We’ve stepped into the world of the Schumanns once before, when we took a closer look into the life and career of virtuoso Clara. This week, it’s time to finish the picture and delve a little deeper into the other half of the pairing – Robert Schumann, here we come!
With RSL Classical Piano, you can experience this Romantic era heavyweight in his full glory at two different stages of your piano journey. The first comes in the beginner stages, Grade 1, where you’ll be introduced to the “Soldiers March”, and the second when you become an intermediate player in Grade 5, with “Traumerei No.7”. But more on that later… Let’s first find out some more about the man behind the melodies!
Literary and Musical Talents Combined
It was little Robert Schumann’s intention to become one of the finest concert pianists in all of Europe, but a hand injury stopped this dream in its tracks. Thankfully, Schumann instead focused his energies on composition.
As well as composition, Schumann was incredibly well versed in the written word, and spent much of his time pursuing literary dreams of his too. This combination of notes and words quickly led to what became his signature style – character. Much like a book, Schumann’s compositions are littered with characters, all with various personalities and traits that are instantly recognisable by the motifs and melodies that he assigns to them. He was frequently noted for his “rare taste and talent for portraying feelings and characteristic traits in his melody”, even from the young age of 7! Perhaps he managed to hold on to his childhood imagination even through his adult life.
In fact, it was said that Clara Schumann once said to Robert Schumann, “sometimes you appear to me as a child”, which turned out to be the inspiration for his widely loved collection, Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood). It is from this collection that we’ve taken our Grade 5 piece, “Traumerei, No.7”, which translates to “Dreaming”. Schumann’s talent for character really comes across in this piece, although this does require some work from the performer! The voicings here are a little complex, so you’ll need to take some time to balance the individual voices whilst still maintaining the legato feel. Also, if expression is your bag then you can really go to town with this one (as Schumann would undoubtedly have wanted you to!). We’re aiming for a sense of poignant sensitivity, so take a few deep breaths and start this one with a purposeful touch.
Characters in Action
But, as we mentioned earlier, there is also some Schumann for the beginners amongst us. In the RSL Classical Piano Grade 1 you’ll find “Soldier’s March”, which provides a bit of contrast to the atmosphere of “Traumerei No.7”. This piece is unusual in that the hands are rhythmically in sync throughout the entire piece - sounds great, right?! Well yes, it does certainly make the challenge of hands-together playing a bit easier, but this does mean that your note placement needs to be absolutely bang on. If it’s not, we’ll have some sloppy sounding chords in the exam room which is definitely not in keeping with the crisp and precise vibe that Schumann was going for!
One thing you can really lean into in “Solider’s March” is the contrast. We’ve got phrases that must be absolutely legato, but countering this with some more staccato phrases will inject some of that beloved character. Finally, the tempo could be the making or the breaking of this piece. It goes along at quite a pace, but the strict rhythm means that any unwanted fluctuations in the pulse will be quite obvious to the ear of the listener! It may be a Grade 1 piece, but there are plenty of challenges to look out for here!
We hope you’ve enjoyed getting the other half of the Schumann story today! Do be sure to check out some of Robert’s contemporaries when you’ve got some time. Start with his wife Clara Schumann of course, then move on to Mr Frédéric Chopin, of whom Schumann was a big fan (he actually said, “Hats off, gentleman! A genius!” about him). Finally, why not finish off with a trip to Hungary with Béla Bartok!