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Picturesque Titles: Schumann

A Minute with Miles

Like many19th-century composers, Robert Schumann often gave his works picturesque titles. Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, for example, a set of pieces for solo piano, includes pieces with titles such as “Pleading Child,” and “Frightening.” How literally should we take these titles – and perhaps the picturesque titles of other composers’ works? Well here’s what Schumann himself wrote: “I have seldom come across anything more clumsy and shortsighted than what [the critic] Rellstab wrote about my Scenes from Childhood. He supposes I took some screaming child as my model and then tried to find the right notes. It was the other way round. Though I do not deny I saw a few children’s faces in my mind’s eye while I was composing; but the titles were added later, of course, and are really no more than slight pointers to the way of interpreting and playing the pieces.”

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina ETV Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.