Schumann - ***

Interpreting the Music

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Schumann ***: op68 no.26

• F major
• Lyrical melody
• Delicate chord accompaniment
• Subtle use of part writing
• Care with tonal balance essential
• Some issues for small hands

This is a piece for the sensitive, highly musical student with a well-developed technique. It makes many technical and expressive demands of the performer which must then be seamlessly incorporated in performance so that it seems simple and effortless.

Schumann gave this title of three stars to two other pieces in the Album for the Young but they do not seem to be related. The album as a whole contains some striking similarities between certain pieces: this one seems to be quoted in no. 28 “Erinnerung” (or vice versa). It also contains the much-used (in op.68) motif of four notes descending stepwise. The tempo marking indicates a manner of playing (“prettily”) that rules out interpretations involving too much drama. However, sensitive use of rubato will be an asset.

Technical issues largely focus on coordination, tone and balance. Playing melody and part of the accompaniment in one hand is not always easy. The very first note will need special attention: careful control of weight and tone to give it a gentle singing quality. When there is a need to change fingers on held notes in the RH (e.g. bar 2) this may need to be managed so that it does not feel awkward – especially if other notes need to be found quickly. In bar 2 it may be easier to use the fingering at example 5B2/1 which allows longer to make the change to 5. However, a finger change may not even be necessary in bar 2 if the fingering at example 5B2/3 is adopted.

Cantabile tone and balance within and between hands will require a great deal of preparation. Playing the accompaniment while singing the melody will help to show how gently the chords should be played. Finding and bringing out the melodic line is important in bars 16-17 as it moves between the hands like a dialogue (example 5B2/2).

The chords at bar 2-3, 8-10 and 14-15 can be redistributed for smaller hands, as shown in example 5B2/3 and 5B2/4. There are also instances in bars 19 and 21 of the 4th finger needing to play over the fifth on to the black note above, and in bar 21 the reverse movement is made. This may feel unfamiliar to some students, who should be shown that the movement is very easy with the hand moved up the keys so that the fourth finger can reach the black note without turning the hand or twisting the little finger.

Legato is the main articulation throughout, with repeated quavers as smooth as possible, and the pedal will help with joining. However, when starting to learn the notes, the student needs to hold on all notes for their correct length and observe all rests correctly. Schumann’s part-writing is often detailed and intricate, with precise directions about note lengths. Although difficult to coordinate sometimes, it can be very rewarding to come through these difficulties and enjoy the sense of technical mastery.

Dynamics in the first 8 bars are limited to fp and crescendo/diminuendo. This means in practice that the dynamic level will be somewhere around mf/mp simply because the chords in bar 2 will swell the sound, while the diminuendo in bar 1 will start from the end of a gently emphatic note. In the second half of the piece the markings mf and p are also used. Notice the shift of the fp indication to the F in bar 14, in contrast to the opening.

There is only one place (bars 11-12) where a tempo change is indicated, and the music slows down almost to a stop in bar 12 at the pause. The quiet re-start in bar 13 followed by the fp in bar 14 gives a kind of renewed energy to the music which builds through to bar 19 and then starts to wind down into a more thoughtful mood by the end. No slowing down is indicated for the end of either main section (bar 8 or 21-22). However, a rigid approach to the pulse will simply not work in performance, so the student must bring flexibility into their timing. Within phrases it helps to sing the melody and try out different moods, to develop the student’s own personal interpretation. Copying somebody else’s performance will not give a good result here, because the music was originally composed with such spontaneity and freedom – Schumann famously composed all 42 pieces in less than a month.

The editorial con Ped. marking at the beginning gives the player licence to pedal any of the music according to their judgement. There is also a pedal specifically marked in bar 16. Pedal is useful to join up legato phrases where this is physically difficult to achieve (e.g. bar 21). Listening is vitally important in pedalling to ensure that nothing is blurred or cut short by a mis-timed pedal change.

The most successful performance will combine thoughtfulness, technical ease and well-shaped phrases. There will be a “prettiness” that honours the performance direction and the listener will be charmed and pleased rather than stirred up by the emotions on display.

Schumann stars.pdf

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