Picturesque Titles: Schumann

Mar 2, 2020

Credit Mary Noble Ours

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.