Schumann - Furchtenmachen: Kinderscenen op 15
Schumann's Opus 15, Kinderscenen, or Scenes from Childhood remain as popular as ever, in their ability to recreate the vivid emotions and memories of childhood.
The title of this piece means Frightening and the rondo form (ABACABA) lends itself to expressing changes in mood brought on by an over-active, childish imagination.
The piece seems to suggest the bedtime fears of a child - all is calm at first - but … what if there's a monster under the bed? No, impossible - but … what if there really IS a monster … and so on! Happily, we end on a positive note and eventually, perhaps, drift off to sleep!
Pupil Match & Suitability
A student with a vivid imagination will enjoy interpreting this piece. It is essential to be meticulous about including all the detail in the score for the best effect.
The other pieces in the set of Kinderscenen are around the same difficulty, some a little easier, some a little harder and a few of these pieces would make an interesting recital programme since they are varied in character.
Style & Tempo
Once we have a clear mental map of the story, the interpretation of the music becomes so much easier. The tempo changes are the main means of bringing out the character.
The pace of crotchet = 96 works well for the slower sections, as long as the student is able to play the quicker sections relatively faster. If not it may be advisable to take the Tempo 1 sections just a little slower, since it is the contrast that is most important.
After the turbulence of bars 8 - 11, the return of Section 'A' brings back tranquillity, but the imagination then runs riot at Section C, bar 21, with a loud, quick, four-bar phrase before we start to regain composure at bar 25.
Smooth articulation and sustaining pedal are appropriate here. Bar 37 brings a less scary image to mind, with a return to the quiet tempo and we end as we began, with a repeat of Section 'A'.
In a student performance, the tempo changes need not be as extreme as in this performance by Valentina Lisitsa, impressive though they may sound!
Phrasing & Articulation
The playing should be as smooth as the music allows in the 'A' theme - for instance it is perfectly possible to play much of the LH smoothly at the start, if we adhere to the fingering suggested. Care should be taken in bar 3 and similar to connect the RH melody notes, C and B - the G in between is, of course, a harmony note and not part of the tune.
The 'B' theme has varied articulation, which may present a technical challenge since the RH is staccato whereas the LH melody is legato. A subtle difference in touch would be effective for the melody here, aiming at a more buoyant, light feel to the legato. Listen to the clarity of the articulation here.
Tone & Texture
The 'A' themes (similar to the opening theme) need to be quiet and tranquil, with a singing tone for the melodies, being careful to bring out the tune in the LH starting at bar 5, passing it back to the RH at bar 7. The sustaining pedal may be used quite generously here, but with frequent changes according to the harmonies.
The textures need to be balanced with sensitivity in section 'B' too, this time with the tune mainly in the LH. Notice that the dynamic is still pianissimo at this point but the mood is made completely different by using a quicker tempo, staccato RH chords and much less pedal (if any - maybe just a touch on the first beat of each bar and on the last note).
Sustaining pedal is essential in the the 'A' sections to enhance both the tone and the legato. The pedal needs to be co-ordinated withe the LH chord changes as well as where chord changes are implied, such as beat 2 of bar 6.
In the 'B' sections pedal is best used only sparingly, if at all. Notice that there is an emphasis on the RH B and LH B in bar 12 and 39 that may be further enhanced by the pedal.
The section from bar 21 to bar 24 may have pedal on the sf chords too, which will help to make the sound more substantial.
The main key to playing this piece well is simply to know it securely enough to be able to express the moods without being hampered by memory lapses. The fingers need to be able to find the leaps, such as LH bar 12 - 13, with ease and confidence. Incidentally, the student should not rush to play the first beat of bar 13 and similar - it is more effective to regain a sense of poise before starting those sections. Neither should the start of the quick sections be anticipated, but rather the change in tempo should come as a complete surprise to the listener.
During early lessons on this piece the teacher will fire the student's imagination, perhaps by setting the task of improvising a short piece using the structure of Furchtenmachen.
Once the learning of this piece begins, the teacher should ensure that the student has a completely accurate grasp of the dotted rhythms, that fingering is meticulously adhered to and that the articulation detail is strictly observed. At that point the teacher will then be able help the student more with the interpretation of the music, including giving feedback on use of dynamics and the balancing of textures.
The student's work is to practise section-by-section, beginning with slow, separate hands. The quick, 'B' sections will need much more practice than the 'A' sections in terms of initial learning and subsequent bringing up to speed, but the 'A' sections will require sensitive attention to tone and colour during practice time.
Practising performing before an important occasion is essential and the student could have fun asking for suggestions as to the title of the piece or encouraging an informal audience to make up a story to go with the music.
The problems that may arise are easy to anticipate. Since the quick sections need nimble fingers and careful accuracy, there is potential for errors and smudges. The LH and RH will need very careful, practice at a slow speed as well as up to speed in smaller, two-bar chunks.
The chords in bars 22 and 24 may also present difficulties unless the student is completely confident about the notes. Very often a student thinks they find something technically difficult, such as moving quickly from one chord to another, but usually the problem is simply that the music has not been memorised securely enough.
Furchtenmachen by Schumann, Opus 15, is set for the ABRSM Grade 6 Piano examination 2013-2014.
The best performances of this piece will be those that fire the listener's imagination. The variety in mood between sections must come alive, with all the tempo changes and differences in articulation and dynamics fully observed.
Pedalling will be managed according to the context of the section, giving contrast between the legato, calm phrases and the more agitated, quicker phrases where the RH is detached.
The performance by Maria Joao Pires demonstrates just how effective the detail can be in bringing the music to life. The whole of Kinderscenen is heard here. Furchtenmachen is at point 13.42.