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Repertoire choices: for the intermediate-level pianist.

PIANO TEACHERS looking for teaching repertoire from the romantic era primarily teach Robert Schumann's Op. 68 and Tchaikovsky's Album for the Young, Op. 39. Around the time of Schumann, and due in large part to the success of his character pieces, other composers created albums intended for amateurs. Prior to the romantic era, there were relatively few compositions that were specifically written as "albums for the young." Some early examples that we still use today are the J. S. Bach Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach and Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann and Leopold Mozart's Notebook for Nannerl and Notebook For Wolfgang.

To understand the great surge of material created as "albums for the young" after the 1800s, we must first examine the revolution in aesthetics that took place in the arts during the 19th century. Musicians thought of themselves as the poets of sound, and music soon became a universal language understood by all. Art was given renewed power to express the most simple, as well as the most profound emotion. Music became a vehicle for the expression of emotions. The need to place the emotions of the heart over the intellect of the mind was of great importance, thus the pursuit of emotional goals began influencing musical structure. Large structural forms that had dominated the classical era began changing and new stylistic developments pushed toward the miniature form. New romantic genres included extra-musical associations as well. Formal structures were created to be more responsive to the poetic idea or program, leading to the rise of the character piece.

This term "character piece" was used frequently in the 19th century to describe short keyboard works. Character pieces were composed individually or grouped into sets. The structure of the character piece was varied, but most often followed a simple arrangement of contrasting sections, frequently using ABA or AB with repeats. These pieces were highly lyrical, often with colorful harmonic movement and fanciful titles. Each composition had its own unique personality and sentiment. Often the character piece was written in a distinctive style that allowed each piece to portray human characters, picturesque scenery, literary concepts, specific moods and many other images that stimulate the imagination--all without the use of words.

Schumann was one of the first composers to give his piano compositions poetic titles, rather than using generic titles that indicated the form of the composition. In Scenes from Childhood Op. 15 and the Album for the Young Op. 68, Schumann was clearly committed to creating high-quality pieces with creative titles. The character piece was an essential part of these "album for the young" compilations.

Schumann began his Album for the Young in 1838. It was first published in January 1849, quickly becoming a huge success. Schumann was concerned that piano education was focused primarily on etudes and compositions lacking in imagination. He wanted to create pieces that were aesthetically pleasing and still capable of training young hands. These character pieces from the newly composed Op. 68 would easily excite children's imaginations, allowing them to forget technical difficulties.

The imaginative quality of these romantic compositions is excellent for teaching children. For example, in the "Wild Rider," students must develop an understanding for 6/8 meter, musical staccatos and sforzandi, and conquer the difficult left hand in the middle section, all while trying to achieve a quick tempo. The student could imagine a powerful horse traveling at a fast pace though the countryside.

After the emergence of Schumann's work, several other composers followed his example by compiling pieces into sets using imaginative titles. Most of these pieces are technically accessible, often with one specific technical goal per composition. These pieces are relatively short, ranging in length from one to three pages. The majority has character titles that allow the student to go beyond the notes on the page and instead experience an emotion or story. This programmatic element can strongly motivate students of all ages and is not limited to only younger students.

In Schumann's Op. 68, "Melody," "Humming Sing" and "Little Piece" explore the technical aspect of a left-hand accompaniment with a melodic, mostly single-note right hand. However, a suitable substitute with similar compositional elements is "Slumber Song" from Cornelius Gurlitt's Op. 101. This composition evokes a relaxing sleep through a gentle single-note melody over an eighth-note left-hand accompaniment. Gurlitt includes in his score the Italian direction, pronunziato il canto, encouraging the student to concentrate on the singing power of the fingers. Another option is "Cradle Song" from Louis Kohler's Children's Album Op. 210. Kohler composed Children's Album to encourage regular practice, much like the method books of today. This "Cradle Song" recommends dolce and mezzo forte for the right hand and piano legatissimo for the left hand.

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Schumann was very concerned with the vocal aspect of piano playing, and as part of his pedagogy, he stressed listening and learning from vocalists. He encouraged students to attend operas, sing in choirs, vocalize at sight without the aid of an instrument and accompany singers often. The "Reaper's Song" from Schumann's Op. 68 has a continuous right-hand melody combined with a left-hand accompaniment. "Song Without Words" from Gurlitt's Op. 101 is another melodic character piece that contains a flowing left-hand accompaniment with an emphasis on a right-hand melodic line, while maintaining dear four-measure phrases. "Song" from Friedrich Kiel's Pictures from the Youth World, Op. 1 encourages the performer to maintain a repetitive, gentle left-hand accompaniment while projecting a lovely vocal right-hand melodic line.

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The most popular character piece is the march. The "Soldier's March" of Schumann's Op. 68 includes strong dotted rhythms, repetitive rhythms, a 2/4 time signature, powerful dynamics, directions to play "munter und straff"--all relevant musical devices when accompanying military movements and processions. However, there are many other compositions that could substitute for Schumann's "Soldier's March. "Benjamin Godard in his Studies for Children, Op. 149 alters this stereotypical march atmosphere with the creation of two very different marches, the "March of the Little Boys" and the "March of the Little Girls." The boy's march has a persistent left-hand eighth-note staccato accompaniment while the girl's march focuses on the flirtier aspects of the dotted martial rhythm. The girl's march has an overall less clearly defined pulse. The "March of the Lead Soldiers" from Genari Karganov's Album for the Young, Op. 25 has repeated notes that evoke the bugle signaling the troops and a lyrical trio section. The "Soldier's Song" from Louis Kohler's Op. 210 is in AAB form. The A section has a very crisp march, and the B section contains a juxtaposed martial right hand and a legato left hand. The "Playing Soldiers" March in Mihaly Mosonyi's Hungarian Children's World is the most exciting and most difficult march, using many octave passages and figures in the left hand that sound like racing horses.

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Schumann's "The Poor Orphan" challenges the student to depict a more mournful sound through the use of the minor scale. Mosonyi's "Orphan Girl" from Hungarian Children's World is another composition that represents a more melancholy mood. These orphan children are being portrayed as sad and lonely, deeply thoughtful and introspective. Mosonyi's composition is in A minor and the mournful sound is intensified through the use of the sharp fourth scale degree, creating an augmented second between the third and fourth scale degrees. The melodic contour is primarily descending and melodic notes occur mostly on the off beats.

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The "Hunting Song" of Schumann challenges students to conquer dements typical of hunting music such as the 6/8-meter, triadic melodic dements, forte dynamics and a strong rhythmic drive. In Op. 101 Gurlitt includes a "Hunting Song" similar to the Hunting Song in Schumann's Op. 68. Both compositions begin with the opening horn fourths and arpeggiated chordal melody, though Schumann chose to orchestrate his opening in strong octave unisons. Students could easily imagine the horns calling and the hunters pursuing their prey. Kullak uses similar stylistic elements in his composition "The Little Hunters" in Scenes from Childhood Op. 81.

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The "Knight Ruppert" composition from Schumann's Op. 68 is a robust piece, full of vitality and strong sounds, perfect for the student interested in more dramatic sonorities. The opening unison passages alternating with full chords make for an exciting experience. "Knight Ruppert" was an assistant to St. Nicholas on Christmas and would help determine whether children were good or bad. If the children were bad, it is said that he would take away their gift and beat them, thus a character to be avoided. The same dramatic fear, brought to life through similar compositional techniques as employed in Knight Ruppert, can be heard in the Fear of the Inferno from Benjamin Godard's Studies for Children, Op. 149. In Fear of the Inferno there is dark menacing force. It is violent, aggressive and very exciting for the listener and performer.

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The "First Sorrow" from Schumann's Op. 68 develops sobbing two-note slurs in the left-hand accompaniment to express weeping. Other composers have explored alternative ways to express sorrow. The "First Sorrow" from Studies for Children, Op. 149, uses diminished and augmented chords to create anxiety, chromatic passing tones and the use of pedal points to create tension. "Loss" from Gurlitt's Op. 101 begins with a melodic line that leaps up an octave and then descends in weeping thirds. Also emotionally evocative is the melodic sequence in the left hand that leaps a ninth and then descends stepwise. "Lament," from Op. 101 is the only example of a song of sorrow that provides a tempo direction of con moto. Overall this is a more passionate example of loss, with a moving 3/8 meter, dynamics that are mostly forte, and a wide arching melodic line. The "Infant who Cries" from Stephan Heller's Album for the Young Op. 138 has a stable left-hand chordal accompaniment and a melodic right hand. The melody shies away from strong beats and manipulates syncopations and dissonances. This creates a disjunctive effect, not dissimilar to the act of weeping. "The Birdie's Death" from Theodor Kullak's Scenes from Childhood, Op. 62 is in F minor though it ends in F major, suggesting light after darkness.

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The "Chorale" from Schumann's Op. 68 develops chord reading by using a chorale style. In this work, the student will learn to voice the melodic note of each chord while playing a legato line. The "Morning Prayer" from Gurlitt's Albumleaves for the Young Op. 101, though not based on an actual hymn, is composed in the chorale style. Whereas Schumann only demands a "piano" dynamic throughout, Gurlitt includes more specific dynamic shaping and insists at the beginning of the composition, espressivo. Perhaps more comparable to the "Chorale" is "Sunday" in Op. 101, which is based on an actual hymn and is less specific about melodic shaping. The "Prayer" from Karganov's Album for the Young, Op. 25, "Evening Song," "In the Church" and "Child's Morning Prayer" from Louis Kohler Op. 210, are other good examples of chorale writing.

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Schumann left selections from Op. 68 without titles. Using three stars as a heading, Schumann lets the music speak for itself, allowing the performer to imagine the scene. Another composer who also left compositions without titles is Theodor Kirchner. Kirchner's output for piano was dominated by the miniature character piece in its simplest form. His collection of pieces shows his admiration for Schumann. The Neue Kinderscenen Op. 55 is filled with inspiring piano literature and was originally published in 1881 dedicated to "little ones and grown-ups alike." It includes 25 numbered compositions composed as new childhood scenes, but without the fanciful titles. Though these are not well known, they are full of color and variety and are other examples similar to Schumann's that allow the music to speak for itself and the student to develop his own programmatic title.

Schumann's Album for the Young Op. 68 is a pedagogical masterpiece, but it also offers another noteworthy contribution to pedagogy. Unique to Schumann's Op. 68 is The Musical Rules for the Home and Life that was in the original manuscript, but only included in the second edition, and rarely included in today's editions. The Rules are insightful and give advice concerning the teaching of music. They are charming and witty and give a small glimpse into the character of Schumann. He encourages students to develop musicality through listening to music and feeling music and also offers friendly advice about life. These rules are still highly applicable today, and as musicians and pedagogues we should attempt to follow them as part of our daily growth. Perhaps the greatest advice he saves for the last rule, which simply states, "Learning has no end."

The character piece can be ideal for the intermediate student who is just finding his or her voice through music. Students can learn how to use their imagination, how to set an emotional scene, and how to paint a picture with sound. Character pieces can provide motivation to inspire any pianist, and the final result will be pleasing both to the performer and listener.

MUSICAL EXAMPLES CITATIONS

Godard, Benjamin. Studies for Children, Op. 149. London: The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 1985.

Gurlitt, Cornelius. Albumleaves for the Young: Twenty Little Pieces for the Piano. New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1895.

Heller, Stephen. Album for the young: op. 138. London: Ashdown, 1940.

Karganov, Genari. Album for the Young, Op. 25. London: The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 1983.

Kiel, Friedrich. Bilder aus der Jugendwelt: op. 1. Koln: Verlag Dohr, 1998.

Kohler, Louis. Kinder-Album, Op. 210. Maimi, FL: A Kalmus Classic Edition: Alfred Publishing Co. Inc, 1985.

Kullak, Theodore. Kinderleben, Op. 62. Edited and fingered by Karl Klauser. New York: G. Schirmer, 1895.

Kullak, Theodore. Kinderleben, Op. 81. Edited and fingered by Karl Klauser. New York: G Schirmer, 1895.

Mosonyi, Mihaly, and Ferenc Bonis. Ungarische Kinderwelt: 12 Lebensbilder fur Klavier = Magyar gyermekvilag : 12 eletkep zongorara = Hungarian children's world : 12 conversation pieces for piano. Wien: Doblinger, 1998.

Schumann, Robert. Album for the Young, Op. 68. Edited by Gary Busch. Fort Lauderdale, FL: FJH Music Company Inc., 2004.

Schumann, Robert. Album for the Young, Op. 68. Edited by Keith Snell. San Diego, CA: Neil A. Kjos Music Company, 1996.

Crystal Renee Zimmerman, NCTM, has degrees in piano performance and piano pedagogy from Wichita State University and the University of Oregon. Throughout her studies she has been the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships. She maintains a large private piano studio and recently earned her D.M.A. degree from the University of Oregon.
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Author:Zimmerman, Crystal Renee
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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