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Pedagogues during the transition from the Classical to Romantic era

Updated: May 28, 2020

The popularity of C.P.E. Bach’s An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments led to numbers of followers who published pedagogical books with the continuation of C.P.E. Bach’s ideas. During the transition from the Classical to Romantic eras, several pedagogues and their publications were influential and important to their contemporaries and even today’s piano pedagogy.

The transition coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and the piano underwent significant changes during this period. The response from pedagogues differed: some looked forward and embraced progressive trends while others remained conservative and continued to write for older keyboard instruments.

Daniel Gottlob Türk (1756-1813)

Daniel Gottlob Türk published the Klaverschule oder Anweising zum Klavierspielen (School of Piano of Instruction in Piano Playing) in 1789. Similar to C.P.E. Bach’s book, Türk had a lengthy discussion about the execution of ornaments. His approach of playing the piano, though, perhaps is no longer recommendable to pianists today. He suggested our sitting height should be high enough for our elbows hanged above the hands. Instead of recommending us to play with all curved fingers, Türk only suggested us to remain our middle finger curved but our thumbs should be held straight. He focused on finger movements and he said that our hands and arms should remain quiet. However, prolonged use of these techniques has been showed to cause injury.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)

Following C.P.E. Bach’s book in many ways, Muzio Clementi advanced it and applied them into his publications. Clementi, the Father of the pianoforte, is a significant figure to piano history. Not only a composer and a pianist, Clementi was a publisher, a piano manufacturer, and more importantly, he was a pedagogue who established the tradition of piano teaching.

One fun fact about Clementi: On the Christmas eve in 1781, he was invited by Emperor Joseph II in Vienna to participate a musical contest with Mozart. The Emperor eventually declared the competition a tie. Clementi praised Mozart’s playing and he wrote:

“Until then I had never heard anyone play with so much spirit and grace.”

However, Mozart was not as friendly as Clementi, nor his musical taste. Mozart disapproved of Clementi’s virtuoso playing and thought it was mechanical. Clementi and Mozart never met again after this contest.

Clementi published several pedagogical and method books during his lifetime. The first book, the Introduction to The Art of Playing on the Piano forte, published in 1801 is purely pedagogical. He gave detailed explanations towards music theory. He advanced C.P.E. Bach’s on legato playing. He emphasized the finger legato movement by keeping the key down until the next key is struck. He agreed with C.P.E. Bach about curved fingers and arm movements. His method book, Gradus ad Parnassum, although it is less heard today, was influential and inspirational to composers, such as Carl Czerny, Johann Baptist Cramer, and Ferdinard Beyer whose method books remain popular today. Gradus ad Parnassum contains 100 exercises, ranging from scales, and imaginative patterns to contrapuntal and chordal pieces.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

Hummel is another significant figure during the transition from the Classical to Romantic period. An Austrian composer, pianist and Unlike Clementi, Hummel’s style was more conservative of the time. One of his students, Mozart, was greatly influenced by Hummel and his music showed a lot of elegant qualities from the Viennese style. His pedagogical approach was also towards conservative, but there are some inspiring ideas and exercises in his pedagogical work that are still useful today.

With three volumes, A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instructions on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte Commencing with the Simplest Elementary Principles and Including Every Requisite to the Most Finished Style of Performance became one of the most influential pedagogical writings of the early 19th century. This work was published in 1828 and it includes more than 2000 exercises and musical illustrations. His exercises include a collection of fingering patterns which is still useful for pianists today.

Favoring the lightness of German piano, Hummel suggested pianists play with less hand movement, and avoid moving bigger parts of the body. He also suggested students to play without looking at the keyboard and play slowly.

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)

According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Carl Czerny was “a central figure in the transmission of Beethoven’s legacy”, a piano teacher who numbered among his star students Stephan Heller, Sigismond Thalberg, Theodor Leschetizky, and Franz Liszt.

(picture from The Etude, 1927)

Fun facts about Czerny: Czerny was a cat person. He lived with as many as 7 to 10 cats at a time. Czerny had never married but he made a lot of money during his lifetime giving lessons to nobility. When he passed away, a large portion of his money was donated to a charity in Beethoven's honor, an institution for the deaf.

While Czerny’s exercises are well-known to most piano students, his pedagogical work, Op.500, is relatively unknown to many piano players. This pedagogical work, titled Pianoforte-Schule, has 4 volumes. The first volume addresses the fundamental techniques and it is discussed in 19 chapters (lessons).

The third volume discusses musical problems. These problems, including musical accents, dynamic markings, articulations, tempo, use of metronome, playing at sight or playing from memory, musical characters, styles of performances, and even transpositions and pedaling. In other words, Czerny tried to include as many problems as possible! He provided musical examples and gave solutions and suggestions to tackle the problems he mentioned. Czerny gave a historical overview of musical styles, beginning from J.S.Bach to the ‘modern’ school at the time, including the playing of Chopin and Liszt.

The fundamental techniques, including sitting position and torso, soft fingers and use of fleshy tip of the finger. He was one of the earliest pedagogues to address the use of weight in piano playing. He describes the crescendo should be played by “increasing internal action of the nerves” and by a “greater degree of weight.”

The second volume focuses on fingering. Due to the differences in sizes and shapes of different hands, Czerny argued that there should not have standard fingerings. He made five rules for fingering:

1. The 4 long fingers of each hand….. must never be passed over one another.

2. The same finger must not be placed on two or more consecutive keys.

3. The thumb and the little finger should never be placed on the black keys in playing the scales.

4. Every passage which may be taken in several ways, should be played in that manner which is the most suitable and natural to the case that occurs, and which is determined partly by adjacent notes, and partly by the style of execution.

5. We must always call to our aid as many fingers, as are necessary to enable us to take the most distant note in every passage with a. convenient finger, and to avoid the superfluous passing of the thumb or the other finger.

The third volume discusses about musical problems. These problems, including musical accents dynamic markings, articulations, tempo, use of metronome, playing at sight or playing from memory, music characters, styles of performances, and even transpositions and pedalling. In other words, Czerny tried to include as many problems as possible! He provided musical examples and gave solutions and suggestions to tackle the porblems he mentioned. Czerny gave an historical overview of musical styles, beginnning from J.S. Bach to the 'modern' school at the time,such as playings by Chopin and Liszt.

A fourth volume consists of a discussion of interpretation of Beethoven’s music, and interpretations of styles of contemporary composers.

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