Schumann's Album for the Young is a masterful set of 43 short, easy piano pieces in two volumes. The 25 works in the second book are somewhat more challenging and longer than those in the first, but still well within the reach of good amateur pianists. The whole set really cannot be compared with the composer's Kinderszenen, a collection of piano pieces about children, but from an adult perspective and requiring a substantial technique. Schumann wrote Album for the Young for his children, the oldest then aged seven.
The set's opening work is "Melody," a piece presenting a simple but lovely tune whose innocence and upper register writing remind one of a music box melody. "Soldier's March" follows, a cute, chipper piece brimming with childlike pride. Number four, "Choral," has an almost too somber manner, but is deftly innocent in its worshipful character. The sixth piece, "The Poor Orphan," has a touching sadness, while number eight, "The Wild Horseman," is vigorous and energetic.
Among the most popular pieces in the collection is the tenth, "The Happy Farmer Returning From Work," which exudes joy and innocence in its jaunty gait and infectious melody. The longest work in the first volume, lasting nearly three minutes, is number 15, "Spring Song," a sweetly lyrical piece whose simple but beguiling beauty will appeal, like most works in the collection, to the adult as well as child.
Little Romance, number 19, leads off the second volume with a decidedly more mature manner, the somewhat stormy character of its melody seeming to reach beyond childhood innocence almost to teenage infatuation. Still, the prevailing qualities in the second book are innocence and childlike simplicity, as demonstrated by the jaunty and rhythmic number 23, "The Horseman," or the wistful number 27, "Little Song in Canon Form."
Number 32, "Sheherazade," at about four minutes, is the longest piece in the second volume. It deftly conveys a beguiling lyrical ingenuousness, instead of the Eastern exoticism suggested by its title. "Wintertime I & II" (38 & 39) make up five minutes' worth of sweetly melancholy music, the latter piece somewhat darker in the lower register writing of the outer sections. The closing piece, "New Year's Eve," has a youthful stateliness in its almost Brahmsian melody and celebratory manner.
The original edition of the Album was beautifully engraved and published in the expectation that it would be Schumann's most popular work: it was, and to this day, these pieces remain a staple of the young pianist's repertoire.