Piano Music for Children (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.550885)
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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Scenes of Childhood
Kinderszenen Op. 15
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Album for the young
Album pour enfants Op. 39
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
Music for children can be of two kinds. It may be intended for children toplay, in which case it must be simple in musical content and without technicaldifficulty, or for children to hear, when it may make greater demands on aperformer, without overtaxing the listener. Elements that both kinds of musicshare are generally brevity and ease of comprehension, the second aided bycharacteristic titles. The development of the pianoforte as a common domesticinstrument, coupled with the literary tendencies of composers in the nineteenthcentury, led to the creation of a multitude of piano pieces for children and forthe moderately talented amateur. Pre-eminent among these must be the Kinderszenen
and Album f??rdie Jugend of Robert Schumann, pieces intended to instructand to entertain, in a way that Johann Sebastian Bach, a century earlier, wouldhardly have envisaged for his children, to whom he made less concession. Amongworks by great composers intended for children are the Children's Album
of Tchaikovsky and early in the present century Debussy's Children's Corner.
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived,combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his musicand in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher andwriter, he showed an early interest in literature, and was to make a name forhimself in later years as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrilt f??rMusik, a journal launched in 1834.
Alter a period at university, to satisfy, the ambitions of his widowedmother, Schumann, still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, turned morefully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whoseenergies had been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara, apianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by a weakness ofthe fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis,which he had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment. Neverthelessin the 1830s he was to write a great deal of music for the piano, much of it inthe form of shorter, genre pieces, often enough with some extra-musical,literary or autobiographical association.
In health Schumann had long been subject to sudden depressions and had on oneoccasion attempted to take his own life. This nervous instability had shownitself in other members of his family, in his father and in his sister, andaccentuated, perhaps, by venereal disease, it was to bring him finally toinsanity and death in an asylum. Friedrich Wieck, an anxious father, waspossibly aware of Schumann's weaknesses when he made every effort to prevent aproposed marriage between his daughter Clara and his former pupil. Clara wasnine years younger than Schumann and represented for her father a considerableinvestment of time and hope.
At first, when he lodged in Wieck's house in Leipzig, Schumann had shownlittle interest in Clara, and in 1834 he became secretly engaged to Ernestinevon Fricken, a pupil of Wieck and illegitimate daughter of Baron von Fricken, aBohemian nobleman. It was for her that Schumann wrote his Fasching: Schwankeauf vier Noten, a set of pieces based on the four musical notes of his name,S C H A, which, by a lucky chance, also formed the name of the von Fricken'shome-town, Asch. It was this work that was later given the title Carnaval:scenes mignonnes sur quatre notes. By the following summer Schumann haddiscovered the secret of Emestine's illegitimacy and begun to transfer hisaffections to the fifteen-year-old Clara Wieck.
Wieck was to do his utmost to prevent a marriage that can have brought Claralittle happiness, but alter considerable litigation the marriage took place andthe couple were married in the autumn of 1840, a year in which Schumann was towrite an incredibly large number of songs, before turning his attention, at hiswife's prompting to the larger forms of orchestral music.
Schumann's subsequent career took him and his wife first to Dresden and in1850 to D??sseldorf, where he briefly held his first official position asdirector of music for the city, an office in which he proved increasinglyinadequate. In February, 1854, he attempted to drown himself, and was to spendthe remaining years of his life in a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn. Hedied there on 29th July, 1856.
Schumann wrote his Kinderszenen in 1838. As he told Clara, he hadcomposed thirty little pieces, and from these he selected thirteen, all of themdesigned to express an adult's reminiscence of childhood, or, as he said in aletter to Clara, a reflection of her comment that he sometimes seemed to her asa child. The music is technically undemanding, of ingenuous simplicity, thetitles self-explanatory, without the cryptic implications of Papillons
and Carnaval, an outstanding example of what Schumann was able to achievein forms as limited as this.
The music of Tchaikovsky, in spite of the reservations of contemporaries athome and abroad, must seem to us both essentially Russian and essentially andfirmly in the West European tradition. In Vienna the critic Eduard Hanslick wasable to complain of the "trivial Cossack cheer" of the finale of theViolin Concerto, but in Russia Tchaikovsky never went far enough to please theself-appointed leader of musical nationalists, Balakirev. While by no means aminiaturist, he nevertheless excelled in his mastery of the smaller formsnecessary in ballet, and exhibited to some extent in his piano pieces, anecessary element in any composer's output, with a readier market than forlarger scale works. The nineteenth century was, alter all, the age of thedomestic pianist.
The son of a chief inspector of mines in Government service in Votkinsk,Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 and educated at first at home by a belovedgoverness and later at the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence, inpreparation for a career in the Ministry of Justice. This he was to abandon in1863, when he joined the newly established St. Petersburg Conservatory, foundedby Anton Rubinstein, the first of its kind in Russia. Three years later hejoined the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow, directed by NikolayRubinstein, Anton Rubinstein's brother.
Tchaikovsky, abnormally sensitive and diffident, and tormented by his ownhomosexuality that seemed to isolate him from the society of the time, hadalready made a considerable impression as a composer, when an unwise,face-saving marriage in 1877 brought complete nervous collapse and immediateseparation from his new wife. In 1878 he was able to resign from theConservatory, thanks to the assistance of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whomhe was never to meet but who offered him both financial and moral support forsome thirteen years.
In 1893, shortly after the St. Petersburg performance of his SixthSymphony, Tchaikovsky died, it is thought by his own hand, compelled to thisstep by a court of honour of his fellows from the School of Jurisprudence, alterthreats of exposure and scandal resulting from a liaison with a young nobleman.
His death was widely mourned both in Russia and a