Schumann’s Romance in F Sharp

In 1839, Clara Wieck received a Christmas present from her fiancé, Robert Schumann – a set of three Romances (published with some slight alterations the following year as opus 28). She was particularly smitten with the second one, describing it as “the most beautiful love duet”. Fast forward several decades to her deathbed, when Clara asked her grandson Ferdinand to play her husband’s F sharp major Romance for her. It was the last music Clara Schumann heard; she died on May 20, 1896.

Robert Schumann’s Romance in F sharp major, op 28 no 2, remains one of the composer’s best-loved short pieces for the piano. In ternary form, the mood is contemplative, serene and tender in the outer sections, somewhat turbulent and dark in the middle section. It is an ideal repertoire piece for the intermediate student and I think it makes a great encore. 

Written on three staves to make the main melodic line clear, the piece is still a bit of a trap when it comes to reading it (the key signature is six sharps, and there are plenty of accidentals along the way). Take care when learning the notes and you’ll find after a while that the plethora of black notes means the piece lies very well under the hands.  

On closer inspection we find that the profiled melodic line is shadowed in the other hand, giving the sense of two companions staying close together. I hear two cellos, and I imagine Robert and Clara walking hand in hand. The arpeggiated chords radiate outwards from the melodic lines in such a beautiful (and very pianistic) way. The two melodic lines could be played using just the two thumbs, but you may find it more comfortable to use some 2nd fingers here and there.

In the B section (from bar 17) the melody moves to the outer fingers (the top RH melody line is supported by the LH octaves). Make sure you observe the quaver rest in bar 21 – this articulation helps draw the ear to the left hand’s answer to the top line, forming a canon at the interval of a fifth between the two hands. For a focussed sound here, bring out the left hand thumb (the 5th finger lower notes can then create a shadow). 

On my shelf I have the Clara Schumann edition she made for Breitkopf & Härtel, as well as a Schirmer edition by Harold Bauer (he made highly personalised editions of all of Schumann’s piano works, and I have most of them). I can highly recommend this as a secondary source, despite the absence of fingerings. Bauer’s pedallings are always worth trying out, but what I find especially helpful are his ingenious hand redistributions. His solutions might not be immediately apparent but they usually work a treat. How many players must have struggled with this unfriendly-looking spot:

Here is Harold Bauer’s solution (note that he dispenses with the three-stave format, and puts the whole piece onto two staves):

Bauer’s Schumann editions for Schirmer appear to be out of print, but it is possible to pick them up online with a little digging. The Romances, op 28 were published together with the Arabesque, op 18 and the Blumenstück, op 19 as volume 1686 in the Schirmer catalogue. 

I discovered a rare edition by Leopold Godowsky in the Petrucci Library. Again, this has editorial tampering that belongs to a bygone age, but if used as a supplement to an Urtext score can provide plenty of food for thought – as well as some excellent fingering. 

This recording by Emil Gilels at first sounds very slow, but you will hear he is savouring every note, projecting the thumb lines and putting the arpeggiated chords way in the background. His control of sound and texture is second to none.

I have also published a detailed walk-through of this piece as part of my collection of resources for Grade 8 of the 2021 & 2022 ABRSM piano examination syllabus. Click here to view it on the Online Academy.

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