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This slim volume (104 pages) is based on Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians: Musical Rules for Home and in Life, a book he wrote in 1848 to accompany his Album for the Young, Op 68. Originally written with his three daughters in mind, the 43 piano pieces (supplemented by a further nine) were intended to be played by children or beginners, though from No 19 onwards they are more advanced. Even at the age of 20 Schumann, whose father was a bookseller and publisher, still contemplated a career as a writer. Subsequently, as editor of a prominent music journal, he was – and still is today – greatly admired for his perceptive essays. This book of guidance is meant for young people, so we should not expect philosophical depths on every page, but there is much sound advice here. In his Introduction Isserlis hints at a potential drawback – ‘... teachers such as Schumann who rarely utter a word to anyone and spend most of their life in a dream-world of their own tend not to be the most helpful in practical matters.’ It is true that some of his advice is above the heads of youngsters, but we also have to remember that there were far fewer distractions for children in the 1840s.

Steven Isserlis is an ardent Schumann enthusiast and his commentary on each of his ‘pearls’ clarifies with humour and perception ‘for today’s young musicians’. At the end we have 14 pages from Isserlis – ‘My Own Bits of Advice (For What They’re Worth)’. I find these more consistently useful than Schumann’s own tips, some of which are a little vague, ‘The laws of morals are those of art’, for instance. On the other hand, I particularly like this image: ‘From a pound of iron, which costs virtually nothing, a thousand watch-springs can be made, which are worth a fortune. That pound, which you have received from the Lord – use it carefully.’ Of course, many young musicians will lack the necessary maturity to fully understand this, but nevertheless it needs to be said.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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