Schott Music’s My First Composers collections continue to prove one of the most quirkily enjoyable series of recent years.
With their combination of covers that resemble childrens’ storybooks and content that includes music up to Grade 8 and beyond, they equally suit child prodigies and older players with a self-deprecating sense of fun.
I have previously been very impressed with My First Beethoven (reviewed here), Haydn (here), Schumann (here) and Tchaikovsky (here). Each of these publications delivers a generous mixture of classics and lesser-known pieces, beautifully presented within (and on cream paper) and freshly edited by Wilhelm Ohmen.
The latest addition to the series is devoted to the music of Franz Schubert, delivering 37 solo pieces and 10 duets, and seems to me another immediate winner…
Few would dispute the point that Franz Schubert’s contribution to the piano repertoire is among the most sublime. His solo Sonatas, Impromptus and duo Fantasy in F minor have become mainstays of recital halls and classical recording labels alike, unique treasures prized by music-lovers around the world.
But what of Schubert’s smaller piano works? What did he write for the less advanced player? And how can the developing pianist best encounter his music? These are questions which My First Schubert goes some considerable way to addressing.
In his Preface, the collection’s compiler and editor Wilhelm Ohmen reminds us that,
“Franz Schubert was the last of the Viennese Classicists, following on from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, though his music already points the way forward to Romanticism…”
I rather believe that it is this magical blend of the Classical style and Romantic spirit which lies at the heart of Schubert’s huge appeal.
Ohmen expands on the significance of Schubert’s musical achievements, delivers a timeline of his short life, and without further ado we arrive at the main contents listing for the book, which reveals that the pieces are grouped according to genre as follows:
• Waltzes (11 pieces, mostly from D.365 but also including the Graz Waltz D.924)
• German Dances (4 pieces)
• Ländler (4 pieces)
• Ecossaises (6 pieces)
• Valse sentimental D.779
• Valses nobles (3 pieces, from D.969)
• Minuet in A, D.334
• Scherzo in B flat, D.593
• Hedgerose, D.257
• Allegretto in C minor, D.915
• Moments Musicaux in F minor, D.780/3 and A flat major, D.780/2
• Impromptu in A flat, D.935/2
• Adagio in G, D.178
Piano, Four Hands:
• Ländler (8 pieces from D.366, arranged Brahms)
• Children’s March in G, D.928
• March in C minor, D.818
This seems to me a balanced and ideal selection, bringing together familiar favourites with an abundance of other music to showcase the range and brilliance of Schubert’s piano writing for intermediate to early advanced players.
That such an important and popular composer wrote so many incidental piano pieces is hardly a surprise, but seeing them brought together in this collection certainly serves as an important reminder of the wealth of wonderful repertoire that, overshadowed by Schubert’s great concert works, could perhaps too easily be overlooked.
A closer inspection reveals many old chestnuts here, familiar from their past inclusion in graded exams and assorted repertoire collections.
The Ecossaise in C (and old Grade 2 favourite), German Dance in A (recently a popular Grade 3 choice), Waltz in B minor (a Grade 5 charm), Moment musical in F minor (Grade 6) and Impromptu in A flat (presently a Grade 8 piece) are all here, along with dozens of equally fine pieces patiently awaiting another day in the sun.
Let’s be clear: every piece here is a marvel, a study in Schubert’s genius for creating poetry in miniature; these gems surely merit prominence in our teaching repertoire, every one of them a joy to play while equally packed with pedagogic gains and technical challenges which are essential for the developing classical player.
Given the scope and quality of Schubert’s writing for piano duets, it might seem surprising that this repertoire is mostly represented here by the later arrangements of Johannes Brahms. Nevertheless, these pieces exude the same insouciant charm as the solo pieces which precede them in the book.
The eight Ländler arrangements are particularly spot on for established intermediate players, accessible and good humoured, in most cases just half a page long.
Schubert’s own Kindermarsch D.928 and Marcia in C minor D.818 meanwhile are more substantial pieces, each occupying four pages and well-suited to the more confident duet player while presenting few unexpected challenges.
In all cases the duets are presented with secondo and primo parts on facing pages, which is certainly my personal preference for practical purposes.
As can equally be said of the solo pieces, the notation engraving has superb clarity, and the scores are nicely spaced on the page. The cream paper as always reduces glare and supports better readability, and sensible editorial fingering suggestions are included throughout.
Schubert is known as the father of the Lieder and master of the miniature; it is thus surprising that these pieces aren’t more regular fixtures of the piano teaching repertoire. In truth they deserve to be, and My First Schubert provides a hugely useful service in bringing together the best pieces in one highly practical and attractive volume.
Although scholarly editions of this music are easy to find, most are arid in their delivery, providing little in the way of imaginative inspiration. Not only is this collection an excellent addition to Schott Music’s quirky series, but I cannot think of any directly competing collection of Schubert miniatures that matches this new volume’s mix of accessible presentation and perfectly curated musical appeal.
I suspect many teachers will now consider this collection an indispensable purchase, while for any aspiring virtuoso, young-at-heart, My First Schubert would really be a tremendous and enriching gift. Superb.
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