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Hyperion Records

CDH55039 - Schumann: Album for the young Op 68
(Originally issued on CDH88039)
Recording details: July 1989
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: March 2000
Total duration: 71 minutes 51 seconds

'Delectable…lucidly recorded' (CDReview)

Album for the young Op 68
Melodie  [0'59]
Soldatenmarsch  [0'46]
Trällerliedchen  [0'53]
Ein Choral  [1'17]
Stückchen  [0'55]
Armes Waisenkind  [1'34]
Jägerliedchen  [0'57]
Wilder Reiter  [0'30]
Volksliedchen  [1'31]
Sizilianisch  [1'23]
Knecht Ruprecht  [1'49]
Mai, lieber Mai  [2'28]
Kleine Studie  [1'33]
Frühlingsgesang  [2'11]
Erster Verlust  [1'43]
Kleine Romanze  [0'57]
Ländliches Lied  [1'52]
***  [1'52]
Rundgesang  [1'15]
Reiterstück  [1'09]
Ernteliedchen  [1'22]
***  [2'16]
Erinnerung  [1'43]
Fremder Mann  [2'27]
***  [3'06]
Kriegslied  [1'15]
Sheherazade  [3'22]
Thema  [2'18]
Mignon  [2'34]
Matrosenlied  [2'31]
Winterzeit I  [1'51]
Winterzeit II  [3'20]
Kleine Fuge  [2'26]
Nordisches Lied  [1'14]
Sylvesterlied  [1'58]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Though Bach, Mozart and others had written music for young and inexpert performers, Schumann was the first great composer to penetrate imaginatively into the world of children. The earliest of his works to evoke childhood was Kinderszenen (‘Scenes of Childhood’) of 1838, whose tender portraits of a carefree innocence are intimately bound up with his longing for Clara Wieck. But, though technically undemanding, the Kinderszenen are essentially adults’ music, in Schumann’s words ‘reminiscences of a grown-up for grown-ups’. Ten years later, now married to Clara and with three daughters, Schumann composed his Album for the Young, a collection of forty-three miniatures written specifically for children. The first pieces were intended as a birthday present for his eldest daughter, Marie, who was seven on 1 September 1848; then, as Schumann wrote to a friend, ‘one after another was added’, with a gradual increase in difficulty. As an entry in Clara’s family diary reveals, Schumann was encouraged to produce an extended collection of pieces for children by the thought that most of the music learned in piano lessons was worthless; and his didactic purpose is underlined by his original intention of supplementing the pieces with extracts from other composers’ works, and by the list of musical maxims (Musikalische Haus- und Lebensregeln) which he added to the second, 1851, edition of the Album. These include such pungently worded precepts as ‘Don’t just tinkle at the keys!’ and ‘Play rhythmically! Many virtuosi sound like a drunkard walking! Don’t imitate them!’

The Album falls into two parts, with the first eighteen pieces designed for young children and the later numbers for ‘more grown-up’ players. But even in the last pieces Schumann shields his pianists from the more difficult keys: nowhere does he venture beyond three flats or four sharps. Perhaps surprisingly, all the pieces are in duple (2/4 and 4/4) or compound duple (6/8) time. But Schumann creates a wealth of rhythmic diversity within his self-imposed limitations, and monotony only creeps in when all the pieces are dutifully played one after the other—a notion which would surely have horrified the composer.

It is only to be expected that the first, and simplest, pieces, written expressly for Marie, should contain little of the poetry found in many of the later ones. Each is designed to highlight a particular technical point—legato and staccato playing, dotted rhythms and so on. But Schumann’s love of cryptic allusions could well lie behind the very opening of the first piece, whose descending five-note scale had come to assume a special significance in his work, closely associated with his love for Clara. A different kind of allusion occurs in Soldaten­marsch (‘Soldiers’ March’), whose initial bars recreate in duple time the beginning of the Scherzo in Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata for violin and piano. The fourth piece, Ein Choral, designed to develop a smooth legato, is a simple harmoniza­tion of the chorale ‘Rejoice O my soul’ used by Bach and others; Schumann is to treat the same melody much more elaborately in No 42, Figurierter Choral. A more lively note is introduced with the ‘Little Hunting Song’ (Jägerliedchen, No 7), with its buoyant 6/8 metre and crisp staccato writing, while the following number, Wilder Reiter (‘The Wild Rider’), in similar metre, is the first to entrust part of the melodic line to the left hand.

One of the most touching of the early numbers is ‘Little Folksong’ (Volksliedchen, No 9), which contrasts mournful D minor music with a dance-like centrepiece in D major. Here Schumann is already demanding sharp emotional responses from his young players. A similar acute characterization is needed for No 12 (Knecht Ruprecht), with its eerie unisons in the depths of the keyboard and adventurously modulating central episode. (The ‘Knecht Ruprecht’ of the title is, in German folklore, the mischievous helper of Santa Claus.) In complete contrast are the two delightful numbers which evoke spring: No 13, Mai, lieber Mai, the first of several pieces in the Album to suggest Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, and the more inward-looking and chromatic No 15, Frühlings­gesang, where the soft pedal is used to deepen the music’s rapt contemplation.

The second part of the Album opens with ‘Little Romance’ (Kleine Romanze), whose melodic shape, texture and faint sense of agitation again call to mind Mendelssohn. Several of the more boisterous numbers in Part Two carry descriptive titles similar to those in the first part, though the music is now more intricately worked. Especially characterful are ‘The Horse­man’ (Reiterstück, No 23) with its magical coda fading into the distance; ‘Echoes of the Theatre’ (Nachklänge aus dem Theater, No 25), which imitates various sounds of the orchestra; and No 36, Lied italienischer Marinari (‘Italian Sailor’s Song’), with its fiery tarantella rhythms. But Schumann dispenses with picturesque childlike rides for the more reflective numbers which predominate in the second part of the Album. These include two numbers with literary associ­ations (Sheherazade and Mignon, with their exquisite veiled sonorities) and two in which Schumann pays tribute to fellow composers: No 28, Erinnerung—‘Remembrance’ (with its allusion, quite possibly intentional, to the song ‘Dein Bildnis wunderselig’ from the Op 39 Liederkreis), which is dedicated to the memory of Mendelssohn, who had died in November 1847; and Nordisches Lied (‘Northern Song’, No 41), sub­titled ‘Greetings to Niels Gade’ in which the first four notes G-A-D-E represent the Danish composer’s name.

Among those pieces which bear no extra-musical des­cription, the three untitled numbers (21, 26 and 30) are in Schumann’s most intimate lyrical vein. Another Beethoven allusion, this time to the trio ‘Euch werde Lohn’ from Fidelio, occurs in the searching, harmonically subtle No 21.

Even finer is No 30, with its rich textures and yearning chromaticism. Schumann also includes three pieces designed to introduce the player to various types of counterpoint. No 27 is a canon at the octave, led first by the right, then by the left hand, while No 40, Kleine Fuge, takes the form of a moto perpetuo prelude followed by a fugue whose puckish 6/8 subject is a transformation of the prelude’s opening phrase. The final contrapuntal number is the Figurierter Choral, No 42, in which the melody first heard in No 4 is enriched with flowing counter-melodies. But it is characteristic of the Album that these contrapuntal pieces should contain nothing of dry pedantry. As in the whole collection, Schumann’s didactic purpose is balanced by the freshness of his poetic imagination and the extraordinary sympathy and understanding he shows for the mind of a child.

Richard Wigmore © 1990

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