Many of the composers whose life stories
we have read were surrounded by
musical atmosphere from their earliest years; Robert Schumann seems to
have been an exception. His father, August Schumann, was the son of a
pastor, and the boy August was intended to be brought up a merchant. At
age of fifteen he was put into a store in Nonneburg. He was refined in
tastes, loved books, and tried even in boyhood to write poetry. He
destined, however, to live the life marked out for him, at least for a
time. It grew so distasteful, that later he gave it up and, on account
extreme poverty, returned to his parents' home, where he had the
to write. At last he secured a position in a book store in Zeitz. In
little town he met the daughter of his employer. The engagement was
on the condition that he should leave the book store and set up his own
business. But where was the money to come from? He left the store,
home and in a year and a half had earned a thousand thalers, then quite
He now claimed the hand of his chosen
love and established in the book
business, labored so unceasingly, that the business increased. Then he
moved to a more favorable location, choosing the mining town of
Here, this industrious, honorable man
and his attractive, intelligent,
rather narrow and uneducated young wife lived out their lives, and
up their children, of whom Robert, born June 8, 1810, was the youngest;
before him there were three brothers and a sister. All passed away
He was the so-called "handsome child" of
the family, and much petted by
women. Besides his mother there was his god-mother, who was very fond
him, and at her home he would spend whole days and nights. As his
developed, the boy became the spoilt darling of everybody. This lay at
foundation of his extreme susceptibility, even the obstinacy of his
Little Robert at six was sent to a
popular private school and now for
first time mingled with a number of children of his own age. The first
symptoms of ambition, the source of much of his later achievement,
to show itself, though quite unconsciously. It made him the life of all
childish games. If the children played "soldiers," little Robert was
captain. The others loved his good nature and friendliness, and always
yielded to him.
He was a good student in the primary
school, but in no way
himself in his studies. The following year he was allowed to take piano
lessons of an old pedantic professor from Zwickau High School. This man
taught himself music, but had heard little of it. The kind of
he was able to give may be imagined, yet Robert was faithful all his
to this kind old friend.
In spite of inadequate guidance, music
soon kindled the boy's soul. He
began to try to make music himself, though entirely ignorant of the
of composition. The first of these efforts, a set of little dances,
written during his seventh or eighth year. It was soon discovered that
could improvise on the piano; indeed he could sketch the disposition of
companions by certain figures on the piano, so exactly and comically
every one burst out laughing at the portraits. He was fond of reading
much to his father's delight, and early tried his hand at authorship.
wrote robber plays, which he staged with the aid of the family and such
his youthful friends as were qualified. The father now began to hope
favorite son would become an author or poet; but later Robert's
love for music put this hope to flight.
The father happened to take his boy with
him to Carlsbad in the summer
of 1819, and here he heard for the first time a great pianist, Ignatz
Moscheles. His masterful playing made a great impression on the nine
old enthusiast, who began now to wish to become a musician, and applied
himself to music with redoubled zeal. He also made such good progress
school that at Easter 1820 he was able to enter the Zwickau Academy.
The love for music grew with each day.
With a boy of his own age,
as devoted as himself to music, four-hand works of Haydn, Mozart and
Beethoven, as well as pieces by Weber, Hummel and Czerny, were played
almost daily. The greatest ecstasy was caused by the arrival of a Steck
piano at the Schumann home, which showed that father Schumann
further his boy's taste for music. About this time Robert found by
the orchestral score of an old Italian overture. He conceived the bold
of performing it. So a bit of an orchestra was gathered among the boys
knew, who could play an instrument. There were two violins, two flutes,
clarinet and two horns. Robert, who conducted with great fervor,
as best he could the other parts on the piano.
This effort was a great incentive to the
boys, principally to Robert,
began to arrange things for his little band and composed music for the
hundred fiftieth Psalm. This was in his twelfth year.
August Schumann was more and more
convinced that Providence had
his son to become a musician, and though the mother struggled against
he resolved to see that Robert had a musical education. Carl Maria von
Weber, then living in Dresden, was written to, and answered he was
to accept the boy as a student. The plan never came to anything
for what reason is not known. The boy was left now to direct his own
musical studies, just when he needed an expert guiding hand. He had no
rivals in his native town, where he sometimes appeared as a pianist. It
no wonder he thought he was on the right road, and that he tried more
ever to win his mother's consent to his following music as a life work.
And now a great change took place in the
lively, fun-loving boy. He
to lose his gay spirits and become reflective, silent and reserved.
condition of mind never left him, but grew into a deeper reserve as the
Two events deeply stirred Robert's
nature with great force—the death of
his father in 1826, and his acquaintance with the works of Jean Paul.
The Jean Paul fever attacked him in all its transcendentalism, and this
influence remained through life, with more or less intensity.
After his father left him, Robert found
he must make a choice of a
profession. His mother had set her heart on his making a study of law,
while his heart was set on music. Yielding to her wishes for a time he
to Leipsic in March 1828 to prepare to enter the University as a
of law. He also gained consent to study piano at the same time, and
lessons with Frederick Wieck. The desire to study with Wieck was
by the piano playing of his little daughter, Clara, then nine years
old, who had already gained a considerable degree of musical culture
promised to make her mark as a pianist.
Under his new teacher, Robert for the
first time was obliged to study a
rational system of technic and tone production. He was also expected to
learn harmony correctly, but strangely enough he seemed to take no
in it, even saying he thought such knowledge useless. He held to this
foolish idea for some time, not giving it up till forced to by
his total ignorance of this branch of the art.
Robert now became greatly impressed by
the genius of Franz Schubert. He
eagerly played everything the master had composed for the piano, both
two and four hands, and Schubert's death during this year, filled him
with profound grief. The young musical friends with whom Robert had
intimate, while living in Leipsic, shared his enthusiasm about his hero
of German song, and they desired to enlarge their knowledge of
work. They did more, for they decided to take one representative
composition and practise together till they had reached the highest
perfection. The choice fell on the Trio in B flat major, Op. 99,
whose beauties had greatly impressed them. After much loving labor the
performance was well nigh perfect. Schumann arranged a musical party at
which the Trio was played. Besides students and friends, Wieck was
and given the seat of honor.
This musical evening was the forerunner
of many others. Weekly meetings
were held in Robert's room, where much music was played and discussed.
talk often turned to grand old Bach and his "Well-tempered Clavichord,"
which in those early days, he gave ardent study.
With all this music study and
intercourse with musical friends there
was very little time left for the study of law. Yet he still kept up
appearances by attending the lectures, and had intended for some months
enter the Heidelberg University. This decision was put into execution
May 1829, when he started by coach for Heidelberg.
We find Robert Schumann at nineteen
domiciled in the beautiful city of
Heidelberg, and surrounded by a few musical friends, who were kindred
spirits. With a good piano in his room, the "life of flowers," as he
it, began. Almost daily they made delightful trips in a one-horse
into the suburbs. For longer trips they went to Baden-Baden, Wurms,
and Mannheim. Whenever Robert went with his friends he always carried a
small "dumb piano" on which he industriously practised finger
meanwhile joining in the conversation. During the following August and
September, Robert and two or three chosen companions made a delightful
journey through Italy, the young man preparing himself by studying
in which he became so fluent that he could translate poems from one
language to the other.
The next winter Robert devoted himself
to music more than ever—"played
piano much," as he says. His skill as a pianist gradually became known
in Heidelberg and he frequently played in private houses. But he was
content with the regular study of the piano. He wanted to get ahead
and invented some sort of a device to render his fourth finger more
and supple. It did not have the desired effect however, but was the
in time of injuring his hands so that he never could attain the piano
virtuosity he dreamed of.
Before starting on the trip to Italy
just mentioned, he felt that a
decision must be reached about his music. It had become as the breath
life to him. He wrote his mother and laid bare his heart to her. "My
life has been a twenty years struggle between poetry and prose, or let
us say—between music and law. If I follow my own bent, it points, as I
believe correctly, to music. Write yourself to Wieck at Leipsic and ask
him frankly what he thinks of me and my plan. Beg him to answer at once
decisively." The letter was duly written to Wieck, who decided in favor
Robert and his plans.
Robert on hearing his decision was wild
with joy. He wrote an exuberant
letter to Wieck promising to be most submissive as a piano pupil and
"whole pailfuls of very very cold theory can do me no harm and I will
at it without a murmur. I give myself up wholly to you."
With a heart full of hope, young
Schumann returned to Leipsic, which he
gladly left more than a year before. It was during this early
piano lessons with Wieck that he began the treatment which he thought
advance his technic in such a marvelously short time. He fastened his
finger into a machine, of his own invention, then practised unceasingly
with the other four. At last he lost control over the muscles of the
hand, to his great distress. He now practised unremittingly with the
hand, which gained great facility, remarkable long after he had given
Under these difficulties piano lessons
with Wieck had to be given up
were never resumed. He studied theory for a short time with Kupach, but
soon relinquished this also. He was now free to direct his own path in
music and to study—study, and compose.
One of the first pieces he wrote was
Papillons"—"Butterflies,"—published as Op. 2. It was dedicated to his
three sisters-in-law, of all of whom he was very fond. In the various
scenes of the Butterflies there are allusions to persons and places
to the composer; the whimsical spirit of Jean Paul broods over the
Robert began to realize more and more
his lack of thorough theoretical
knowledge and applied to Dorn, who stood high in the musical profession
in Leipsic. On his introduction, in spite of his lame hand he played
"Abegg Variations," published as Op. 1, and Dorn was willing to accept
timid quiet youth as pupil. He studied with great ardor, going from the
A.B.C. to the most involved counterpoint.
Thus passed two or three busy years.
Part of the time Schumann had a
in the house of his teacher Wieck and thus was thrown more or less in
society of Clara Wieck, now a young girl of thirteen or fourteen. Later
gave up his room—though not his intimate relations with the family—and
moved to a summer residence in Riedel's Garden, where he spent the days
music and the evenings with his friends.
The year 1833, was one of the most
remarkable in his life so far. Not
least important event was the establishment of the "Neue Zeitschrift
Musik." Schumann himself says of this:—
"At the close of the year '33, a number
of musicians, mostly young, met
Leipsic every evening, apparently by accident at first, but really for
interchange of ideas on all musical subjects. One day the young hot
heads exclaimed: 'Why do we look idly on? Let's take hold and make
better.' Thus the new Journal for music began.
"The youthful, fresh and fiery tone of
the Journal is to be in sharp
contrast to the characterless, worn-out Leipsic criticism. The
German taste, the encouragement of young talent must be our goal. We
not to enrich tradespeople, but to honor artists."
Schumann took up arms in favor of the
younger generation of musicians
and helped make the fame of many now held in the world's highest
Sometimes, he admits, his ardor carried him too far in recognition of
youthful talent, but in the main he was very just in his estimates. We
not forget how his quick commendation aided Brahms.
The young musicians who founded the
paper had formed themselves also
an alliance, which they called the Davidsbündlerschaft. The idea
alliance, which was derived from David's war with the Philistines,
to exist only in the mind of Schumann himself. It gave him a chance to
write under the name of different characters, chief of whom were
and Eusebius, between whom stood Master Raro. In Florestan Schumann
expressed the powerful, passionate side of his nature, and in Eusebius
mild and dreamy side.
He wrote to a friend: "Florestan and
Eusebius are my double nature,
I would gladly—like Raro—melt down into one man." As time passed
he made less and less use of these fanciful images until they finally
seemed to fade out of his mind.
An important event of 1834, was
Schumann's acquaintance with Ernestine
Fricken, who came to Leipsic from the little town of Asch, on the
border. She lived at the Wiecks', expecting to become a pianist under
Wieck's tuition. Schumann became greatly interested in Ernestine and
for some time he had in mind an engagement with her. The noble
Symphoniques" were written this year. The theme was suggested by
Ernestine's father. The "Carnival" was partly written in this year, but
not completed till the following year. In this collection of charming
pieces he brings in the characters of his dreams,—Florestan, Eusebius,
Chiarina (Clara), Estrella (Ernestine). There is the March against
the Philistines, and the titles of many other of the little pieces are
characteristic. It is a true Schumann composition, full of his traits.
Here we have the sweet, graceful, elegant and the very humorous and
The tone creations of 1835 consist of
the two Sonatas, F sharp minor,
11 and G minor, Op. 22, which are held by pianists to be among his most
interesting and poetical works.
By the next year Schumann had suffered a
deep sorrow in the loss of his
mother, and also his love for Ernestine began to cool, until the
bond was amicably dissolved. Meanwhile his affection for Clara Wieck,
was just budding into womanhood, began to ripen into devoted love.
too, was the beginning of the long struggle for the possession of his
beloved, since the father had opposed such a connection from beginning
end. Schumann wrote a friend in 1839: "Truly from the struggle Clara
cost me, much music has been caused and created; the Concerto, Sonatas,
Davidsbündler Dances, Kreisleriana and Novellettes are the
the compositions just mentioned, he relieved his oppressed heart by a
composition rich in meaning—nothing less than the great Fantaisie, Op.
17. He meant to contribute the profits from its sale to the fund for
erection of a monument to Beethoven. The titles to the three movements
"Ruins," "Triumphal Arch," "Starry Crown." He afterwards gave up the
idea, and dedicated the work to Franz Liszt.
Schumann lived a quiet, busy life, and
if he could have gained the
of Clara's father for their union, he would have been supremely happy.
He feared the principal reason of Wieck's refusal was that the young
should earn more money first, before thinking of settling down with a
Robert therefore reverted more seriously to a plan he had thought of,
to Vienna, and move his paper to that city, hoping to better his
He felt, too, that he ought to travel, as he had remained in Leipsic
eight years without change.
Thus, by the end of September, 1838,
Schumann started for Vienna with
high hopes. A friend invited him to remain at his house, which was of
advantage. He made many calls and visits, saw musicians and publishers,
and really learned to know the city for itself. He found it would not
profitable for him to publish the Journal there, also that the Austrian
capital was a no more propitious place to make one's fortune than the
smaller town of Leipsic. However he was able to compose a number of
which have become among the best known and beloved of all, including
"Arabesque," "Faschingsschwank," or "Carnival Strains from Vienna," the
"Night Pieces," Op. 24, and other short compositions.
When Robert discovered Vienna was not
the city to prosper in, he
of a return to Leipsic, to win his bride. He came back in April, and
succeeded, with the help of legal proceedings, in securing Clara's hand
marriage. This was in 1840. From now on Schumann began to write songs.
this one year he composed as many as a hundred and thirty-eight songs,
large and small. He writes at this time: "The best way to cultivate a
for melody, is to write a great deal for the voice and for independent
He now began to express himself not only
in song but in orchestral
His first effort was the beautiful B flat major Symphony, which, with
songs of that time seems to embody all the happiness he enjoyed in
his Clara. She proved a most admirable helpmate, trying to shield him
from interruptions and annoyance of every sort, so he should have his
undisturbed for his work. Thus many of his best compositions came into
being in the early years of wedded happiness.
This retirement was interrupted in 1844,
by a long concert tour planned
by Clara. She was firmly decided to go and made Robert solemnly promise
accompany her to St. Petersburg. He was loath to leave the quiet he
but it had to be done. Clara had great success everywhere, as a
giving many recitals during their travels from place to place. From
the artist pair went to Helsingfors, Stockholm and Copenhagen. They
on their tour in January and did not reach home till the first of June.
Schumann now seemed to lose interest in
the Journal and expressed a
withdraw from it and live only for his creative art. An alarming state
of health—both mind and body—seemed to make this retirement desirable.
Perhaps owing to this condition of health he decided to leave Leipsic
good and make his home in Dresden. He and his wife took formal leave of
Leipsic in a Matinée musical given on the eighth of December.
But life in Dresden became even more
strenuous and more racking than it
been in Leipsic. He threw himself into the labor of composing the
of Goethe's "Faust" with such ardor that he fell into an intensely
state where work was impossible. However, with special medical
he so far recovered that he was able to resume the work, but still was
himself. We can divine from brief remarks he let drop from time to
that he lived in constant fear—fear of death, insanity or disaster of
kind. He could not bear the sight of Sonnenstein, an insane asylum near
Dresden. Mendelssohn's sudden death in November, 1847, was a great
and preyed on his mind.
Schumann had intervals of reprieve from
these morbid dreams, and he
began to compose with renewed—almost abnormal—vigor and productiveness.
The artist pair took a trip to Vienna
where Clara gave several
They spent some weeks there and before returning to Dresden, gave two
splendid concerts in Prague, where Schumann received a perfect ovation
his piano quintette and some songs. A little later the two artists made
trip north. In Berlin Robert conducted a performance of "Paradise and
Peri" at the Singakademie, while Clara gave two recitals.
This year of 1847 was a very active one
outside of the musical
The master composed several piano trios, much choral music, and began
opera "Genevieve," which was not completed however, until the middle of
1848. All the compositions of the previous year were perfectly lucid
sane. The opera unfortunately had a text from which all the beauty and
romance had been left out.
The music, however, revealed a rare
quality of creative power, combined
with deep and noble feeling. Schumann's nature was more lyric than
dramatic; he was not born to write for the stage. The lyric portions of
opera are much the best. He did not realize that he failed on the
side in his work, indeed seemed quite unconscious of the fact.
"Genevieve" was given in Leipsic in June
1850, directed by the
Two more performances were given and then the work was laid away.
In 1848, Schumann, who loved children
dearly and often stopped his more
serious work to write for them, composed the "Album for the Young," Op.
a set of forty-two pieces. The title originally was: "Christmas Album
Children who like to play the Piano." How many children, from that day
to this have loved those little pieces, the "Happy Farmer," "Wild
"First Loss," "Reaper's Song," and all the rest. Even the great
our time are not above performing these little classics in public. They
a gift, unique in musical literature, often imitated, but never equaled
by other writers. Schumann wrote of them: "The first thing in the Album
wrote for my oldest child's birthday. It seems as if I were beginning
life as a composer anew, and there are traces of the old human here and
there. They are decidedly different from 'Scenes from Childhood' which
retrospective glances by a parent, and for elders, while 'Album for the
Young' contains hopes, presentments and peeps into futurity for the
After the children's Album came the
music to Byron's "Manfred." This
consists of an overture and fifteen numbers. The whole work, with one
exception, is deep in thought and masterly in conception. The overture
especially is one of his finest productions, surpassing other
works in intellectual grandeur.
A choral club of sixty-seven members, of
which Schumann was the
inspired him to compose considerable choral music, and his compositions
this time, 1848-9, were numerous.
The intense creative activity of 1849
was followed by a period of rest
when the artist pair made two trips from Dresden, early in 1850.
Bremen, and Hamburg were visited. Most of the time in Hamburg was spent
with Jenny Lind, who sang at his last two concerts.
The late summer of 1850 brought Schumann
an appointment of director of
music in Düsseldorf, left vacant by the departure of Ferdinand
for Cologne. Schumann and his wife went to Düsseldorf the first
September and were received with open arms. A banquet and concert were
arranged, at which some of the composer's important works were
His duties in the new post were conducting the subscription concerts,
weekly rehearsals of the Choral Club and other musical performances. He
seemed well content with the situation and it did not require too much
his physical strength.
Outside of his official duties his
passion for work again gained the
ascendent. From November 2, to December 9, he sketched and completed
Symphony in E flat in five parts, a great work, equal to any of the
works in this form.
From this time on, one important
composition followed another, until
increasing illness forshadowed the sad catastrophe of the early part of
1854. He wrote in June 1851, "we are all tolerably well, except that I
the victim of occasional nervous attacks; a few days ago I fainted
hearing Radecke play the organ." These nervous attacks increased in
He could not think music in rapid tempo and wished everything slow. He
heard special tones to the exclusion of all others.
The close of 1853, brought two joyful
events to Schumann. In October he
Johann Brahms, whom he had introduced to the world through his Journal,
as the "Messiah of Art." In November he and his wife took a trip
Holland, which was a triumphal procession. He found his music almost
as well known in Holland as at home. In Rotterdam and Utrecht his third
symphony was performed; in The Hague the second was given, also "The
Pilgrimage of the Rose." Clara also played at many concerts.
Just before Christmas the artist pair
returned to Düsseldorf.
The hallucinations which had before
obsessed him now returned with
force. He could no longer sleep—he seemed to be lost in mental
One day in February 1854, his physician
made a noon call upon him. They
chatting when suddenly Schumann left the room without a word. The
and his friends supposed he would return. His wife went in search of
It seems he had left the house in dressing-gown, gone to the Rhine
and thrown himself into the river. Some sailors rescued him.
He now received constant care, and it
was found best to place him in a
private hospital near Bonn. Here he remained till the end of July,
when the end came.
In his death the world of music lost one
of the most highly gifted
His life was important and instructive for its moral and intellectual
grandeur, its struggles for the noblest, loftiest subjects as well as
its truly great results.