Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” (Kinderszenen No. 10) requires get serious, step-wise practicing

When I first looked at a “seriously” complex page of dizzying tied-over (syncopated) notes in Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious,” (Fast Zu Ernst) I had a knee-jerk avoidance response–that is until I tapped into a permeating melodic thread that I isolated and wooed from its conspicuous alliance to myriads of off beats.

Fast zu ernst p. 1

Fast zu ernst p. 2

In other words, I simplified my journey in a baby-step voice parceling manner, de-intensifying a threat to learning a gorgeous harmonic mosaic that’s spun from broken chords and affectionately supportive syncopations. (I’m sure the composer’s passionate unraveling harmonies were a reflection of his love for a uniquely beautiful, self-created outpouring in the somber chosen key of G# minor)

First things first in approaching the tableau:

A behind tempo practicing approach to what looks rhythmically challenging is the only sensible antidote to anxiety that many adult students have when they perceive a score riddled with unusually foreign-looking notational strands.

And to allay their fears as well as my own, I set out to piece out “Almost too Serious” in a purposeful step-wise manner with a learning guide intention, blazing a trail that my students and others could follow without trepidation.

***

Various practicing constellations are explored in my video

1) Identify a treble line melodic thread–and practice in slow tempo with relaxed arms, supple wrists and a permeating singing tone.

2) Isolate (play) the alto line notes

3) Play the fundamental bass notes throughout the composition

4) Block three-note 16th groupings in the bass, that appear after the downbeat in each measure. (These will eventually unfold in broken-chord fashion, using ROTATION to avoid tension, and to play musically.)

5) All through the step-wise learning process identify keys and harmonic transitions (or modulations).

6) Listen for and tab suspensions/passing dissonances and how they resolve.

7) In the course of layered-up practicing, examine the BALANCE of voices as they are sewn together.

8) Explore the ritardandos at various cadences and practice relaxed breathing at bridges across measures with fermati (extra holds), to avoid “gasps” between phrases.

9) Pedaling as the final polish should be sensitive to dissonances, not causing conspicuous blurring of harmonic resolutions.

The aforementioned are suggestions that can be “seriously” supplemented along the way, but always with a defining awareness that the Romantic era singing approach to this music is at the core of practicing it.

My Instruction:

Play Through:

About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
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7 Responses to Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” (Kinderszenen No. 10) requires get serious, step-wise practicing

  1. Pingback: Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” (Kinderszenen No. 10) requires get serious, step-wise practicing | Liv Morales

  2. Pingback: Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” (Kinderszenen No. 10) requires get serious, step-wise practicing | Henry Tan

  3. Pingback: Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” (Kinderszenen No. 10) requires get serious, step-wise practicing – Burning Bushes Music

  4. Scott Hanley says:

    Thank you so much for this! I had never heard this wrenching composition before, but fell in love with it at first hearing. All other pieces immediately to the side track!

    I had lessons from childhood into the teen years, and have maintained ineffectual playing into my adult years (50+ now). Sadly, I was never taught how to learn a piece other than playing it over and over until you get it. The idea of blocking out the left hand arpeggios would never have occurred to me, but a couple hours of that strategy yielded faster progress than I’m used to seeing. Thank you again!

    Like

  5. zumpoems says:

    I came across your Kinderszenen videos on youtube when searching for something to help me conquer my inability to properly play an even, controlled version of Hasche-Mann. I started learning Kinderszenen and thought this piece would be easy enough as the left hand looks similar to a ragtime bass in parts, but once I got it up to speed it just didn’t sound good — sounded like a mad, chaotic scramble.

    In your videos you talk (and show) a wrist forward concept that I then tried it out this morning on “Far Away Lands and People” and found it made an immediate difference in sound and ease of playing. I didn’t start learning piano until 17 and didn’t really have piano teachers that focused on addressing relaxing or proper mechanics until I got some state funded lessons at the local university three years later. Nonetheless, it seems strange that none of the teachers focused on wrist and arm motion like you seem to in your video.

    Posting here to thank you for your videos. I came across your blog when looking on more information on “wrist forward” and I will certainly explore your posts over the next few weeks or longer. The little bit of practice I did today with wrist forward, really un-tensed my hands/wrist so I could play easier. Its been decades since college and I had stopped playing the piano for almost 30 years before I resumed playing it a few years ago. Glad to have come across your videos. Thanks for taking the effort to capture them.

    Also, are you familiar with Rudolph Reti’s analysis of Kinderszenen? Reti emphasizes the importance of thematic transformation in his book “The Thematic Process in Music” and presents examples of how composers unify a work with this thematic transformation. It is easy to hear in comparing the first bars of “Faraway Lands and Places” and “Pleading Child”, but for the most part the thematic transformation is not readily detectable.

    I am a big fan of Kinderszenen. I had very little exposure to classical music (movies, 1812 Overture, etc.) when I first bought a bargain-priced set of Deutsche Grammophon piano recordings. When hearing “Faraway Lands and Places” (performed by Christopher Eschenbach) for the first time, I was so impressed by this piece that this singular sense of emotion on hearing this the first time is something I can recall today.

    Expressing my thanks for your videos,

    Randy.

    Like

    • Thanks for your detailed comments and interest in Kinderszenen. Incidentally, Murray Perahia has a nice spread on you tube about these as well as an NPR segment that explores tempo, in particular. In my most recent blog posting I flesh out the artistry of Livia Rev who demonstrates the flexible wrist in a recent teaching video. It’s certainly a shock absorber and a phrase sculptor.

      Like

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