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Composers Reminiscing at the Piano

There is a certain group of pieces among the vast piano repertoire  that, next to their artistic merits, have always held a special emotional value for composers and audiences alike. These are the pieces written about childhood, a period intrinsically linked to some of our dearest and most precious memories. David Fung from our Label of the Month Yarlung Recordsbrings an aura of mystique to his interpretation of Schumann's Kinderszenen.

One of the most beautiful examples of such music isKinderszenen ("Scenes from Childhood"), Op. 15 byRobert Schumann. Written in 1838, this set of 13 short piano pieces provides us with Schumann's reminiscences of childhood, including several moments of nostalgic and reflective character as inTräumerei("Dreaming"), the set's most popular tune and one of Schumann's best known pieces. A perfect illustration of Schumann's poetic and imaginative qualities, this work has nurtured generations of pianists with its irresistibly warm and charming miniature pieces, a genre in which Schumann's creative genius arguably found its fullest expression.  


Schumann also composed theAlbum für die Jugend("Album for the Young"), Op. 68 for his three daughters. The album consists of of 43 short pieces that, unlike those inKinderszenen, are  suitable to be played by children. Taking this as his model, Russian composerPeter Ilyich Tchaikovskyalso composed an Album for the Young (Op. 39) in 1878, subtitled "24 simple pieces à la Schumann". A cycle of 24 short piano pieces, Tchaikovsky's work is dedicated to his favourite nephew, Vladimir Davydov. In December 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote to Lev Davydov, husband of his sister Aleksandra:"Tell Bobik that the music has been printed with pictures, that the music was composed by Uncle Petya, and that on it is written 'Dedicated to Volodya Davydov'. The silly little fellow will not understand what dedicated means... Even so, Bobik is an inimitably delightful figure when he's playing, and he might look at the notes, and think that a whole symphony is dedicated to him."


The six-movement suite for solo pianoChildren's Corner (L. 113) byClaude Debussywas published in 1908 and dedicated to Debussy's daughter Claude-Emma (known as "Chou-Chou"), who was 3 years old at the time.  Like Schumann'sKinderszenen, the work is evocative of childhood but not intended to be performed by children. The pieces in Debussy's suite are inspired by childhood themes and some refer to toys in Claude-Emma's toy collection. The work bears the following dedication:"To my dear Chou-Chou, with the tender apologies of her father for what is to follow."Originally meant as an innocent, playful joke, these words acquired a somewhat darker tone following Claude-Emma's death from diphtheria a year after Debussy's own death in 1918.  


Delicate, nostalgic and intimate, works such as the above are surrounded with an aura of unparalleled attraction and mystique that goes beyond rational explanation or musicological analysis, accounting for their enduring popularity regardless of the often deceiving simplicity that sometimes characterizes their scores. Childhood, like music, is magical and it is therefore not surprising that the former has always been an inspiration for the latter. 


Mimis Chrysomallis