Schumann's Musical Rules for Life and the Home

Dec 23, 2007

I was recently browsing a Bärenreiter edition of Schumann’s Album for the Young when I happened upon an appendix called Schumann’s Musical Rules for the Life and Home. This is a document I had no idea existed! It’s quite a long list (four pages in a word document!) of Robert’s suggestions, presumably intended for young people who are studying music, that cover the gamut

from quite funny…

  • Play in strict time! The way many virtuosi play sounds like a drunkard trying to walk. Don’t take people like that as a model.

  • Dragging behind and scampering are both bad mistakes.

  • There are plenty of things to be learnt from singers, but don’t believe everything they say.

to wise and pragmatic…

  • Learn the basic rules of harmony from the very start.

  • Make the effort to play easy pieces cleanly and beautifully; that’s better than giving a second-rate performance of a difficult piece.

  • You must always play on a well-tuned instrument.

  • It’s not enough for your fingers to know your pieces; you must also be able to hum them away from the piano. Develop you imagination so that you can hear not just the melody of a composition, but can remember all the harmony that goes with it, too.

  • Apply yourself to playing fugues by the masters, especially Johann Sebastian Bach. Let the “Well Tempered Clavier” be your daily bread. Then you are sure to become a proper musician.

  • Amongst your comrades, seek out the ones who know more than you do.

  • As a relief from your musical studies, read plenty of poetry. Often go out for a walk.

  • Get to know about conducting early on, and often watch good conductors; even try to conduct the pieces yourself in your head. This will make many things clear.

to touching and downright profound…

  • Always play as if a Great Master were listening to you.

  • Don’t ever use your technique to show off. When playing a composition, try to create the effect the composer had in mind; that’s all you need to do. Anything else is distortion.

  • The world is a big place. Be modest: there’s nothing that you’ve discovered or thought of that others haven’t already thought of or invented. And if you should happen to think of something new, regard it as a gift from above, to be shared with others.

  • If Heaven has granted you a lively imagination, then you are bound to spend many hours on your own at the piano, almost in a trance, seeking the harmonies to express your inmost feelings. And perhaps, the more obscure and elusive the harmonies are, the more you will feel yourself begin mysteriously drawn into a magic circle, so to speak. These are the happiest hours of youth. But beware of too often indulging a talent that may lead you to waste your time and energy on illusions. The mastery of form, and the ability to shape your thoughts clearly, are things you can only gain through the actual writing down of music. So spend more time writing than dreaming.

  • The laws of morality are also those of art.

  • Perhaps it is only genius that really understands genius.

  • There is never an end to learning.

What a wonderful example he sets for us, advising us to be thorough in our studies, open to other disciplines, and just good decent human beings. No wonder his music is so beautiful!

Lura Johnson