The Australian Ballet

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Piano Studies

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Artists of The Australian Ballet, Études (Lander) 2012
Photo Jeff Busby

How Carl Czerny’s ‘piano exercises’ went from the practice room to centre stage in Harald Lander’s Études.

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Carl Czerny introduces his pupil Franz Liszt to Beethoven.
Drawing by Rudolf Lipus

A musical prodigy, Carl Czerny learnt piano from his father before being introduced to Ludwig van Beethoven in 1801. Impressed with the 10-year-old’s ability to play his Pathétique Sonata and Adelaide, Beethoven took him on a student. Czerny had a remarkable musical memory and could play all of Beethoven’s piano works by heart without exception and continued to be a close friend of Beethoven’s throughout his life.

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Carl Czerny, the forefather of Pianoforte Technic
Illustration from The Etude magazine April 1927

Czerny began teaching piano at the age of fifteen taking on many star students, the most famous of which would be Franz Liszt. His teaching career led him to begin composing piano solo exercises designed to develop technique and finger dexterity, and were suitable for beginners all the way to the most advanced pianists. Czerny is considered to be the father of modern piano technique and his influence continues throughout classical music.

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Artists of The Australian Ballet, Études (Lander) 2012
Photo Georges Antoni

Almost 100 years after his death in 1857, Carl Czerny’s work would take centre stage in Harald Lander’s 1948 ballet, Études. As the lore goes, composer Knudåge Riisager heard one of Carl Czerny’s piano studies being practised through an open window one autumn afternoon in Copenhagen. As he watched a swirl of leaves in the wind, he was inspired to orchestrate the music for ballet. Riisager took his score to Lander and the rest is ballet history.

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Katherine Sonnekus, Belle Urwin and Principal Artist Sharni Spencer
Photo Simon Eeles

Lander’s choreography for Études is designed to gradually evolve from the ballet barre to more complex movements before culminating in a grand finale of expert precision. Czerny’s piano exercises were designed to both teach and challenge music students and, while very constructive in developing skill on the piano, are not necessarily the most fun pieces to play. Knudåge Riisager took the repetitive classroom exercises and orchestrated them into an arrangement that dancer’s love dancing to and musicians love to play. Études score is a unique composition for an equally unique ballet that follows the technical progression of both dancer and musician. Far from a classroom exercise, Études is a multidimensional study in ballet as an art form, its music supporting the idea that great art starts in the rehearsal room.

Études opens in May as part of double bill featuring Circle Electric, a new work from choreographer Stephanie Lake

Études / Circle Electric