Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858)
Studio per il pianoforte, Books 1-4 (1804/1810)
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) Klavierübung, Book 7: Eight Études after Cramer, BV B53 (1921) Gianluca Luisi (piano) Alessandro Deljavan (piano) & Giampaolo Stuani (piano)
GRAND PIANO GP613-14
There is only one major issue with this excellent new release from Grand Piano: how to approach listening to it. The above listing does not really reveal the problem. The fact is that Johann Baptist Cramer’s Studio per il Pianoforte, Books 1-4 contain some 84 complex, involved and highly pianistic studies. [studio=studies=études] This represents almost two solid hours of music. Does one begin at ‘Étude I in C major’ and work ones way through to ‘Étude LXXXIV’ in the same key? On the other hand, perhaps, it could be good to take these a book at a time. Yet each ‘book’ is around 30 minutes. Stravinsky once remarked that Vivaldi wrote the same work some 400 times. Now I am not implying that these études lack interest or variety: what I am suggesting is that after two dozen they begin to sound a little same-ish. My suggestion is that if the listener can read (or even follow) music, they should download the four books from IMSLP. (See links below). Personally, I took them at about six or seven at a time in the order presented. I then stopped and did something else. And then ‘carried on.’
Johann Baptist Cramer was born in Mannheim in 1771 but was brought to London the following year. After lessons in violin and piano from his father, he had more formal studies with, amongst others C.F. Abel and Muzio Clementi. However, as a composer he was largely self-taught. In 1788 he began to tour extensively as a concert pianist, playing in many European capitals. In 1828, he set up a music-publishing house in partnership with Robert Addison. Although Cramer is best known for his piano solo music, he did contribute seven piano concertos, hundreds of sonatas, a piano quartet and quintet.
Studio per il pianoforte were published, as noted above, in four books, two in 1804 as Op.30 and the other two in 1810 as Op.40. They formed the fifth section of the composer’s massive Grosse praktische Pianoforte Schule (1815). Keith Anderson points out that they ‘anticipated [Muzio] Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum by nearly seven years.
Cramer’s ‘studio’ cross the boundary between ‘teaching pieces’ and works of art. Beethoven and Schumann famously admired them: Busoni issued an edition of these Études and wrote a number of additional examples in the same style –which are generously included on the present CD.
Nicolas Temperley has suggested that Cramer’s studies were by far his most ‘influential’ work. They are historically, as well as musically important. He writes that they ‘were the first of their kind: in fact, the word ‘study’ (étude) appears to have acquired its modern meaning through them…’ it was the first major collection of (high grade) teaching pieces for the pianoforte.
Cramer’s studies are not simply methodological exercises which would have had a tendency to be as dry as dust. They are imbued with well-considered formal characteristics and subject matter which are to be approached as part and parcel of the technical problems encountered. It has been suggested that only by a detailed examination of their internal structures will the qualities of beauty and interest be laid bare. It is unlikely that most listeners of these pieces will be able to devote this amount of time and effort to their exploration. However, I guess that the rule of thumb must be to regard them in similar manner as those by Chopin. Alas, it is unlikely that a recital will include Cramer’s studies as a part of the programme, whereas Chopin Études are a staple of the concert pianist. However, at his best Cramer comes close to the Polish master in synthesising musical material and technical challenge to produce a consistent and satisfying artistic form.
The great nineteenth century pianist Edward Dannreuther has described this collection of studies well:–‘this is of classical value for its intimate combination of significant musical ideas with the most instructive mechanical passages.’
Stylistically, it is fair to suggest that Cramer’s Études inhabit the sound world of Mozart and Scarlatti with frequent nods to Bach. However, his great achievement is that he has managed to fuse a conservative playing style with the latest developments in piano performance made possible by the mechanical advance in instrumental design.
It is good to have Busoni’s Eight Études after Cramer included in this present CD collection. Unfortunately there is little information about them in the liner notes. However, they were dedicated to Carl Lütschg, who was a former pupil of Ignaz Moscheles. Keith Anderson notes that four of these studies deal with ‘legato’ playing whilst the remaining four address the problems of ‘staccato’ touch. Without a lot of work, I am not sure to what extent Busoni has adapted, rewritten or amended the original Cramer studies. It would have been helpful if the liner notes had proved a brief ‘cross reference chart.’
I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to the entire run of Cramer’s 84 studies. In fact, it is the first time that they have been available in their entirety. They are played by three pianists who bring a huge talent to the performance of these important works. However, the main impression I get from listening to these Études is the inordinate enthusiasm and understanding that comes across in the performance. It would be easy, I guess, for the technical brilliance of many these studies to overshadow the poetical element that inhabits much of this music.
The liner notes are reasonable, although a little more detail may have been helpful. However, I accept that any analysis of each of these pieces would have made the booklet unwieldy.
The sound quality is impressive and allows the listener the maximum opportunity to enjoy every moment of this music.
With the above caveat about taking these pieces steadily rather than through-listening, I heartily recommend this double-CD to all piano music enthusiasts. Whatever their usual fare, these Études represent a major stage in the development of piano technique as we have come to understand it in the music of Chopin, Liszt and other romantic pianists.
The full piano score of Johnann Baptist Cramer’s Studio per il pianoforte in four volumes can be found at IMSLP
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.