Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff: Biography Review


Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic


Title:  Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff
Author:  Opal Wheeler
Pages:  167
Reading Level:  Child – Young Adult
Audience:  Music Students, Music Teachers, Families
Stars:  ★★★★★


If I had to pick one work to describe this book, it would be adorable.  I love it!

First of all, it’s a fantastic overview of Schumann’s life.  Second of all, it’s just plain charming.  The book starts with the lad Robert and the many adventures he had with his faithful kitten, Ziff, at his heels.  The story continues through his musical career and into his happy life as a husband and father.  His family life – both as a boy and as a married man – was delightful, and this book highlights the sweetness of those relationships beautifully.

The illustrations are darling.  The biographies from Opal Wheeler’s Great Musicians Series are illustrated by various artists, but this one is my favorite.   They are black and white, but they’re very tastefully done – simple, sweet, and charming.  The work of this particular illustrator reminds me of old-fashioned Christmas Card artwork.  Love it.

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

And then there is the wonderful sheet music scattered throughout the book. Schumann wrote piles of music for his little ones, and thousands of boys and girls around the world have benefited from them.  Many of his pieces from Album for the Young are included, as well as snippets from his Sonata in G and others.

Even if no one in your house can play the music yet, try following along as you listen to recordings of the pieces. It’s a great way to acquaint yourself with the composer’s style and learn to recognize his compositions.


Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

The writing style is interesting, quick-paced, and in story format, with a pleasant level of maturity.  It’s a great resource for little readers and would also be a fun family read aloud.

You can take advantage of the study guide (separate purchase) for the book, if you’d like to incorporate discussion points and quizzes into your group reading time.


Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic

Robert Schumann & Mascot Ziff | #Composer #Biography #Review on The Music Blog.  #music #schumann #composers #books #classicalmusic


Critiques & Cautions 

There are no inappropriate details in the book, but here are a few FYI cautions for parents to be aware of:

– Robert lies to a piano salesman in order to gain access to his pianos for a practice session.  It’s not portrayed as wrong – only as a little joke  p. 46
– Robert says that his music cannot be bound by rules.  p. 72
– Robert says that the fairies have blessed his little baby…  Which, of course, is absolutely ridiculous. p. 92


schumann.2In Summary  

This little biography is a fantastic overview of Schumann’s life and is definitely worth adding to your music library.

Music Teachers & Parents, it’s a great resource to spice up your student’s music history studies and would make great reading assignment for a composer of the month project!

You can buy it from Amazon HERE.

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Great Composers Coloring Book: Review


Great Composers Coloring Review & Preview.  Lots of pictures inside!  #classicalmusic #classicalcomposers #classical #music #teaching #resources– 

Title:            Great Composers Coloring Book
Author:        John Green, Paul Negri
Pages:         30
Audience:   Students & Families – 8 & up
Stars:           ★★★★

A coloring book of the composers – what a fun way to add a splash of color to your children’s music history!

Okay, that was a tad cheesy.  Moving on.

I really like this coloring book.  The illustrations are artistic and classic – no goofy cartoons, no impressionism, no unrecognizable modern art.  Personal taste aside, I think that’s particularly important when dealing with historical characters because it helps the individuals become “real” for children in a way a cartoonized character (or an unrecognizable modern glob) can’t quite pull off.


Haydn & Mozart in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog


This coloring book includes a good variety of composers from the Baroque to modern periods:  Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Chopin, Copland, Debussy, Dvorak, Gershwin, Grieg, Handel, Haydn, Joplin, Liszt, Mahler, Fanny & Felix Mendelssohn, Mozart, Prokofiev, Puccini, Ravel, Rossini, Schoenberg, Schubert, Robert & Clara Schumann, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Vivaldi, & Wagner. The composers are featured in the order they were born.


Verdi in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog

Violinist in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog


Another thing I really like about this book is that each coloring page has a short description of the composer under his illustration.  This helps children can get to know the composer a bit while becoming acquainted with his face.  The descriptions are concise — 50-70 words each — and do a great job sharing the most important aspects of the composers’ lives and work, along with a few fun music history tidbits to boot.  Here are a few samples of the descriptions:

SCHUMANN | Robert Schumann was born the same year as Chopin, and he also wrote some of the finest piano music of the Romantic period, as well as symphonies, chamber music and songs.  He was born in Germany and spent his life there.  He was an important music critic and helped many young composers.  His wife, Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was one of the greatest pianists of the nineteenth century.

ROSSINI | One of the most popular opera composers of all time, Gioacchino Rossini composed dozens of operas, including the famous Barber of Seville.  Born in Italy, Rossini traveled throughout Europe and was enormously successful in his lifetime.  His lively music is full of humor and delights the listener with many beautiful melodies.  One of his best known works is his William Tell Overture.

TCHAIKOVSKY | Among the very greatest of Russian composers, Peter Tchaikovsky wrote symphonies, ballets, operas and other works, including the beloved ballet  The Nutcracker, frequently performed at Christmas time.  In 1891 Tchaikovsky came to New York City and conducted at the official opening of Carnegie Hall.

STRAVINSKY | The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky is considered to be among the most important composers of the twentieth century.  His music was so different from anything before it that at the 1913 premiere of his ballet The Rite of Spring in Paris, riots broke out in the audience.  In 1917, Stravinsky met the great artist Picasso, who made a famous sketch of him.

One thing to keep in mind:  the illustrations are quite detailed for a coloring book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that the coloring book will be most appropriate for older children who can handle the fine lines and small coloring spaces.  I would recommend it for approximately ages 8 and up.


Beethoven in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog

 Schumann & Schoenberg in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog

Ravel in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog


CHOPIN | Chopin’s description mentions that he lived with George Sands, and the picture is of him & Sands together at the piano.  Neither the description or picture is graphic, but since their relationship was inappropriate, you will want to know it is there.  Here is the description, along with the picture, for you to review:Chopin in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog

“Frederic Chopin has been called “the soul of the piano,” and he composed some of the finest music ever written for that instrument.  He was born near Warsaw, Poland, but moved to Paris where he spent most of his life and career.  Regarded as a great composer of the Romantic Period, he lived with the famous writer George Sand (shown here; she was born Aurore Dupin).  His Polonaise in A-flat Major, called “Heroic,” is one of the most famous piano works ever written.”

Younger children probably won’t catch anything strange from the picture or description, since neither is explicit, but you may need to discuss the issue with older, more discerning children.  Or, if you prefer, you can just tear out the page.

JOPLIN | Joplin’s description mentions that he played in social clubs.  True, social clubs of Joplin’s time weren’t anything like today’s, and hopefully your kids don’t even know what “social clubs” are anyway, but still…  just an FYI.

RAVEL | Ravel’s description mentions that he and his friends had “wild ideas on art and culture.”  I don’t think “wild” is the best word to describe Ravel’s ideas (Impressionism), but that’s how they chose to present it.  Just another FYI.


Tchaikovsky & Dvorak in the Great Composers Coloring Book | Review on The Music Blog


I think you’ll love it! Try talking about the composers or listening to their music while coloring with your children!  Have fun!

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Masterpiece: 400 Years of Classical Music in 12 Minutes

If you’ve never heard The King’s Singers’ performance of “Masterpiece”, you’re in for a serious treat!

This vocal piece summarizes the development of western classical music over the last 400 years in 12 minutes.  It highlights some of the most influential composers and demonstrates their individual styles while singing the composer’s name or their most-used musical elements.  It’s a brilliant composition, and talk about a fun performance!  
(Note: the singing starts 30 seconds into the video.)


Here’s a break-down of the composers featured in the piece:

0:30      Johann Sebastian Bach
1:29      J.S. Bach vs. His Sons
2:30      George Frederic Handel
3:30      W.A. Mozart
4:43      Ludwig van Beethoven
6:25      Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
7:05      Strauss Family
8:44      Claude Debussy (Impressionistic Composer)
10:01    Richard Wagner (Wagner was known for his drama; thus the outburst.)
10:15    Assorted Composers in Impressionistic Style
10:22    Back to Wagner
10:46    Assorted Composers in Impressionistic/20th Century Style
11:10    William Bird
11:23    John Cage (Ever heard his 4:33?)
11:27    Assorted Contemporary
11:35    George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blues)
11:44    Back to J.S. Bach

This is a fun resource for studying music history and composers’ styles.   So enjoy it and share it with your friends, family, and music students!  They’ll love it.


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Johann Strauss, II: Waltz King



Almost everyone has heard at least a line or two from one of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s famous waltzes, and all of us are familiar with the cheerful, lilting “oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa” rhythm that puts a bounce in our step.

But who exactly was this man – “The Waltz King?”  We know his name, but comparatively speaking, we know little of his story.


Strauss’ Early Life (1825-1844)Austria_Map

On October 25, 1825, near the glittering Vienna, Austria, a wee lad was born.  As the first son born to his parents, he was named Johann Strauss, Jr., after his father.

Like many composers, the young Johann suffered a difficult childhood, but tragically, the source of all his hardship was at hands of his ruthless father. Strauss, Sr. was a successful conductor and composer in Vienna, but he indulged most of his income on himself and his orchestra, leaving little to provide for his wife and children. He was a selfish, demanding, unfaithful tyrant, abandoning his poor family for months at a time and coming back home only to provide them with grief.

Strauss, Sr. adamantly refused to allow his children to receive any form of musical instruction, but despite the many trials little Johann endured at the hands of his musical father, he loved music and had already begun to write compositions in three-quarter time at age of six.1  Johann’s father demanded that he become a banker.  He did, but he also studied violin secretly with the first violinist of his father’s orchestra.  By the time he was a teenager, he was a proficient violinist and promising composer, as well as a banker.

When Johann was 17, his father abandoned the family for good.  Johann, with the complete support of his mother, was then able to pursue his love of music with nothing to hold him back.


Strauss’ Musical Career


Debut & Early Career (1844-1849) 

An enthusiastic Johann Strauss, Jr. set out to find someone who would help him launch his new career as a composer, but many entertainment establishments were reluctant to give the younger Strauss a contract, knowing it would sever their relationships with his father.  Finally, Deommayer’s accepted young Johann.  In October 1844, at 19 years of age, Johann gave his debut concert, conducting a host of popular pieces and including six compositions of his own.  It was a complete success!  The press and even his critics showered him with praise, but his enraged father withdrew his support from the company and refused to speak to Johann for two years.2

As a performing composer with his own orchestra, Johann now found himself in direct competition with his own father.  Hard times followed for Johann, despite his successful debut, and money was sometimes scarce.  He eventually accepted commissions to begin performing away from home, and this provided him with many wonderful music opportunities he could not yet find in Vienna.

In 1849, Strauss, Sr. died of Scarlet fever.  Johann immediately merged his father’s musicians with his own and began to tour with his newly strengthened orchestra.  That is when his fame and his career began to soar.


The Waltz King (1850-1899)

Young Strauss flourished as a composer, and Vienna embraced him with eager arms.  Johann enlisted the help of his younger brothers, Eduard and Josef, and they were soon directing additional orchestras under his oversight.  Some evenings found six Johann Strauss orchestras performing his lovely waltzes throughout Vienna, and Johann made appearances to conduct a few pieces at every performance they gave.


Strauss’ admirers were many, and Strauss himself was most sought-after composer of dance music during his time.  His schedule overflowed.  He conducted performances during the day and composed his beautiful music in the quiet hours of the night.  The abundance of mental and physical demands began to affect his health, and eventually the stress won.  He had a nervous breakdown in 1853, and his doctors ordered him to take a vacation.  During his six-month absence, his brother, Josef, took charge of his orchestra.

Once Johann recovered, he returned to his music with vigor.   In 1867, Strauss debuted his masterpiece, The Blue Danube, in Vienna.  It was a flop!  Strauss wisely decided to try again.  While on a tour, he introduced The Blue Danube to Paris, and it was an overwhelming success.  It’s popularity spread wildly, and The Blue Danube soon became what is now undoubtedly Strauss’ most famous and well-loved piece of all time.


Strauss was personal friends with Johann Brahms, and a fun story is often told of this famous composer:

Strauss’s wife Adele approached Brahms with a customary request that he autograph her fan. It was usual for the composer to inscribe a few measures of his best-known music, and then sign his name. Brahms, however, inscribed a few measures from the “Blue Danube”, and then wrote beneath it: “Unfortunately, NOT by Johannes Brahms.” 3 

Strauss continued to tour the world with his orchestra, and for twelve consecutive summers they travelled throughout Europe, visiting France, England, Austria, Poland, Germany, and – most often – in Russia.  His performance in England was acknowledged by Queen Victoria4,and his evenings of waltzes in Russia were even honored by the presence of the czars.  In 1872, Strauss was invited to Boston, where he was paid 100,000 U.S. dollars to conduct just one composition – The Blue Danube – 14 times during his tour. Thus, Strauss soon found himself and his music loved by admirers of all nationalities around the globe.


Strauss’ Family Life

Sadly, the history of Strauss’ married life is not a pleasant one.  Neither Strauss nor his spouses approached marriage with the respect and commitment that God requires of husband and wife, and Strauss experienced the consequences.  Strauss married three times, and all three of his marriages were tainted with unhappiness, indiscretion, and strife.  His last marriage, to Adele Deutsch in 1882, was the happiest of the three.


Johann_Strauss_JrStrauss’ Late Career & Death (June 1899)

Adele encouraged Johann’s creative outflow as a composer, and he was very productive during those years of his life.  At her encouragement, he handed his orchestra to his brother, Josef, so he could concentrate on composition.  He continued to write waltzes, polkas, and other forms of music, and also began work on his ballet, Aschenbrödel.

In the spring of 1899, Strauss contracted a respiratory illness that developed into pleural pneumonia.  On June 3rd of that year, Strauss died.  He was buried near the tombs of Brahms, Beethoven, and Schubert6, in the place where he had spent the majority of his life – his beloved Vienna.


Strauss’ Music

After Strauss’ death, his younger brother, Eduard – who had been jealous of Johann all his life – burned all of his unpublished music.7  His Cinderella ballet, although unfinished, somehow survived this unhappy ending, but we will never know how many of his waltzes, polkas, and other unheard compositions went up in flames.

Thankfully, we still have nearly 500 of Strauss’ finished works – lilting waltzes, cheerful polkas, marches, quadrilles8, galops9, operettas, and others – to learn from and enjoy.


Not all great composers are recognized in their lifetime, but this cannot be said of Johann Strauss, Jr.  Johann Brahms declared Strauss “a master”, and Richard Wagner remarked that he was the most musical head he had ever come across.  Strauss’ admirers said of him, “Strauss can only speak in German, but he smiles in all languages.”

The Strauss Family lived during the golden age of Vienna, and Johann, Jr.’s music embodies the ideals and spirit of that era.  His music is lighthearted, energetic, and sparkling with life.  The waltz – that elegant dance of German origin, meaning “to turn” – was his main form of composition and became the work that defined him.  Strauss’ music sings with a simplistic beauty, but it is written with the ingenuity that evidences a musical master.


When it comes to listening, it can be hard to figure out where to startBelow is a “recommended listening” list to help you become familiar with the pieces that have proven to be some of Strauss’ best-written and most-loved compositions.  Enjoy listening to these charming pieces!

  • Waltzes:   The Blue Danube,  Tales from the Vienna Woods,  Wiener Blut, Artist’s Life, Emperor, Roses from the South
  • Overtures:  Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron), Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice)
  • Polkas:   Tritsch-Tratsch, Neue Pizzicato, Auf der Jagd, Explosionen, Unter Donner und Blitz
  • Marches:   The Egyptian



Strauss’ Legacy


Spiritually, Johann Strauss was a man that none of us should imitate.  He made his own rules, lived for his own pleasure, and did not even acknowledge the Creator that gave him his exceptional gift of music.10

Musically, Strauss was an ingenuous architect. Many composers made use of the waltz before the Strauss family entered the stage, but Strauss, Jr. refined it in a way that no composer had done before him.  He developed, enriched, and perfected the waltz into an art form.

Johann Strauss, Jr. was devoted to his work.  He was creative, productive, and determined not to let the hardships of his early years define his entire life.  And now, over 150 years later, we are still enjoying the gift of his music.

Which ones of us will that be said of… 150 years from now?


The Gift of Music by Smith & Carlson, pp. 81-85 – “The Strauss Family”
Classical Music by Phil G. Goulding, pp. 508-514 – “Johann Strauss”



  1. Source: The Gift of Music, page 83
  2. Source: The Gift of Music, page 83
  3. Source:
  4. Source: The Gift of Music, page 83
  5. Source: Classical Music, pp. 508
  6. Source:
  7. Source: Classics for Kids: Johann Strauss, Jr.
  8. The quadrille is a precursor to traditional square dancing.  
  9. The galop is a lively country dance.
  10. Strauss openly attributed Vienna with the entire credit for his creativity.