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Schumann's Difficulty #2316410
08/16/14 11:44 PM
08/16/14 11:44 PM
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Francisco Scalco Offline OP
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I made this thread to understand why this belief that Schumann's piano output is so difficult. I understand that he, as almost all other composers, wrote difficult pieces. However, with Schumann, there seems to be this idea that he only wrote such works.
These are examples.
Henle blog
PW thread
This puzzles me.
Anyone have a thought on why is Schumann considered so difficult?


Last edited by Francisco Scalco; 08/16/14 11:45 PM.
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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316414
08/17/14 12:09 AM
08/17/14 12:09 AM
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I don't think it's any truer for Schumann than any other composer or that the links suggest that. Henle's "only few pieces can be mastered by beginners" isn't exclusive to Schumann - and, as it says in that article, Henle is in the process of classifying their entire piano catalog into levels 1 through 9 - not just Schumann.

I want to add that I wasn't aware of any belief that Schumann is any more difficult than any other major composer. I don't think there's any evidence for that belief.

Last edited by Goomer Piles; 08/17/14 12:36 AM.
Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316417
08/17/14 12:16 AM
08/17/14 12:16 AM
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I don't know...because he is? Do you find his music easy compared to other composers?

On the artistic side of things, Schumann's music requires the utmost taste and maturity to make it sound right. The rubato in Schumann can easily fall into cliché and caricature. It takes a skilled artist to avoid this. Additionally, the emotional/interpretive aspect in the music requires a very inventive, imaginative and highly nuanced treatment, with a great range of feeling coupled with a good deal of artistic restraint. Most players can't or don't do it well.

Then there's the technical difficulty, which is very great indeed. Any of the extended works or cycles require a complete and mature technical apparatus from the player, just as much as Chopin or Liszt even if they tend to exploit a different kind of texture generally. Some of the solo pieces like the tocatta are among the most difficult in the literature.

And these are just the piano pieces. The chamber music requires all these things from both players. The lieder is among the very best in the art-song literature, making enormous interpretive and technical demands on both the singer and the pianist.


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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316418
08/17/14 12:19 AM
08/17/14 12:19 AM
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Because much of what he wrote is difficult - from both a technical and interpretive standpoint.

The Henle Blog presented a fairly balanced discussion and identified the Schumann works that are most accessible to amateur players.

I don't think anyone who is truly familiar with Schumann's music would claim that he only wrote "difficult" works - but pieces such as the Toccata, Symphonic Etudes, Fantasie, Etudes on Caprices by Paganini, Carnaval, Kreisleriana, Davidsbundlertanze and some of the Novelleten etc. are just as challenging as the most difficult works by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, etc.

I just spent an hour working on the Toccata, and my brain is about to explode.

Need to switch gears and play the Arabeske - or even better, the "Soldiers' March." grin



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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316467
08/17/14 05:56 AM
08/17/14 05:56 AM
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When my last teacher felt that I was given too much to somewhat 'pushy' (his term) and aggressive playing, especially in music with lots of notes (I was then a young man in search of a destiny, and had no time to lose.... grin ), he assigned me not some slow Chopin nocturnes, but Schumann - to impress on me that where there's a Florestan, there's also an Eusebius. And that the tone should always be beautiful, in whichever persona.

He wanted me to play the whole of the Fantasy in C, not just its March, which I'd already learnt for myself (for which, of course, I took my hammer & tongs to) but wouldn't give me any advice on how to approach the outer movements. That I had to discover for myself. When I finally played the whole thing to him, he knew that it was mission accomplished......

IMO, in terms of technical difficulty, Schumann's piano music is no more so than Chopin's ("Hats off, gentleman! A genius!" - to which Chopin didn't reciprocate), but it's more difficult to hold together into coherent wholes, because of his frequently wildly fluctuating mood swings, often within the same piece. Even the Arabeske is not immune, and I've heard pianists who over-prettify the sweet rondo theme while playing the louder episodes like Liszt - as I once did myself cry.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316489
08/17/14 08:03 AM
08/17/14 08:03 AM
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The reason I wrote that the OP in the other thread should just get something he could feasibly play is that everything that I consider to be standard "must have" Schumann is very difficult. The first pieces that came to mind were the f# minor sonata, carnaval, the Davidsbündlertänze, Fantasiestücke, and the Abegg varitions.


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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316501
08/17/14 08:49 AM
08/17/14 08:49 AM
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Francisco Scalco Offline OP
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Oh, I didn't expect so much response. Thank you all.

Now, I must say I'm a huge Schumann fan, been performing his works since I was little. I agree with what has been said, but I don't think he is -especially- difficult. Kinderszenen, Waldszenen, a great deal of the Davidsbundlertanze, the op. 12, the concerto... He has difficult pieces, but I still fail to grasp this notion of Schumann as a difficult composer.
And the Fantasy... well, besides the second movement, it poses mainly interpretative issues, that although immense, are not exclusive to this piece.
What I'm trying to say is I don't believe Schumann's piano output should be regarded this way. Maybe this contributes to the fact that he is not programmed as often as other great composers. Sure, we get to listen to the Fantasy, and the symphonic etudes on every competition, but he doesn't get the attention he deserves IMO.

Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316609
08/17/14 04:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco
What I'm trying to say is I don't believe Schumann's piano output should be regarded this way. Maybe this contributes to the fact that he is not programmed as often as other great composers. Sure, we get to listen to the Fantasy, and the symphonic etudes on every competition, but he doesn't get the attention he deserves IMO.

I think I disagree with all of your assumptions. smile

1. I don't think people generally think Schumann's music is "so difficult". Of course, all the great composers wrote difficult masterpieces: Beethoven's op.106, Chopin's Etudes and Ballades, Brahms's 2nd concerto. Not to mention Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Prokoviev. Schumann also wrote very difficult masterpieces, and, like these other composers, he wrote easier masterpieces too. He's just not different.

2. Nor do I think Schumann doesn't get attention. I think he's performed a tremendous amount.

So... you seem to be looking for explanations for a phenomenon that I think doesn't exist.

-J


Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316610
08/17/14 04:57 PM
08/17/14 04:57 PM
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Carey Offline
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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco
Oh, I didn't expect so much response. Thank you all.

Now, I must say I'm a huge Schumann fan, been performing his works since I was little. I agree with what has been said, but I don't think he is -especially- difficult. Kinderszenen, Waldszenen, a great deal of the Davidsbundlertanze, the op. 12, the concerto... He has difficult pieces, but I still fail to grasp this notion of Schumann as a difficult composer.
And the Fantasy... well, besides the second movement, it poses mainly interpretative issues, that although immense, are not exclusive to this piece.
What I'm trying to say is I don't believe Schumann's piano output should be regarded this way. Maybe this contributes to the fact that he is not programmed as often as other great composers. Sure, we get to listen to the Fantasy, and the symphonic etudes on every competition, but he doesn't get the attention he deserves IMO.


Francisco - who, in your opinion, are the "difficult" composers - and how do their works compare to Schumann's most challenging works?

As to why Schumann's works are programmed less frequently than works by other great composers (and aside from the inherent difficulty of some pieces), I'm wondering if his total body of work for piano is a bit uneven in inspiration, quality and/or appeal - which, perhaps, is why we tend to hear the substantial works from Opus 1 through 26 performed more frequently. This is just my "impression" and anyone is welcome to refute it. smile



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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Carey] #2316619
08/17/14 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by carey
As to why Schumann's works are programmed less frequently than works by other great composers (and aside from the inherent difficulty of some pieces), I'm wondering if his total body of work for piano is a bit uneven in inspiration, quality and/or appeal - which, perhaps, is why we tend to hear the substantial works from Opus 1 through 26 performed more frequently. This is just my "impression" and anyone is welcome to refute it. smile
All or virtually all of Schumann's works in the beginning were for solo piano. He wrote relatively little for solo piano after Op. 26, and that is why one really hears works beyond Op. 26.

Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316624
08/17/14 05:41 PM
08/17/14 05:41 PM
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I also do not have the perception that Schumann is particularly "difficult" overall. Or that it gets short shrift in terms of programming. That being said, I don't feel he's overexposed or anything, so...

What, to me, contributes most to the "difficulty" of a composer (if we must undertake such an evaluation) is not so much his or her most difficult work, but his or her LEAST difficult work.

In other words, how skilled of a musician must you be to get a minimal toehold in a particular composer's works? How high is the barrier to entry simply to be able to play a reasonable variety of his or her works?

Nobody would question that Beethoven wrote enormously difficult piano works, but because there's enough available at the mid-intermediate level to feel as if you have a variety of Beethoven to choose from at a mid-intermediate level, there's not a perceptibly high barrier to entry. Our young intermediate pianist can enter the tent almost as early as he pleases. The trip to Beethoven's greatest works will be long and difficult, but he's not outside in the rain while he gets there, with the idea that the Beethoven party is going on without him.

On the other end of the spectrum is Liszt, though maybe I'm wrong. I haven't even begun to think there's something out there to consider playing any time soon, though I have made my preliminary foray into Rachmaninoff, another composer who gets the "difficult" moniker. His initial barrier to entry seems reasonably high, but not so high as Liszt.

Chopin certainly gets the "difficult" label as well, but his barrier to entry is not quite so high as Rachmaninoff. You may not be hitting his sonata any time soon, but there are plenty of Mazurkas, waltzes, a prelude here and there, and a nocturne or two to give you exposure to classic Chopin style while you work your way up.

Who doesn't get the label? Well, Mozart. Bach. But NOT because it's somehow true that Bach's Goldberg Variations are easier than Chopin's Ballades, but because there's no analogue to Minuet in G from Chopin. There's no Mozart Sonatina in C from Rachmaninoff. You're left out in the rain for quite some time with these composers, and therefore they are just viewed as "difficult". (Though I think the real kicker is that once you're out of kiddie Bach, there's a bit of a rude awakening when one comes to realize that Bach is actually one of the trickiest composers to play well. And even those early minuets aren't so easy when you take a mature ear to them.)

For me, Schumann seems to have enough to play at the mid-intermediate level without having to be given the "difficult" label. I never really felt he was an "aspirational gateway" composer who, by very virtue of playing even one of his works, I'd arrived at some rite of passage in my journey. I sort of DID feel that way about Rachmaninoff. And that's true whether or not the bulk of Schumann's harder works are more difficult than Rachmaninoff's.

Interesting to think about.

To sum up, I think the "difficulty" is really a different way of talking about the initial barrier to entry rather than saying anything about the top difficulty, or even the average difficulty of any composer's works.

Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: pianoloverus] #2316643
08/17/14 06:30 PM
08/17/14 06:30 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by carey
As to why Schumann's works are programmed less frequently than works by other great composers (and aside from the inherent difficulty of some pieces), I'm wondering if his total body of work for piano is a bit uneven in inspiration, quality and/or appeal - which, perhaps, is why we tend to hear the substantial works from Opus 1 through 26 performed more frequently. This is just my "impression" and anyone is welcome to refute it. smile
All or virtually all of Schumann's works in the beginning were for solo piano. He wrote relatively little for solo piano after Op. 26, and that is why one really hears works beyond Op. 26.


Here's what he wrote AFTER the Opus 26. Some nice works here and there - but certainly nothing that would place Schumann in the ranks of "great composers" for the piano if that's all he had composed.

Op. 28, Three Romances
Op. 32, 4 Klavierstücke (Scherzo, Gigue, Romance and Fughette)
Op. 68, Album for the Young (Album für die Jugend)
Op. 72, Four Fugues (Vier Fugen)
Op. 76, Four Marches (Vier Märsche)
Op. 82, Waldszenen (Forest Scenes)
Op. 99, Bunte Blätter
Op. 111, Three Fantasiestücke
Op. 118, Drei Sonaten für die Jugend (Three Piano Sonatas for the Young)
Op. 124, Album Leaves (Albumblätter)
Op. 126, Seven Piano Pieces in Fughetta Form
Op. 133, Songs of Dawn (Gesänge der Frühe)
WoO 24, Variations in E-flat on an Original Theme (Geistervariationen)
WoO 31, Studies in the Form of Free Variations on a Theme by Beethoven




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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316656
08/17/14 06:50 PM
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I say this with love in my heart, but have any of you sexist pigs ever considered the fact that the actual pianist who first played (and show-cased) these works was a seasoned concert pianist by the name of Clara?

Shame on you.

Why or how else would he have had the luxury of writing works at this level?

Clara Schumann did not have just something to do with his success as a composer, she had everything to do with it!

Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: TwoSnowflakes] #2316657
08/17/14 06:51 PM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
For me, Schumann seems to have enough to play at the mid-intermediate level without having to be given the "difficult" label. I never really felt he was an "aspirational gateway" composer who, by very virtue of playing even one of his works, I'd arrived at some rite of passage in my journey. I sort of DID feel that way about Rachmaninoff. And that's true whether or not the bulk of Schumann's harder works are more difficult than Rachmaninoff's. Interesting to think about.
Difficult or not, Schumann definitely is an "aspirational gateway for me," as I've always wanted to play a few of his substantial works that I first "discovered" in my youth and still find very appealing. For some reason, Schumann's style is a tad easier for me to grasp than that of Rachmaninoff. Perhaps I need to think of Rachmaninoff as an "aspirational gateway" and give him a shot before I completely run out of steam ha but for now I'm focusing on Schumann.

Quote
To sum up, I think the "difficulty" is really a different way of talking about the initial barrier to entry rather than saying anything about the top difficulty, or even the average difficulty of any composer's works.

Good point !!


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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Louis Podesta] #2316660
08/17/14 06:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Louis Podesta
I say this with love in my heart, but have any of you sexist pigs ever considered the fact that the actual pianist who first played (and show-cased) these works was a seasoned concert pianist by the name of Clara?

Shame on you.

Why or how else would he have had the luxury of writing works at this level?

Clara Schumann did not have just something to do with his success as a composer, she had everything to do with it!
Clara also was the inspiration for some of Robert's greatest works - aside from the fact that she also performed them. grin


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Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: TwoSnowflakes] #2316666
08/17/14 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
On the other end of the spectrum is Liszt, though maybe I'm wrong. I haven't even begun to think there's something out there to consider playing any time soon, though I have made my preliminary foray into Rachmaninoff, another composer who gets the "difficult" moniker. His initial barrier to entry seems reasonably high, but not so high as Liszt.

Chopin certainly gets the "difficult" label as well, but his barrier to entry is not quite so high as Rachmaninoff. You may not be hitting his sonata any time soon, but there are plenty of Mazurkas, waltzes, a prelude here and there, and a nocturne or two to give you exposure to classic Chopin style while you work your way up.

This is about all I had to say, so I'll just say, "I agree" and leave it at that.

I agree.


Poetry is rhythm
Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Carey] #2316681
08/17/14 08:01 PM
08/17/14 08:01 PM
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Originally Posted by carey
Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
For me, Schumann seems to have enough to play at the mid-intermediate level without having to be given the "difficult" label. I never really felt he was an "aspirational gateway" composer who, by very virtue of playing even one of his works, I'd arrived at some rite of passage in my journey. I sort of DID feel that way about Rachmaninoff. And that's true whether or not the bulk of Schumann's harder works are more difficult than Rachmaninoff's. Interesting to think about.
Difficult or not, Schumann definitely is an "aspirational gateway for me," as I've always wanted to play a few of his substantial works that I first "discovered" in my youth and still find very appealing. For some reason, Schumann's style is a tad easier for me to grasp than that of Rachmaninoff. Perhaps I need to think of Rachmaninoff as an "aspirational gateway" and give him a shot before I completely run out of steam ha but for now I'm focusing on Schumann.

Quote
To sum up, I think the "difficulty" is really a different way of talking about the initial barrier to entry rather than saying anything about the top difficulty, or even the average difficulty of any composer's works.

Good point !!


Ha, go for it.

But seriously, by saying a composer is an "aspirational gateway" I don't mean to say that any particular piece is my main aspiration, only that once I'm good enough to attempt any Rachmaninoff, I feel like I've passed through a gateway of sorts in terms of skill level. Even if, once I'm through that gateway, it's Schumann I aspire to play. That's not the case with Schumann because there's a reasonable amount to play starting at a moderate level, so "getting to Schumann" has less of a gateway feel to me.

I'm sure I'll feel the same about Liszt, even though I'm actually not a huge fan of much of his music. But once I get good enough that the study of any Liszt is a pedagogically appropriate, I'll feel incredibly gratified. It'll mean I can feel legitimately close to being ready for some of those dream pieces I never permitted myself the luxury of getting to study.

Does that make sense?

Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Louis Podesta] #2316684
08/17/14 08:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Louis Podesta
I say this with love in my heart, but have any of you sexist pigs ever considered the fact that the actual pianist who first played (and show-cased) these works was a seasoned concert pianist by the name of Clara?

Shame on you.

Why or how else would he have had the luxury of writing works at this level?

Clara Schumann did not have just something to do with his success as a composer, she had everything to do with it!


I'm really not clear where the sexism has been here.

And I say this as a huge fan of Clara Schumann (I'm reading a book written entirely about her right now, in fact) and as a person with a comprehensive and lifelong familiarity with being female.

I don't believe we were mainly wondering why he wrote exceptionally difficult works, but whether he wrote them in greater or lesser proportion to other composers.

Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: TwoSnowflakes] #2316686
08/17/14 08:12 PM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
I'm sure I'll feel the same about Liszt, even though I'm actually not a huge fan of much of his music. But once I get good enough that the study of any Liszt is a pedagogically appropriate, I'll feel incredibly gratified. It'll mean I can feel legitimately close to being ready for some of those dream pieces I never permitted myself the luxury of getting to study.
I bet you can play

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du07TuqTL-8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi9Q3KHViW4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3n9TUGa_cU

and they're very beautiful.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 08/17/14 08:28 PM.
Re: Schumann's Difficulty [Re: Francisco Scalco] #2316688
08/17/14 08:14 PM
08/17/14 08:14 PM
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Francisco Scalco Offline OP
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Carey, I'm not comparing him to other composers, I believed this comparison already existed. I'm not agreeing with it. I don't think of him as a 'difficult composer': my idea of one has to do with what twosnowflakes already said.
But well, seeing this whole thing was in my head, I'll stop and say I'm wrong. However, I still believe that there's something weird about the reception to Schumann's music. Seeing the responses in this thread, this may be a personal issue, concerning my specific environment (Brazil).
But thank you all for your responses!

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