Robert Schumann Romances Op.28

Schumann’s Three Romances

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Schumann’s Romanze in F sharp Op.28 No.2 is one of my absolute favourite pieces to play, and with its inclusion on the ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus over the last couple of years it has also featured more prominently in my teaching. This truly beautiful paean to love is surely one of the highlights of the nineteenth century repertoire, and is understandably cherished the world over.

That said, many struggle to read the score accurately, which in most editions is compressed to two pages, dense with accidentals, counterpoint and three-stave passages.

A welcome solution has arrived with a new edition from Wiener Urtext Edition, who have generously afforded the piece four pages (including one page turn). Playing the piece using this version has proved for me a boon, the notation a model of clarity.

The other two Romances also appear more inviting here, freshly edited by Michael Beiche and with fingerings and notes on interpretation by Tobias Koch. So let’s take a closer look…


Drei Romanzen Op.28

Robert Schumann completed work on his Drei Romanzen Op.28 in December 1839, and presented them to his beloved Clara for Christmas that year, although sketches date back possibly as far as 1838.

In correspondence (dated 1843) Schumann listed the Romanzen among the four solo piano works which he personally considered his greatest (interestingly, the other three are Kreisleriana Op.16, the Phantasiestücke Op.12 and Noveletten Op.21).

Clara was a fan of the pieces too (and although she appears never to have performed them as a complete set, she included the second and third regularly in her recitals), writing to Robert in 1840,

“I lay claim to the Romances; as your bride you still have to dedicate something to me, and I know of nothing more tender than these three Romances, especially the middle one, which is the most beautiful love duet.”

The Wiener Urtext Edition

The Drei Romanzen were first published by Breitkopf & Hārtel in September 1840, and Michael Beiche uses this version as a source for the new edition (a facsimile image of the composer’s own copy is beautifully reproduced), along with an earlier copyist’s manuscript dated 19 December 1839.

In creating the fingering for this new edition, meanwhile, Tobias Koch looked to the fingerings Clara herself used and recorded in her Instructive Ausgabe of 1886 (Breitkopf’s reissue of which I have reviewed here).

Comparing this edition against the one I have previously relied upon (Henle Verlag Hn 85), this new edition is in my view better presented for performers, while also more detailed in its academic content.

I have already mentioned the generous pagination of the second Romance; meanwhile, the Wiener Urtext and Henle both give the first Romance six pages, while Wiener Urtext improves on the ten pages of the third Romance in Henle to eleven. In both cases, page turns are mostly well considered. In general I prefer the fingering in the Wiener Urtext edition, too.

In terms of academic scholarship, it is always helpful for editors to revisit the sources in search of fresh insight, but in this instance the primary benefits is in the extended critical commentary (to the rear of the Wiener Urtext edition) and introductions. These (which Wiener Urtext present in German, English and French) comprise an interesting introduction to the provenance of the Drei Romanzen written by editor Michael Beiche, followed by a very instructive Notes on Interpretation by Tobias Koch.

The latter covers such topics as touch, fingering, pedalling, agogic accents, dynamics and delivery. Koch quotes from Schumann, suggesting that the composer’s view of piano technique advocated,

“…a very precise and carefully considered fingering … as the first foundation for all competent playing. The student should therefore direct his attention to this above all. But if the playing is also to appear technically beautiful, then he should strive for swing and softness of tone in the attack, for roundness and precision of the individual parts and for flow and lightness of the whole. Then, after the elimination of all external difficulties, the imagination will be able to move safely and playfully, give life, light and shade to its work and easily complete what might still be lacking in freer representation.”

Koch subsequently unpacks these intriguing ideas, referencing Schumann’s teacher Friedrich Wieck, and Clara Schumann to reveal the composer as an important voice in the development of the German pedagogic approach.

Why this edition?

There are many considerations when selecting which edition to use in the preparation of a performance of core repertoire such as the Schumann Romances. To my mind, this new edition from Wiener Urtext Edition ticks all the right boxes, and in doing so is somewhat a revelation:

  • this is an academically sound, scholarly and up-to-date edition
  • the supporting materials and text are second to none
  • the fingering is a helpful addition
  • the spacious notation (printed on cream paper) genuinely makes this edition easier to read and play from
  • the edition is keenly priced at less than a tenner

In particular, who knew that a more spacious presentation could make quite so significant a difference to the intelligibility of a score? This publication certainly and powerfully illustrates the point.

Regardless of the (often out of date) recommendations of exam boards, or of performers and teachers wedded to a particular favoured edition, I will be recommending this as the top choice for the Drei Romanzen Op.28.

I hope students and performers will heed the recommendation that this really is a superb edition of these tremendous pieces, and surely now the one to own, even if you have an older edition already lurking on your shelves…


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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.