Schott Music, the revered German publishers founded back in 1770, are maintaining an impressive commitment to new piano music publishing projects, including a wide range of resources and publications for players of all levels.
Of particular interest to intermediate players (and their teachers) will be there ongoing “My First …” series. The first two issues (Bach and Mozart – see below) have recently been joined by “My First Schumann”, which I am delighted to review here.
Little pieces by great composers
Explaining the series concept, Schott say:
“Many famous composers have written pieces for beginners and amateur musicians. These easy pieces have often been intended for their own children or written when composers themselves were still very young. The ‘little pieces by great masters’ are very suitable for use in teaching children and older players too. They offer an excellent introduction to the stylistic and technical idiosyncrasies of the great masters.”
When ‘My First Schumann’ arrived, I wrongly assumed that I knew exactly what it would be – a new edition of selected pieces from his ‘Album for the Young’ with one or two other selections. It turned out that I was only partly right – the book is much more than that!
The book starts with a concise introduction that includes a short (and understandably rather sanitised!) timeline biography of the composer, some further introductory remarks about his importance, and comments about his musical style. These are all written by the book’s editor, Wilhelm Ohman.
This is followed by the contents page, which reveals that the book does indeed include a generous selection of pieces from the ‘Album for the young’, but also – rather to my surprise – six pieces from the significantly more advanced ‘Kinderszenen’ Op.15 (nos. 1, 6, 7 – the very famous ‘Träumerei’ – 9, 11 & 13).
The book also includes two of the ‘Bunte Blätter’ Op.99 (nos. 4 & 8), a movement from the ‘Kinder-Sonate’ in G major, and a few other miniatures. It’s worth noting that Op.99 No.4 is the subject for Brahms’ ‘Variations on a Theme of R.Schumann’ Op.9, and recommending pupils have a listen to that if they can!
The final piece, ‘Geburtstagsmarsch’ (Birthday March), is a duet from Schumann’s Op.85 collection, and makes a charming addition to complete the book.
Given this wide selection of pieces, the overall technical level ranges from around Grade 1 to Grade 6, although some of the pieces require a level of poetic sympathy that really doesn’t conform to such measures.
The book itself is printed on cream paper, with staples and a colourful cover that will appeal to children of all ages.
Speaking of which, it seems to me a particular attraction of the collection that it is child-friendly without being childish: adult players are unlikely to be put off by the presentation of this very classy publication, and as such the book provides a way of including pieces originally written for children within the repertoire of older learners.
Fingering is generous and well thought out throughout the book, and each piece includes a footnote citing the source and any particular points for players to consider.
We may all have particular favourite pieces that we like to teach (personally I would have loved to see the inclusion of ‘Warum’ from the Op.12 ‘Phantasiestücke’) but overall I just can’t think of any better selection of approachable Schumann pieces.
And this is a collection that will “keep on giving”, with such a great selection of pieces for students to enjoy over a number of years.
‘My First Schumann’ is a brilliant introduction to one of the world’s greatest ever piano composers.