Doug Goodkin, one of the finest music teachers in the world, teaches his students that “rhythm” means “the way the words go”.  In the case of “The Two Grenadiers” in Suzuki Cello School Volume 2, the words don’t go that way at all.

The Two Grenadiers, originally called, Die bieden Grenadiere, Robert Schumann’s Opus 49, is a dramatic ballad that he wrote in 1840, a year sometimes called his “song year” because he produced so many of them during this time.  1840 is also the year that Schumann married his love, the famous pianist Clara Wieck.  The piece is a setting of  a poem by Heinrich Heine about two French soldiers released into Germany after imprisonment in Russia. The two soldiers, one on the verge of death, and other obliged to returned to his wife and children, respond to the news that their army had been defeated and Napoleon captured.

Why did someone think it a good idea to remove the words from this particular music and teach it to children around the world?  This is wrong on a number of levels.

Taking the poetry away from the music renders the song meaningless in more ways than one.  It’s like taking its soul and leaving an empty corpse–empty gestures where there were once symbols and meanings.

That this is a political setting of a political poem is left by the wayside.  A student would have no idea, for example, why la marseillaise, the now-French national anthem, is quoted in the music, although in 1840, a listener would have heard this as a political gesture.

And what to make of the now random rhythms left as vestiges of words that they had once been setting?

Although the structure of the song includes a verse that repeats, there are no repeat signs in the music:  Schumann writes it out as if it were through-composed.  As an accomplished songwriter, Schumann sets each word according to its specific sound, meaning and rhythm.  What is good for “goose” is not good for “gander”, and words in corresponding places in different verses are given their own individual rhythmic treatments.

To add insult to the injury of taking away the words, the Suzuki arrangement does not even preserve Schumann’s rhythms, instead distilling down what was once rooted in poetry to a series of random events.

Let’s look briefly at how the source music relates to the Suzuki version.

Comparison of Two Grenadiers Opening Phrases

Two Grenadiers, 1st phrase

Let’s set aside for a moment the curious piano introduction that originally inspired musicologist Susan Youens to research this music, and focus on the opening of the vocal melody.  In the original version, Schumann sets the opening phrase (above) by dividing the beat four different ways: into 1 part (quarter note), 2 parts (eight notes), 3 parts (eight note triplets) and 4 parts (dotted eighth note-sixteen note), a rhythmic smorgasbord that (I would agree) may have been too much to ask a Suzuki book 2 student to digest.  So what does Suzuki do? They filter out everything but the quarter note and dotted figure (after all this is a piece about the French) and reduce the music to a lesson in hooked bowing.  However, instead of keeping the dot on beat 4, where Schumann had thought it a good idea to put it, Suzuki shifts the dot to beat 2.

Strangely, in the last phrase (below), Suzuki removes several other formerly-contented dots, inserting another where before there was none:

Comparing the last phrase of Suzuki's Two Grenadiers with Schumann's original

Two Grenadiers last phrase

In the section of ascending fourths in Suzuki m. 15 (below), corresponding to Schumann’s m. 15 or more closely m. 49, things continue to go askew.

Illustration comparing Suzuki measure 15 with Schumann's measure 15 and 49 of Two Grenadiers

Comparing Suzuki's measure 15 with Schumann's measure 15 and 49

Suzuki’s alterations turn Schuman’s elegant amphibrachs in m. 15 and its corresponding verbal adaptation in m. 49 into an exercise of random rather than motivic events, with obligatory dotted rhythms and corresponding hooked bowings.

The music continues:

Comparing measure 19 in the Suzuki with measure 53 of Schumann's original in The Two Grenadiers

Adding notes in measure 20

…Schumann repeating the above music twice.

These are just a few examples of the infidelities in Suzuki’s treatment of Two Grenadiers. Why not include the composer’s music as he wrote it?

And to ask the larger question, why is this piece included in the Suzuki cannon at all?

In answer to the latter, one might respond that this song is one of the great examples of the Romantic lied, a great piece itself, that it written in a minor key that modulates to its parallel major and so it includes both 2 “low 1” fingerings and their corresponding “regular 1” (both B and E flat and natural).

I would counter that there are many examples from this period, that appropriating a lied is not important (there is no precedent of taking music from every period or genre, and certainly undue influence has been placed on certain periods (baroque) and even certain composers (Bach)), that if a lied were specifically desired, other more child-appropriate songs could be found (a much closer appropriation of Schubert’s Wiegenlied is included in book 3), that if there were no other choice but to include Die bieden Grenadiere in the Books, that they be faithfully reproduced; and lastly that this piece as presented does not actually represent Schumann but is merely Schumann-ish.

Children use their bodies, their minds and their voices to learn and internalize music. By divorcing this music from its native rhythm, Suzuki makes utilizing the poem that is latent in music for learning, context and meaning impossible.  Then, either the teacher or parent is then required to invent their own ways of connecting to the music or the student is required to memorize a series of random items.

My primary focus here had been to speak about musical considerations alone.  In speaking of song, however, music cannot be divorced from word.  And in this case, politics similarly cannot be extracted. Youens, who writes extensively on this song, even goes so far as to say that implicit in the poem is the Nationalism that will ultimately lead Germany into the atrocities of World War II.  Custom tells us not to discuss religion or politics in polite company.  These topics should also not be included in children’s music.  I had earlier alluded to the piano opening as curious–it’s unusual, ambiguous harmonies are “clarified” in Suzuki’s accompaniment,but just as important is the song’s quiet, mysterious ending, the poem’s ironic commentary, which is diplomatically removed in the Suzuki.

The two Grenadiers is a perfect example of the danger of removing music from its original context, sanitizing it, and depositing it in a compendium–the danger of art becoming post-modern detritus, sticky sweet candy with no nourishing value.