*** (Album for the Young, No. 30)
Schumann’s Album for the Young contains some of the most popular pieces in the whole of the piano repertoire for children. One wonders how many young pianists across the globe are at this very moment practising the Soldier’s March, Knecht Ruprecht, or First Sorrow. These three pieces, along with several other favorites, are from the first part of the Album (numbers 1-18), subtitled “for young people.” The second part (numbers 19-43) is intended “for older (or growing) people” and contains many pieces that are rarely heard. This is a pity, for several of these pieces are of a poetic refinement and sensitivity that would enchant many older students of “growing” maturity and musicality.
Among the loveliest pieces in this second part are three that have no title, only a mini-constellation of three stars (numbers 21, 26, and 30). No one seems to know what these mysterious stars signify, but all three pieces are slow, lyrical, and inward looking, as if describing emotions that are too deeply felt to be expressed in words. Of these three pieces, no. 30 is the most extended, and the most sophisticated. With its gorgeous harmonies, rich chromaticism, and contrapuntal complexity, it is a piece that is deeply rewarding to practice, and to perform.
This piece calls for a different approach from the one we usually take in these From the Ground Up editions. Rather than progressing through a series of reductions that lead to the full score, we’ll start by sight-reading the complete score, then work in detail on each phrase, one by one. The piece is not technically difficult, but it is musically challenging, so our emphasis will be on the expression—understanding what it comes from, and how to communicate it. To this end, we will introduce some practise methods that help you to listen more closely, hear the subtleties of the writing, and make interpretive decisions based on what you hear and understand in the music. In other words, we will be working on ways to practise the musical expression itself, not just the technical means of playing it. These methods can become tools to use in all the pieces you learn, not just this one.
Resources and further reading