Schumann, Robert Alexander

Robert Schumann, a German composer and critic, was a prolific figure in the Romantic era. Born on June 8, 1810, in Zwickau, Germany, Schumann's life and music were marked by a combination of genius and struggle. Despite battling bipolar disorder and ultimately succumbing to syphilis-induced insanity, Schumann left behind a rich and diverse body of work. This article delves into the early years of study, the turbulent 1830s, his marriage to Clara Wieck, his time in Dusseldorf, and his lasting musical legacy.

Early Years of Study

Robert Schumann's upbringing in Zwickau was immersed in literature, thanks to his bookseller father and his passionate mother. At the age of seven, Schumann began piano lessons and showed an early interest in literature and writing. This interest continued to develop as he studied Latin and Greek in school. When he turned 16, tragedy struck as his father passed away and his sister took her own life. In order to receive his inheritance, Schumann had to pursue a three-year course of study at the university level. He enrolled as a law student at the University of Leipzig but also became a piano student of Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter Clara would later become Schumann's wife. It was during this time that Schumann's love for Schubert's music ignited his own creative aspirations.

Music and Trouble in the 1830s

The 1830s proved to be a turbulent period for Schumann. He clashed with Friedrich Wieck over his training and relationship with Clara. These conflicts, combined with the stress of his personal life, led to bouts of depression and self-destructive habits such as heavy drinking and smoking. However, Schumann's setbacks in his pursuit of becoming a virtuoso pianist paved the way for his career as a critic and composer. In 1834, he founded the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, a platform for his thoughts on music and analyses of new works. During this decade, Schumann composed several important pieces that showcased his talent as a composer, including Carnaval, the Davidsbundler Tanze, and Kinderszenen.

Marriage, Music, and Mania

In 1840, Schumann's marriage to Clara Wieck marked a significant turning point in his life and artistic output. The couple's union unleashed a burst of creativity in Schumann, resulting in what is known as the "year of song." In the months leading up to their marriage, Schumann composed nearly 140 songs, pouring his emotions into his vocal compositions. The following year, he shifted his focus to orchestral works, composing two symphonies and a Fantasie for piano and orchestra. The years that followed saw Schumann's concentration on chamber music, including the creation of three string quartets and the renowned Piano Quintet in E-flat.

As Schumann's creative output flourished, so did his struggles with mental health. His manic periods were accompanied by intense productivity, but they were also followed by debilitating episodes of depression. In 1850, Schumann accepted a position as a municipal music director in Dusseldorf. Despite initial excitement, Schumann's tenure in Dusseldorf was marred by conflicts with city administrators and a decline in his mental stability. He was ultimately dismissed from his position in 1853.

Dusseldorf and Downhill

Schumann's time in Dusseldorf was not without its bright moments. He had the opportunity to interact with renowned figures such as violinist Joseph Joaquim and the young Johannes Brahms. However, his mental health continued to deteriorate, culminating in a dramatic episode in 1854. Schumann began hearing "angelic" voices that quickly turned into disturbing noises. In a state of despair, he attempted to take his own life by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine River but was rescued by fishermen. Concerned for Clara's safety, Schumann voluntarily admitted himself to a sanatorium, where he spent the last years of his life. Clara was only allowed to visit him shortly before his death.

The Music of Poetic Personalities

Schumann's music reflects his literary sensitivity and introspective nature. He infused his compositions with personality, often drawing inspiration from literature and imbuing his works with emotional depth. One recurring theme in Schumann's music is the concept of the "Davidsbund" or "Tribe of David," an imaginary society of artists who stood against the artistic norms of the time. Schumann's piano music, in particular, showcases his exploration of emotions and characterizations. Notable examples include Carnaval, Davidsbundler Tanze, and Kinderszenen.

Schumann's vocal compositions, especially his lieder, are regarded as some of the most beautiful and moving in the repertoire. His song cycles, such as Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und Leben, demonstrate his ability to bring poetry to life through music. Additionally, Schumann composed chamber music, with highlights including the Piano Quintet and the Three Romances for oboe and piano.

While Schumann's symphonic compositions have received mixed reviews, he displayed moments of brilliance in this genre as well. His Third and Fourth Symphonies showcase innovative approaches to form and orchestral effects. The Fourth Symphony, in particular, stands out for its unity and thematic connections across its four movements. Although Schumann's efforts in opera and concertos were not as widely embraced, his Piano Concerto remains a beloved and significant work.

The Lasting Legacy

Despite the challenges and limitations Schumann faced in his life, his contributions to the world of music endure. While his abilities may have fallen short of his ambitions at times, Schumann's enthusiasm and poetic genius permeate his compositions. As a critic, he offered astute insights into music of the past and present, though his judgments were not always accurate. His impact as a composer, however, remains undeniable. Schumann's music continues to be celebrated and performed, ensuring his place as a canonical figure in the history of classical music.

In conclusion, Robert Schumann's life and music were shaped by a combination of brilliance and adversity. From his early years of study to his marriage to Clara Wieck, his time in Dusseldorf, and his ultimate descent into insanity, Schumann's journey was marked by creativity, struggle, and a profound dedication to his craft. Today, his compositions stand as a testament to his enduring legacy as a Romantic-era composer.

Cello Compositions of Robert Schumann | Animato Strings


Schumann, Concerto For Cello In A Min (Breitkopf & Härtel)

Robert Schumann's Violoncello Concerto Opus 129 is a significant work of the romantic concerto repertoire. This edition is transcribed for violin and piano, with annotations by Schumann himself. It initially received negative feedback and was not premiered for years due to a lack of occasion and soloist. The Urtext edition is based on the original print of the parts, with Schumann personally supervising the piano reduction.

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