For children

“Having a bad day? How about some more Schumann?”
Cover of the Ricordi edition of unpublished pieces from Schumann’s Album for the young, op. 68.
Item no. 5 in M340.a.95.312.

A surprising number of composers have composed works aimed at a juvenile audience. In some cases this has complemented their work as a music teacher, in others they have wanted to introduce their music to younger members of the family. Some have wanted to pass on their passion for a particular style of music, and for some composers it’s an unusual Christmas present (“Just look at what Uncle Felix gave me!”). Others see composing for youngsters as the first step on the path to compositional greatness; and they’re not afraid to blow their own trumpet either: “Performed with the greatest success at the Promenade concerts, Covent Garden,” or (same work) “Performed with unprecedented success at the Promenade concerts, Covent Garden, and re-demanded nightly”.

What was this fantastically successful work? Who were happy to be compositional Father Christmases? And whose piano teaching influenced Liszt? For more, read on, and come and see our latest pop-up exhibition in the Anderson Room at the UL from 18th January-1st February.

The rather alarmed looking children of the Ricordi edition are preparing to immerse themselves in a new edition of previously unpublished works by Schumann that the composer did not include in his Album fur die Jugend, which contained pieces composed for his three daughters. It is clear however from the dedications to the works found in this volume, that these were intended for the same audience. Indeed several of the works, most notably The wild horseman and Cuckoo in hiding, have become staples of piano examinations since their publication in 1974.

The first of Schumann’s Album fur die Jugend pieces, edited by his wife, Clara.
Leipzig : Breitkopf & Hartel, ca. 1885. M200.a.18.12-14 (Ask in Anderson Room)

Unlike Schumann’s earlier work, Kinderszenen, which though inspired by childhood, was not necessarily intended for children to play, Album fur die Jugend, (item no. 5 in volume M340.a.95.348) is aimed at the child musician, ranging from very easy to rather more technical works. Schumann is not alone in composing teaching pieces for family and friends – William Alwyn was commissioned to write a number of works for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. In his archive, here at Cambridge University Library, we also have some unpublished works which were written for his two young sons, and their friend Rachel Bush, the daughter of composer, Alan.

One of the works is a carol written by his son, Jonathan, aged about 7 at the time, with an accompaniment added by the proud father as a Christmas present. Felix Mendelssohn also gave pieces of piano music as presents. His Kinderstucke, op. 72, were presented to Eduard and Lilly Benecke in June 1842. They were later published in a more complex edition as “a Christmas present for his young friends”. Even the earlier edition, which we have here, bound in to the same volume as the Schumann, is quite complicated for young pianists. It is to be hoped that Eduard and Lilly, Mendelssohn’s wife’s cousin’s children enjoyed their gift from their distant relative. The families were to become closer when Eduard and Lilly’s brother married Felix’s daughter, Marie.

Teaching piano at the Budapest Academy freed Bela Bartok from a life largely spent touring and performing. As well as teaching he had time to compose, and to travel the country collecting folk music with his friend, Zoltan Kodaly. The music of his native land would directly inspire his early works for children, which are widely used by piano teachers across the world, Tíz könnyű zongoradarab (Ten easy pieces) and Gyermekeknek (For children). Gyermekeknek drew on Hungarian and Slovakian folk music.

Bartok himself had a great pedagogical lineage. He would teach Georg Solti and Fritz Reiner at the Academy, and was himself taught by Istvan Thoman, who he succeeded there. Thoman was a former pupil of Liszt, who was taught by Czerny, one of the great piano teachers, who had lessons from Beethoven. Czerny’s style may feel a little out-dated nowadays, but his exercises in technique are still used.

Bartok playing Gyermekeknek

Here at the UL, we have a number of works by Czerny, some with beautiful title-pages designed not just to improve technique, but also to encourage delight in performance. Czerny seems to have been aware that playing the piano could be a lonely occupation, as he wrote a number of duets aimed at young musicians, including the duet Les deux soeurs, featured in the pop-up exhibition.

Sharing the piano was taken to extremes in the See-saw waltz by A. Gwyllym Crowe. Written for six small hands to play on one piano, a simple work, it evidently aspires to greatness with other arrangements available for full orchestra, and also military band, and brass band. There’s a variety of notation including “old” notation, and tonic sol-fa on offer too. Further encouragement to performance is given by the motto on the front cover “May be performed without fee or permission”. The Victorian version of copyright and royalty free.

A version for every musician: the multi-player See-Saw Waltz A1885.262.

An advert published on October 5th 1889 makes it sound like quite a performance –

Covent Garden Promenade Concerts…Grand orchestra. 150 performers….Coldstream Guards Band…Vocalists…First time grand descriptive piece will be performed entitled The Battle of Waterloo, and See-saw Waltz (by special request). Stedman’s chorus of boys and girls. Seven extra military bands…

And all of this for just 1 shilling!

Do come and have a look at our pop-up exhibition. And, while you’re here, browse through some favourite piano pieces as designed for children?


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.