Klavierstücke für Kinder
die es werden wollen
What do adults know anyway …
Konzert für Violine, Violoncello und Orchester
Irina Cerha, Kinderspielplatz (edited), undated
While some of Irina Cerha’s drawings relate directly to her father’s music, others stand on their own. The drawing Kinderspielplatz (Playground) is one of the artist’s early works and is not connected with any specific piece. Nonetheless, the playful design fits well with Klavierstücke für Kinder oder solche, die es werden wollen (Piano Pieces for Children, or Those Who Want to Become One).
Foto: Christoph Fuchs
Like father like daughter?
Source: Robert Neumüller/Irina Cerha
Director Robert Neumüller shot scenes for a film portrait of Cerha titled So möchte ich auch fliegen können (So, Too, Would I Like to Fly). He traces the story of Friedrich Cerha’s development as a person and a composer. While filming, Neumüller also interviewed his daughters Irina (*1956) and Ruth (*1963). Both are artistically active, but (despite learning to play instruments) did not choose music as their primary medium of expression. Ruth made her mark as a writer, and Irina’s passion was in the visual arts. As a child, she often reached for a pencil, capturing her mental images on sheets of paper. Several of her expressive childhood drawings are intertwined with her father’s work in a very special way; they accompany a cycle of piano pieces Friedrich composed for Irina.
Klavierstücke für Kinder oder solche, die es werden wollen emerged in an environment that contradicted them in many respects. Almost all of the pieces were written in 1964, with a few composed earlier. The experimental and investigative spirit of the 1960s, and Cerha’s avant-garde orientation at the time, hardly fit with the miniature, witty, and simple pieces. The only piece composed a year earlier, Elegie for piano, is an indication of how greatly Klavierstücke für Kinder differ from the other works of this period.
Cerha, Elegie for piano, handwritten score, line 1, 1963
Cerha, Elegie for piano (1963)
Interpreter: Wolfram Weiss
Elegie communicates a concentrated, exciting and solemn fabric of tonal abstraction — and Klavierstücke, a colourful game of gestures, movement, and imagery. Contrasts like this make it clear that Cerha’s oeuvre does not categorically exclude anything whatsoever. The arc of his artistic development is characterized just as much by a sense of broad coexistence as it is by stringent detail. At the same time, one can clearly recognize Cerha’s typical way of working in Klavierstücke: Smaller pieces are almost always composed in parallel to the large ones. They arise not from sustained exertion but from spontaneous expression. Cerha worked particularly intensively on his large-scale Exercises– project in 1964 — the same year that he wrote Klavierstücke and several other small pieces for piano, including Fünf kleine Stücke, a duet with clarinet, and Sieben Anekdoten, with flute. Of all these small works, it is the Klavierstücke that stand out, uniquely dedicated to Irina and “to children”. However, this was not Cerha’s only composition for young fingers and ears. He later also wrote a piano cycle for his second daughter, Ruth. In 15 imaginative pieces, Adaxl-Suite describes the life of a lizard (Adaxl in Austrian dialect), inspired by the lizards that Friedrich and Ruth “often observed on the warm stones“Cerha, text to Adaxl-Suite, AdZ, 000T0076/2 around Maria Langegg.
Cerha, Adaxl-Suite, handwritten score, excerpts, 1987, AdZ, 00000076
In writing piano music for children, Cerha joined a tradition that produced particularly important works during the nineteenth century. This focus on young audiences was rooted in a broad cultural and historical background: With the dawn of the Enlightenment, people moved away from the idea of seeing children as flawed beings who only became full-fledged humans once they reached adulthood. Closer attention was paid to the first phase of life. “Childhood,” said Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “has its own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling, and nothing is more foolish than trying to substitute our own for them.“ Jean Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or Treatise On Education, D. Appleton and Company 1909, p. 54A logical consequence of this thinking was the idea that children should not play the same music pieces as their parents; it was necessary to create their own. This resulted in the emergence of a separate market segment of music for children. In many cases, the composers were established artists: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Stephen Heller, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Carl Reinecke. One name in particular resonates to this day: Robert Schumann. He composed, for example, Zwölf vierhändige Klavierstücke für kleine und große Kinder (a title that relates to Cerha’s piano cycle) and, in 1848, the notorious Album für die Jugend—the yardstick for children’s piano pieces par excellence. Schumann’s Album reveals characteristics of the children’s music genre with particular clarity, divided into one section “for little ones” and another “for adults”. The pieces in the album are mostly quite short—many fill only about half a page of music—and convey moods that correspond with their titles: Soldatenmarsch, Jägerliedchen, Wilder Reiter, or Knecht Ruprecht.
Both of these properties are also found in Cerha’s Klavierstücken für Kinder. Each composition has at least one name, sometimes even several, and most are just a few lines long. As in Romantic character pieces, each piece is imbued with a poetic idea that intertwines with the title. The multiple titles reveal a sense of humour and enjoyment of double meanings. They are also designed to stimulate the reader’s own imagination, issuing an open invitation to complete the titles any way one would like. Finally, like Schumann’s Albumblätter, Cerha’s pieces are divided into sections for pianists of different levels and ages. Although the target groups are deliberately left unclarified (using ambiguous designations such as “exclusively for children and adults”), they don’t lack focal points. The first ten pieces are dedicated to the younger child’s world of experience (however it is expressed), while the remaining eight focus more on older youth. On a manuscript page for the publisher, Universal Edition, Cerha summarizes the sections, including their year of origin.
A Duet, wood engraving for Harper's Young People, Vol. 9/419, 1887
Quelle: Hathi Trust Digital Library
Another aspect that distinguishes Cerha’s Klavierstücke is their often very personal nature. His daughter left her mark between the staves, and the predominantly “parodistic characters” Cerha, text on Klavierstücke für Kinder, oder solche, die es werden wollen, AdZ, 000T0067/2 can be traced back to her. Ever since she was a child, she “particularly loved […] goofing around” with her father—something the music gently captures. But Irina Cerha was also a creative contributor to the collection: “At around the age of 13, she began to draw intensively.” For the print edition of Klavierstücke, in the 1970s, she and her father selected a number of well-suited, “sometimes cartoonish drawings”. The small-format drawings were then printed alongside the music notes. This is yet another connection to Album für die Jugend, as Schumann had also planned to have his pieces illustrated—although he ultimately never realised the idea.Schumann wrote to his colleague Carl Reinecke that he was planning to include an illustration for each piece, however, it was not possible to carry this out due to the publisher’s schedule and too little time. See Erler, Robert Schumanns Leben, Vol. 2, p. 62
Irina Cerha, various drawings, in the 1970s
Foto: Christoph Fuchs
Irina Cerha returned to the pieces dedicated to her in the year 2020. She had played them since she was a child, but now, on the occasion of her father’s upcoming 95th birthday, she recorded all the compositions, played on her own piano, for the first time. She produced a video, combining the recordings with her drawings—a gift that celebrates a merging of visual and acoustic art and is at the same time a testament to the intimate relationship she had with her father.
Cerha Online was able to acquire the viewpoint of an expert for their observations on Klavierstücke für Kinder: In 2019 Univ.-Prof. Dr. Anne Fritzen wrote her PhD thesis on the opera Der Riese vom Steinfeld and studied piano (both performance and education) at the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig. She is currently a professor at the Hochschule für Musik “Franz Liszt” in Weimar. She wrote a guest commentary for this platform:
Cerha’s Klavierstücke für Kinder oder solche, die es werden wollen (1964) is—as the name suggests—a collection, which in turn consists of four smaller collections plus a single piece.Take, for example, the titles (here all in translation), “Five Pieces for Children or Those Who Want to Become One”; “Five More Pieces, for Children and Adults Only”; “Four Piano Pieces for Chimpanzees or Adolescents of Any Age”; a rondo subtitled “Anger at One’s Own Sloppiness”; and “Three Pieces [For Precocious Youth (Of All Ages)]”.
Although a certain education focus can be found both in the increasing degree of difficulty of the pieces, from easy couplets to mid-level two-part pieces and in the title,This makes it one of Cerha’s few pedagogical works. His other pedagogical works include the Adaxl-Suite für Klavier (1970/1987), Volume 2 of Klavierstücke für Kinder (2016/17), Bekenntnis, for a children’s choir (2008), and—depending on your viewpoint—Cerha’s 21 naseweise Notizen für Klavier (2016) and Zebra-Trio (2010).the pieces are not aimed solely at children, as the titles of the collections and the individual compositions make abundantly clear. The music appeals to anyone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and who enjoys ironic undertones and nuances.
The topics of the first pieces touch on the questions children deal with during their first few piano lessons—for example, referring to the piano teacher, “Is He or She Strict? Or Not Strict?” The answer is demonstrated by how much precise attention the teacher pays to implementing Cerha’s detailed instructions on dynamics and articulation in the unisono movement. Cerha also plays with ever-tiresome topics such as “counting”: The piece “This Darn Counting” plays with repeated time signature changes and leaves it up to the performer to decide whether the crazy tangle of time changes is fun or not with the subtitle “What Do Adults Know About What’s Fun for Kids Anyway!”
In another “amusement”—this time probably more for the benefit of those already somewhat versed in music—Cerha makes references to various composers in “Pieces for Children”. “Grandma’s Dance”, for example, uses constantly changing time signatures and sharp accentuation to create humour, as does Igor Stravinsky. However, Cerha also places accents and motifs in such a way that the metre seem to “limp”, thus imitating the dance of an elderly, slightly frail lady. On the other hand, Cerha’s rondo, subtitled “Anger at One’s Own Sloppiness”, is inevitably reminiscent of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Rondo a Capriccio” op. 129, “Rage Over a Lost Penny”. Cerha freely combines Beethoven motifs, sometimes “sloppily” skipping over beats and bars, as in the “raging” example. Further allusions and ironic observations range from Carl Czerny (“Looking in the Mirror Is Stupid!!” and “But Monotony Is So Pleasantly Soothing”) to Béla Bartók (“A Journey to the Balkans”) and Eric Satie (“Life Is Far Too Exciting” and “Children Have the Right to a Psychiatrist, Too”).
In addition to all the wackiness and irony, several pieces also resonate with seriousness and thoughtfulness, such as “The Bad Hand” and “Apparently the Police Are Necessary”. Here, the performer is asked to hit one hand with the other hand to create a sound, which is then picked up with the pedal to create an echo. This imitates the act of being punished, both literally and acoustically.
All of this creates an oscillation between fun and seriousness, between being a child and an adult, with the boundaries between who is fun and who is serious, who is reasonable and who is far-sighted remaining fluid and ironically shifting again and again. In all pieces, says Cerha, “all rights are reserved for the children (including writing new fingerings and suggestions for improvement).” This gives them both the opportunity to democratically participate in the lesson and also allows them to creatively engage with the material, because, as Cerha writes in the foreword: “Who really knows what’s fun for kids?”
We were able to win over two young students from the Gustav Mahler Private University as interpreters of the pieces, expressly for the Cerha Online project. Paula Liebhauser and Hannah Senfter worked on the piano pieces together with Anne Fritzen, recording them all in 2020. These video recordings guide us through the cycle again—this time, however, from a different perspective and supplemented by brief musical commentary.
Is He or She Strict? Or Not Strict? or: You Can Never Know ... !
Piano lesson No. 1: First time meeting the teacher, the piano is explored as a new instrument. This educational scenario is brought to life in miniature by the first piece of the cycle. The music is composed using single notes (in octaves), reflecting the state of a learner at the very beginning. An unchanging, hard-hitting motif acoustically signals the teacher’s crackdown. This is followed by a second, rather shy motif at a higher register, one in which the details are constantly changing—a kind of virtual loop drawing the listener in. The first progress in learning has been made.
This Darn Counting, or What Do Adults Know About What’s Fun for Kids Anyway!
Doing different things with each hand is already a challenge for beginners on the piano; adding in time changes ratchets up the confusion considerably. At first glance, the second piece in Cerha’s piano album seems harmless. The right hand plays a memorable recurring motif; the left strikes three bass notes in a loop. The details of the interaction are, however, quite tricky: The lengthening and shortening of the time signature shifts the patterns, requiring the pianist to remain alert in order to keep everything in its proper place.
Grandma's Dance, or If Stravinsky Ever Knew!!!
The third Klavierstücke continues with the tricky time changes of the second piece, but resorts to an entirely different means of composition: The piano is used as a percussive instrument. Rhythmic movements are in the foreground, while sharp accents and harsh grace notes drive the action. Emphasis continues to shift each time the rug is pulled out from under the metre, and refined pauses emerge in the other hand. Cerha doesn’t even shy away from harsh rubbing sounds—a teasing homage to the expressive personal style of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, as alluded to in the title.
A Trip to the Balkans, or Do Shepherds on the Steppes Also Have to Count?
Cerha has multiple connections to south-eastern Europe, having at a young age come into contact with many people from the region—and thus also with their folk music. Ukrainian, Slovenian, and Slovakian sounds appear in several of his early works. “A Trip to the Balkans” turns out to be a kind of memory from his own childhood: The region’s aural mood unfolds in a simple, “rural” melody made up of just a few notes characteristic of the local folk music. It almost seems improvised. Assertive grace notes scattered here and there emulate the foreign flute sounds of the imagined “shepherds on the steppe”.
The Director Is Coming, or What Is Representation?
The fifth number of the cycle stomps along with preposterous attitude: It’s the director, coming to visit. The sound is that of lumbering, stodgy, yet funny dance—authority, seen from a child’s perspective. The music acts out a dialogue, allowing a mini-scene to emerge from the boss’s whirlwind visit. The pounding chords are always followed by a roving two-part melody—perhaps the director is inspecting something in particular? Perhaps it is also a simple exchange of questions and answers before he leaves, satisfied.
How Bigwig Politicians Imagine Soldiers, or What Am I Supposed to Do in the Spring Parade?
In the sixth Klavierstück, Cerha’s lifelong rejection of the military takes a playful stance without being overly explicit. Robust, “very short” chords advance, satirizing the regimented marching of a troop. This is experienced through the eyes and ears of a child, probably bored while watching the spring parade or maybe even finding the passing soldiers funny. The child might be trying to sneak away, or perhaps spies something more interesting—at least that is what the timid gestures carefully inserted between the lines suggest—a form of political scepticism.
Gramma Always Knows Best, or How Can I Keep Calm?
The figure of the grandmother shows up a second time in Klavierstücken, after already appearing in the bizarre “Grandma’s Dance” (No. 3). In this short couplet, she becomes the opposing figure in an imaginary conversation. On the one hand, quiet chords with teasing grace notes show the child expressing their thoughts. On the other, a resolute melody in a completely different tonal framework expresses the old woman’s patronizing words rising above the child’s seemingly naïve statements. A mini-drama of tension between the worlds of children and adults.
Looking in the Mirror Is Stupid!! or But Monotony Is So Pleasantly Soothing
Countless piano students have cut their teeth on finger exercises and études—and not always with pleasure. The eighth number in Cerha’s cycle is a piece about the (sometimes tiresome) necessity of grappling with technical challenges. Without pausing, arpeggios whirl across the piano keys in opposite directions in chains of sixteenth notes. The undertaking is “acrobatic”, as expressed in the performance description, and the details are reminiscent of the frenzied tonal cascades of Austrian piano teacher Carl Czerny’s “School of Fluency”. An almost meditative monotony.
Why Does Music Have to Be Beautiful? or I Think It's Terrible that Germans Are Always So Vehemently Smart
After the virtuoso runs of the preceding songs fade out, a more lyrical music now unfolds. Following the initially crystal-clear broken harmonics in the left hand, one could almost assume that this will be a harmless, dreamy (possibly boring) piece. The telling title “Why Does Music Have to Be Beautiful?”, however, pokes at the concept of broken harmony in a broader sense: A growing tension between the left and right hand emerges and dissonances increase, steering the music into more daring realms, only to reach a conciliatory ending.
Not Just the Jittery Need Relaxation, or Why Quoting Götz Is Always Refreshing
Cerha titles the last number of the section dedicated to children “Potpourri”. And the mini finale is in fact surprisingly diverse, unlike the previous numbers that often followed a specific idea. Here, on the other hand, the musical ideas (some of which appear to be references) change unpredictably and last only for brief moments—an almost collage-like process with rapid, cinematic cuts. However, the music is much more than a mindless stringing together. Although it is only a miniature, Cerha’s preference for creating a new whole from different parts manifests itself clearly—and is the reason that the piece seems so remarkably self-contained.
Klavier: Paula Liebhauser
Ton & Schnitt: Bruno Singer
Getting Up Early Every Day! or Why Does Everything Always Go Up and Down?
The first of this set of pieces, aimed at adolescents, is very dance-like and light-footed. A driving rhythmic cell makes its mark from the start, pounding incessantly and leaving no room for a break—an acoustic symbol of the exhilarating dance of life. For many bars, the left hand repeatedly strikes just a single note. The counterpart is played by the melody of the right hand, reflecting the “up” and “down” of the world. At the end, the hands switch roles. The circular movement is shifted to the bass register, sounding noticeably more sluggish—a sign of exhaustion?
You Have to Get Angry in this World, or Where How Do Adults Stay Indifferent?
All in all, Cerha’s piano pieces lead their players gently and playfully into the world of Neue Musik. The sub-cycle “for chimpanzees and adolescents of all ages” also employs avant-garde playing techniques. In the second number, the pianist must place their left forearm on the keys. The hammers, thus freestanding, create a resonance field stimulated by short, loud, and “angry” sound events. These are made up of three layers: a staccato note pendulum played on two black keys, interlocking with motifs on the white keys, and short interjections from the high register. The body of the piano reacts to this protest in the breaks with ongoing (or indifferent?) spherical reverberation.
The Bad Hand, or Apparently the Police Are Necessary, or Franzi Is Not Surprised by the Increase in Juvenile Delinquency
A small drama takes place in the third piece of the adolescent cycle. It reflects on a typical subject of this phase of life: Crossing boundaries and the discipline that follows. This is told musically using broadened playing techniques, two in particular. An initially hesitant, two-part sound figure feels its way forward to a certain point, then ends with a short accent. The punishment follows: One hand slaps the other, creating a harsh, resonant sound cluster—though it fails to prevent any new attempts to break the law.
Life is Far Too Exciting, or Children Have the Right to a Psychiatrist, Too
Cerha’s piano pieces are not only creative miniatures, they also introduce new types of notation and ways of playing. In the fourth piece of the teen cycle, for example, bars and metre are dispensed with entirely, a creative decision that takes the ecstatic, unfocused flow of the music into account. In a minimalist manner, the left hand plays only three notes (quarters) up and down. The right hand counterpoints this pattern with its own undulating movements, always stopping at different accented notes but never coming to rest. A manic piece of music.
Rondo, or Anger at One's Own Sloppiness
Of the pieces of the piano cycle, this lively rondo with its meaningful and ironic subtitle is, to a certain extent, unique: It is the only piece detached from any group and was composed later, as revealed by the handwritten score. The musical composition is also different and contains countless allusions to familiar things (and of course also to Beethoven and his “Rage Over a Lost Penny”): Pounding, overly vivid chord repetitions, tonal garlands, and rapid runs are the pianistic clichés of a virtuoso piece. In parts, it can be understood as a parody of sometimes frustrating practicing—for example, when the rondo theme is increasingly accelerated towards the end: The thread of patience snaps. Like other pieces in the cycle, this one turns out to be an amusing reflection on piano playing itself.
In the last three pieces of the cycle, Cerha deviates from the earlier poetically comic titles—after all, the addressees are now “aging prematurely” and no longer need musical stories. The first number of the final sub-cycle is simply titled “Song”. The piece is, however, only partially a song—for example when short, ethereal cantilenas emerge episodically. Essentially, the short piece bundles exciting, dissonant harmonies, allowing them to unfold in different ways, sometimes as freestanding sounds, sometimes evolving gradually, sometimes throbbingly repeated, and finally, underpinned by staccatos. Once again, the music is diverse, characterized by a condensed, almost expressionist aura.
The end of Cerha’s Klavierstücke feature—in accordance with the logic of the cycle—the two compositions that are most difficult to play. They are both titled “Double”, alluding to a Baroque form of variation in which the note values are doubled (resulting in faster, more virtuoso variants). Cerha plays with this idea by referring back: In the first double, the main features of the previous “song” shine through clearly—becoming the nucleus of the new piece. Particularly at the beginning, the connections are clearly recognisable, with chord structures and arpeggios remaining the same. Over the course of the song, Cerha uses the model more freely. Finally, the closing part takes up the idea of sustained sound from “Song”, which is punctuated by short bass figures, and expands it imaginatively.
The second double and overall last piano piece cannot necessarily be interpreted as a variation of the previous one, but instead as a final escalation of the previous design elements. In the course of the piece, a rapid chord repetition reappears again and again, one that was briefly articulated in “Song”. Equally formative are the virtuoso staccato figures of the bass, some of which are performed in octaves and also derived from “Song”. Rhythmic leaps between the right and left hand emerged for the first time in “Double 1” and feed the motor-like power of the music here, often incorporating complex changes of metre. All in all, the demands on the pianist are enormous and bundle the lessons of the cycle into a single compact space. The final piece is no longer deliberately educational, proving instead to be a mature, independent, and yes, even “adult” work.
Klavier: Hannah Senfter
Ton & Schnitt: Bruno Singer