perfected, a dancer’s expressiveness becomes more varied, more evocative, more personal.

I now think a better word for “artistic expression” is “personality” when thinking about analogies between piano studies and ballet class combinations. This points up an interesting difference between the training of pianists and the training of dancers.  As pianists we train for the most part alone, for the most part drilling technique, trying not to annoy the neighbors, and not worrying about “personality” until late in the mastery of pieces of repertory.  But dancers train, from the very beginning, in ballet class with other dancers, and in ballet class every dancer is “on,” every dancer is watched, and “personality” is asked of the very youngest dancers.

 

When I began accompanying ballet classes I learned a lot of Czerny studies because they were quick repertory, they were good for my technique, and they are well suited to certain types of ballet class combinations.  Over the years I’ve discovered that there’s more to Czerny studies than “mechanism;” there’s often fun, excitement, good tunes.  Often there’s beauty–often Czerny can sound as beautiful as Beethoven or Schubert.  Often he has a distinctly comic sound (for example, his "Italian Style" as I call it in Op 335).  My interest now in Czerny, my focus and purpose in assembling this library of arrangements and re-imaginings, is on what, after 45 years, I feel I’ve discovered about Czerny as a composer with personality: his mechanical studies can be fun, exciting, and beautiful when we, as pianists, commit to them with our own personality, which is to say our own, personal sense of fun, excitement and beauty.

The Accompanist as Arranger...
Training, Technique, Technologies

Every ballet accompanist is an arranger from the start: you learn from the start how to create a 4-count preparation, how to square-off a phrase of music into 8 counts, how to square-off the number of 8-count phrases so it’s “even.”  If you learn no more than that you can go pretty far, but you’ve got to learn at least that much or you’ll go nowhere.

I started accompanying ballet class having completed the standard undergraduate courses of harmony, theory and counterpoint.  I think that an assured knowledge of functional harmony is the most important theoretical equipment for an accompanist: knowing functional harmony (being able to hear it, see it on the staff and see it on the keyboard) helps you to learn and memorize quickly, to know your way around a piece, to know where you are when you have to square-off a piece, or make it “even”, and especially to transpose and improvise.

When I started accompanying full-time for a living (1976) the most valuable technology was the copier.  I copied pieces I wanted to use for class and marked them up with the necessary modifications.  There was manuscript paper and pencils and erasers for more ambitious projects.  But if I wanted to record a ballet class album I had to figure out how to finance studio and instrument rentals and how to pay a recording engineer.

 

I recorded my first ballet class cd in 2000, and only because by then the huge advances in do-it-yourself computer software allowed musicians like me to do their own recording.  And now Digital Audio Workstations and Notation Programs make projects like my Czerny For Ballet Class possible.  

 

All the recording in this library has been done with DAW software, and the scores with a notation program.  The DAW software also allowed me to make highly complex arrangements which could only be performed by multiple players.  I think of these arrangements as “Idealizations," “Parodies” (in the Baroque sense), “Homages,” par erga...

Today’s technology doesn’t just allow people like me (with no money, no sound studio, no training as an arranger) to arrange, record and publish; it allows people like me to work on a project that is personally deeply interesting and satisfying but which can’t be expected to be of much interest beyond a very small audience of people in my field.  I hope that some in that small audience will be inspired to create similar projects, and to them I dedicate Czerny For Ballet Class: Arrangements and Re-Imaginings.