Schumann Forum 2010

Fünf Stücke im Volkston op. 102 (Five Pieces in Folk Style)

by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

01. September


Did you know, dear readers, that Robert Schumann took cello lessons as a young man? And yet this favourite instrument of the romantic era is not bestowed a leading role in Schumann’s early oeuvre, with the exception of those lovely passages in the slow movements of the first and fourth symphonies, and the piano concerto. It wasn’t until very late in his life that he acknowledged the cello more intensely.

I want today to talk about the five little siblings of Schumann’s cello concerto, namely the Fünf Stücke im Volkston (Five Pieces in Folk Style) for violoncello or violin, and piano op. 102, written in 1849. They deservedly figure among the core repertoire of cellists. But today’s article will certainly arouse the curiosity of violin players as well; the version for violin that partly strays from the cello part (in some passages even the corresponding piano part differs), is in all probability authentic. Not so, however, the other versions that are performed on occasion, such as the (wonderfully enchanting) version for oboe and piano.

On time for the Schumann anniversary Henle published Urtext editions of both original versions. A click on the images of the covers leads you directly to the Henle database where you can dip into the subject more deeply.












As a special highlight of today’s article in the Schumann Forum 2010 let me share with you an interview that I conducted with one of the leading cellists of our times, namely David Geringas, on the “Fünf Stücke im Volkston”.

David Geringas and Wolf-Dieter




Geringas sees the key to these pieces in the title. In his opinion the musician must invent a story to match the piece and “tell” it through the music, like folklore. If you don’t do that, you will bore your listeners, and this beautiful art will turn into dry and uninspiring music. “Folk style” is not meant as a loud display of virtuosity, rather it is the especially vibrant way of telling an intensely imagined narrative.




For example, the first piece, entitled “Vanitas vanitatum” (“All is vanity”, or in other words: all things earthly are transitory): Behind the music Geringas imagines someone in love with himself, who simply cannot understand why everyone is making fun of him. This person’s situation needs to be “described”; it is funny and sad at the same time. And immediately King Solomon’s well-known aphorism turns into a real story that a cello player (or violin player), together with the pianist, can “tell” and make graspable.

David Geringas provided the fingerings and bowing marks for the Henle Urtext edition of “Fünf Stücke im Volkston”. (Ernst Schliephake provided the fingerings and bowing marks for the violin edition). For Geringas the printed fingerings are the perfect synthesis of a study of the Urtext, combined with the experience from performing concerts and from teaching (please listen in to the audio file below). Cellists whose hands are not extremely large must also be able to play Schumann’s music smoothly. (Those of you who prefer to mark the solo voice yourself will be pleased to know that Henle offers the solo string parts with and without fingerings. This service is offered for almost all string music editions at Henle.)

All this and more is discussed by David Geringas in the following interview (in German). I especially recommend the string musicians among my readers to click on the following file:


On YouTube you will find the wonderful recording by the no less famous teacher of David Geringas, namely Mstislav Rostropovich (with Benjamin Britten at the piano!). Enjoy listening to the third piece, “to be played not fast, with much volume” (nicht schnell, mit viel Ton).

In the next article, on 15. September, we will return to the piano. Lars Vogt made a recording of Schumann’s Fantasy op. 17 alongside Liszt’s Sonata in b minor. The CD will be released in a few weeks. Reason enough to ask him to contribute an interview to the „Schumann-Forum 2010“.