Sunday, 26 February 2012

A right grand symphony, lad

Those who learned the piano when young will probably know the name of Carl Czerny and a few of his easier piano pieces. Czerny's dates, 1791-1857, show him to be of Schubert's generation (though he lived a lot longer) and anyone familiar with Schubert's symphonies will recognise certain common features when listening to Czerny's Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.780 (must have been prolific to reach 780!). It's also known as his Grand Symphony, doubtless due to its generally serious demeanour, its storm-and-stress characteristics, its military rhythms and its strong use of brass and drums. It also turns out to be a 'grand' symphony in the sense that we Northerners use it (especially if we're characters out of Wallace and Gromit). 

The opening Allegro movement begins with a dramatic, dotted tutti figure. This is immediately met by a gently undulating woodwind figure (a la Schubert). The dotted figure then storms powerfully, taking us to the second subject - an oboe theme of lyrical character (though also pronounced in its rhythms) which is unaccompanied by nervous string figures. Drama then rages back in but pauses for a third subject - a noble string tune. The development section works away with dotted figures, reviews the second subject then launches itself into a fugato. It's an eventful movement.

There's a noble, heroic slow movement to follow, with long melodic lines and a military flavouring - an elegy for a great man, maybe? 

Czerny's scherzo, with its tripping dotted rhythms, has the interesting character of sounding like a Mendelssohn 'fairy scherzo', albeit taken at a much slower pace, that has been re-written first by Beethoven then by Schubert, each leaving clear evidence of their handiwork! Unfamiliar works by unfamiliar composers often sound like their more famous companions. Still, the result is engaging. So is the trio, which features a charming chorus of woodwinds met by an urgent response from strings and brass.

The finale returns us to storm and stress and symphonic seriousness, though its wind-led second subject whistles a jaunty tune and there's a spirited, Weber-like development section. 

Worth a go!

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