Schumann - Of Foreign Lands from Kinderscenen Opus 15
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) was a German composer from the Romantic era, who wrote mainly for piano at first, but later composed works for orchestra and also many lieder, songs for voice and piano.
Of Foreign Lands and Peoples, composed in 1838, is the first in a set of thirteen pieces entitled Kinderscenen, or Scenes from Childhood.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This Romantic miniature has a charming melody that appeals to all ages.
A hand span of an octave is necessary for a smooth legato line with evenly controlled accompanying triplets.
Pedalling is essential so some experience of using the sustaining pedal would be advantageous.
Style & Tempo
The style of this music is very much Schumann’s own, in that the textures are quite complex, and yet the melody line is clear and also, although the piece is in 2-time, triplet rhythms feature throughout, bringing to mind the beautifully innocent melodic lines in Schumann’s Des Abends from Phantasiestucke Opus 12.
It can be interesting to discuss with your student what are the better qualities of a performance, asking for the student's views too.
You might listen together Clara Haskill's performance of Von Fremden Landern und Menschen:
Phrasing & Articulation
Encourage students to show an overarching feel for the complete melodic lines. A little rubato may be used to emphasise the shaping of the phrasing, as long as this is not overdone, since the essentially innocent simplicity of the music needs to speak.
Listen to how beautifully the great Horowitz shapes the phrasing here.
Tone & Texture
The melody line is in the RH notes with the upward stems and care should be taken that these are played legato.
Listen to Brendel's lovely cantabile here - he really makes the melody sing.
The CD is Alfred Brendel - Robert Schumann: Masterpieces for Solo Piano
Vanguard Classics ATM-CD-1490
The main technical challenge is in achieving cantabile playing that is neatly controlled.
Using the natural weight of the arm with the fingers not too high will help to give a lovely sound. If the fingers are lifted excessively high, the sound may be too incisive.
Care should be taken to play the chords on the first and second crotchet beats of the bar with precise co-ordination.
Untidy hand co-ordination is to be avoided in the middle section also.
The RH will need careful practice from Bar 9 to Bar 12 to connect the crotchets. At Bar 11 and 12 point out that the RH E must be lifted, but the G held when moving onto the next chord; very slow, deliberate practice is needed here. Begin with just the crotchets, omitting the quavers at first.
The easiest way to finger the triplets in Bar One and similar is to use 2-4 in the LH followed by 1 in the RH, thus dividing the triplets between hands to give an easier flow. The positioning of the notes on either the treble or bass clef gives a clear guide as to which hand should be playing them.
Changing from finger 4 to 5 on the RH F sharp in Bars 2 and 6 will enable the legato line to be maintained. This technique is also useful in the LH at Bar 14.
Use 2-4, 3-5 for the RH thirds in Bars 9 and 10.
You could find no better example of good pedalling than in this clear demonstration as Horowitz plays the Kinderscenen.
It is easy to see how Horowitz pedals here.
On a second listening, you and your pupil might discuss how beautifully even and controlled the playing is, whilst still expressing the gentle simplicity of character.
Teach this piece by deconstructing it into three elements of melody, bass and triplets. Each of these should be learned separately.
It will be very useful to practise the triplets as block chords, naming them as G major, and so on. Knowledge of both the melody and the chord structure helps the pupil to phrase the music effectively.
Once each part is known, two parts may then be combined, for example the melody with the bass, then the melody with the triplets, then the bass with the triplets and so on. Care should be taken to use the chosen fingering.
The piece can then be played as notated, slowly at first and with attention to the singing melody and shaping of phrasing.
Remind the student that the pace will need to be very slow when the various parts are attempted together, particularly when the piece is finally played as written. Avoiding mistakes in the first attempts is much more efficient than correcting errors later.
If the student finds it difficult to keep the accompanying figure quieter than the tune, you might suggest practising known scales or arpeggios with hands together, one hand louder and then the other hand louder.
The main problems that arise in learning this piece are caused by lack of initial understanding of the textures.
Deconstructing the piece into its separate lines of melody, broken chords and bass, as suggested, will prevent difficulties from arising. Allow the student to listen to the piece several times first, picking out the three strands.
An excellent performance will capture the essential charm of the melody, which is played with a singing tone above unobtrusive and evenly balanced accompanying triplets. The pace will be well judged and phrasing will be musically shaped. The ritardando will be effective and the final diminuendo will complement the uncluttered simplicity of the ending.
A good performance is one where accuracy will be reliable and the character of the piece will be suggested in a quiet dynamic. Some sense of phrase will emerge, with mostly smooth legato achieved. The pace will be appropriate although the tone might not yet be completely poised and successfully balanced. Pedalling will be reasonably competent.
A secure performance will be steady continuity despite any small slips and rhythms will be understood, if not yet even in control. There may be scope for a more convincing sense of phrase and character. Pedalling will be used although perhaps not with sufficient technical competence to avoid blurred harmonies.