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Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians – Book Review

Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians: Revisited by Steven Isserlis by Steven Isserlis CBE (2016-09-01)

Revisited by Steven Isserlis, a world class cellist and teacher, this republication and annotation of a 150 year old text is published by Faber & Faber.

Also available at Book Depository: Advice to Young Musicians

The Book

First written as a series of thoughts or snippets of advice for young pianists and composers, this book shows the intelligence and experience of its famous author. Considering that 150 or so years have passed since it was written, the language is still much the same as today, though the sentence structure and vocabulary choice is a little more formal than young readers might be used to in our modern world. Isserlis has provided selected short passages from the original and then added his own interpretation for a modern audience, at the same time adapting the ideas to a wider range of musicians.

The Pros:

Both the new and the old advice is packed full of common sense and good direction for young people looking to make a career in the classical music industry. It’s clear why Schumann was so admired in his time and why Isserlis chose to share his words with new readers, as in many ways Schumann’s advice is timeless. Though he could not have foreseen the ways that musical forms have melded and evolved over time, Schumann did understand the importance of basics, of practice, of discernment regarding what to play and what to listen to, and how to use your own experiences and senses to get the most out of your musical abilities.

The book is extremely short and simple to get through, with the advice divided neatly into various subheadings, such as composing, playing and practising. You can easily read it in an hour or two, but it would be best treated as a book of help and inspiration to dip into many times over the course of years.

As a musician myself, I found the advice in this book pertinent, precise and valuable, easy to absorb the useful parts and discard the ones you disagree with. I feel that, if you were to study and consider even the bits you’re not convinced about, there might be room to reconsider and perhaps change your mind over time as your understanding of your craft changes and improves.

The Cons:

Isserlis is a little too fond of exclamation marks and seems to get in his own way a bit – he tends to be unnecessarily self-deprecating, as if he is not worthy to be adding his own words to his hero’s. But since he made the decision to create the book, he should have embraced it wholeheartedly and not apologized for his contribution. He is himself a highly skilled and admired musician and his voice is as valid as any other.


I would recommend this as an essential library item for any young musician from the age of 12 up, but particularly for university students. It would certainly make a useful and thoughtful gift.

Our Rating (channelling our love of ice cream, our rating system works the way we like our ice cream: the more scoops the better. Besides, good books should be devoured!

Best = four scoops):

three scoops icecream

Three scoops! a very enjoyable interlude!



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