piano, piano blog, piano blog by Shirley Kirsten

Voice parceling in Schumann’s Kinderszenen, “Of Foreign Lands and People”

On first glance, most students will read down the page of Kinderszenen 1, Op. 15, enjoying a melodic flow, with only a passing interest in two additional voices. With this singular focus on the soprano line, the middle voice of relentless triplets can still inadvertently intrude upon the uppermost voice, as thumbs cross over from the bass clef into the treble. With the left thumb redundantly transferring to the right thumb in triplet strands, these form a broken chord harmonic underpinning, but in a horizontal flow. (In this regard, a player should be aware of a three-voice texture from the start.)

To understand the role of the middling triplets, a student should separately practice them–realizing that the crossover of this alto line into the treble still preserves its harmonic role without intruding upon the melody. (It’s easy for the right thumb to become a melodic note if not carefully subdued) The task of following this separate line requires attentive listening which helps a student to focus on dividing or parceling out voices before balancing them against each other.

I always suggest “blocking” broken chord patterns to appreciate harmonic function and how it influences phrasing and contouring. In this context, the second broken chord in this first tableau, forms a diminished chord falling on the second beat which fleshes out the importance of the G above in the soprano line. And the first opening treble “B” in bar 1, is in fact a springboard to the minor sixth leap to G, that is enhanced by the unexpected diminished chord under it. (firmly rooted on bass note C#.) I consider such a harmonic surprise on the second beat as feeding how I will render the high G. (Because there are a few arrival G’s in a row by measure, I might use dynamic variation, or a slight delay here and there when playing them) On the repeat of the first section, more liberties might be taken.

Blocking out chords with the melody as a preliminary to unblocking them in duo with the soprano line is invaluable. Such voice parceling, and voice combining, give the student a clearer idea of how the work is put together as to structure, harmonic dimension, and melodic flow.

Finally, the bass notes should be separately played, and then combined with the soprano, before the bass and alto are played together. (I think we covered all permutations)

By this activation of various voice combinations before playing all lines together, a knowledge of the texture, woven voices, and how to balance them becomes a learning tool applicable to other works.


In the second section of Schumann’s Kinderszenen 1, a counter-melody in the bass presents an opportunity to flesh out this voice, perhaps more so in the turnaround repeat, though its first playing makes a significant audible impression. Where double-stemmed notes appear on the first 8th of particular triplets, a student can still track them through the middle voice, knowing that holding over the first note of a triplet brings prominence to itself. (in the bass) This voice, even with certain notes doubled or held down through a triplet, should be separately practiced.

Above and beyond all the voicing activity and awareness, a student will want to preserve a gorgeous cantabile, seamless, singing tone that is a hallmark of the Romantic genre. This embodies an internal “feel” for the line, best realized with relaxed arms, supple wrists, and varying weight transfer for dynamic variation.

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