An Old and New Song

The Two Grenadiers, which I started in Wednesday’s lesson, is a song written by Robert Schumann in 1840.  Schumann, whom I’ve mentioned before as the composer of another Suzuki tune I have in my repertoire, Happy Farmer, wrote many songs.  And though sometimes I throw the word “song” around loosely – many of the compositions in Suzuki series are excerpts from longer pieces – since moving on from very beginner wading pool ditties, the word “song,” as in a somewhat discrete composition written with lyrics and intended to be sung, only applies to three of the Suzuki tunes I’ve encountered – Happy Farmer (by Schumann), The Hunter’s Chorus (by CMV Weber), and now The Two Grenadiers.  All are German and all are from the Romantic period.

Wikipedia notes that 1840 was the year of the song for Schumann – the composer came up with 168 of them; in circles of those who study Schumann the year is quite well known.  Opus 49, Romances and Ballads, Volume II is the larger work that contains The Two Grenadiers; Wikipedia says the composition has three songs in it; Volume 1 is Schumann’s Opus 45 and also includes three songs, written earlier in 1840.

Also in 1840, after a long clandestine courtship and without the approval of her family, Schumann was married to a virtuosic pianist, Clara Wieck – the two were quite a successful musical partnership (of course Schumann also played the piano).  When not battling the horrible depression that would ultimately be his downfall, Schumann was a family man – Happy Farmer was part of a collection of songs he wrote for the young, certainly including his and Clara’s children, of which there were eight.

I’ve personally been pleased by all of the Suzuki tunes, but the blogger writing at Suzuki Skeptic often takes umbrage with something or another.  The blogger makes two main points in criticizing the inclusion of The Two Grenadiers in the Suzuki series – 1) it’s a song, and the song’s soul, its words, have been stripped away by Suzuki, leaving only rhythmic hints at what the words would have been, and 2) that the theme of the song is perhaps bad for children.  The French National Anthem comes into the piece at one point, and Skeptic seems to think the theme too mature for children, especially if they appreciate the referenced Napoleonic context.

Point one is well enough taken – many people are interested in maintaining a fidelity to original compositions.  But on point two – the fact that children learning Suzuki would have to go out and do research to find the lyrics to the song is, to my mind, a significant enough barrier that we can assume it virtually never happens.  And even if you do tell the story of the song to children, I find it a little ridiculous to imagine that doing so would turn them into little French Hyper-Nationalists.  I’m definitely not about keeping things from kids – in fact, isn’t it children who grow up ignorant of the dangers of hyper-nationalism that we have to watch out for?

Thanks for reading.


One comment

  1. […] of fun.  It’s the first piece I’ve learned that contains a key change – the song (and yes, it’s really a song) starts in D minor and changes to D major a little over halfway through.  D minor is an entirely […]

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