Robert Alexander Schumann 1810 – 1856
September 20, 2008
Robert Alexander Schumann 1810 – 1856 was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is one of the most famous Romantic composers of the 19th century.
Schumann was lucky to have access kinder treatments for his depression, including homeopathy, hypnotheray and hydrotherapy.
As well as becoming a homeopathic patient, Schumann also tried hydrotherapy and hypnotism, as he wrote to his friend Edward Bulwer Lytton, explaining that he had consulted Ernst August Carus, Moritz Reuter, Christian Glock, Walther, Carl Gottlob Helbig, Moritz and Clothar Mueller and Richard Hasenclever:
“… none of whom I ever abandoned for reasons other than geography, and none of whom every abandoned mep, aside from dear Dr. Reuter who died…
Schumann was an admirer of Bettina von Arnim.
Clara’s father Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck was a patient and a friend of Samuel Hahnemann when they both lived in Liepsig (Clara also knew Samuel Hahnemann). Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck was a close friend of Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony the fifth and last child of the family. Although Schumann began to compose before the age of seven, his father, August Schumann, was a bookseller, publisher, and novelist, and his boyhood was spent in the cultivation of literature as much as it was spent in music.
At the age of 14, he wrote an essay on the aesthetics of music and also contributed to a volume, edited by his father, titled Portraits of Famous Men. While still at school in Zwickau he read the works of the German poet philosophers Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as Lord Byron and the Greek tragedians. His most powerful and permanent literary inspiration was Jean Paul, whose influence is seen in Schumann’s youthful novels Juniusabende, completed in 1826, and Selene.
Schumann’s interest in music was prompted as a child by the performance of Ignaz Moscheles playing at Carlsbad, and he developed an interest in the works of Ludwig von Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn later. His father, however, who had encouraged the boy’s musical aspirations, died in 1826, and neither his mother nor his guardian would encourage a career for him in music.
In 1828 he left school, and after a tour, during which he met Heinrich Heine in Munich, he went to Leipzig to study law. In 1829 his law studies continued in Heidelberg.
During Easter, 1830 he heard Niccolo Paganini play in Frankfurt. In July he wrote to his mother, “My whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law.” By Christmas he was back in Leipzig, taking piano lessons from his old master, Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck who assured him that he would be a successful concert pianist.
During his studies with Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck, Schumann permanently injured his right hand. One suggested cause of this injury is that he damaged his finger by the use of a mechanical device designed to strengthen the weakest fingers, which held back one finger while he exercised the others. Others have suggested that the injury was a side-effect of syphilis medication. A more dramatic idea is that in an attempt to increase the independence of his fourth finger, he may have carried out a surgical procedure to separate the tendons of the fourth finger from those of the third.
Whatever the cause of the injury, Schumann abandoned ideas of a concert career and devoted himself instead to composition…
In the winter of 1832 Schumann visited his relations at Zwickau and Schneeberg, where he performed the first movement of his Symphony in G minor. In Zwickau, the music was performed at a concert given by Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck’s daughter Clara, who was only eleven then (she was born September 13, 1819)… It was also on this occasion that Robert’s mother said to Clara, “You must marry my Robert one day.”
The G minor Symphony was never published by Schumann, but has been played and recorded since then. The death of his brother Julius as well as that of his sister-in-law Rosalie in 1833 seems to have affected Schumann with a profound melancholy, leading to his first apparent attempt at suicide.
By the spring of 1834, Schumann had sufficiently recovered to inaugurate Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (“New Journal in Music”), first published on April 3, 1834. Schumann published most of his critical writings in the Journal, and often lambasted the popular taste for flashy technical displays from figures Schumann perceived as inferior composers.
Schumann campaigned to revive interest in major composers of the past, including Mozart, Ludwig von Beethoven and Weber, while he also promoted the work of some contemporary composers, including Frederic Chopin (who did not like Schumann’s work) and Louis Hector Berlioz, whom he praised for creating music of substance. On the other hand, Schumann disparaged the school of Franz Liszt and Wilhelm Richard Wagner. Amongst his associates were the composers Ludwig Schunke, the dedicatee of Schumann’s Toccata in C, and Norbert Burgmuller.
Schumann’s editorial duties, which kept him occupied during the summer of 1834, were interrupted by his relations with Ernestine von Fricken, a girl of 16 years old, to whom he became engaged. She was the adopted daughter of a rich Bohemian, from whose variations on a theme Schumann constructed his own Symphonic Etudes.
The engagement was broken off by Schumann, due to the burgeoning of his love for the 15 year old Clara Wieck. Flirtatious exchanges in the spring of 1835 led to their first kiss on the steps outside Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck’s house in November and mutual declarations of love the next month in Zwickau, where Clara appeared in concert.
Having learned in August that Ernestine von Fricken’s was of illegitimate birth, which meant that she would have no dowry, and fearful that her limited means would force him to earn his living like a ‘day labourer’, Schumann engineered a complete break towards the end of the year. But his idyll with Clara was soon brought to an unceremonious end. When her father became aware of their nocturnal trysts during the Christmas holidays, he summarily forbade them further meetings…
On October 3, 1835, Schumann met Felix Mendelssohn at Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck’s house in Leipzig, and his appreciation of his great contemporary was shown with the same generous freedom that distinguished him in all his relations to other musicians, and which later enabled him to recognize the genius of Johannes Brahms, whom he first met in 1853 before he had established a reputation.
In 1836 Schumann’s acquaintance with Clara Wieck, already famous as a pianist, ripened into love. A year later he asked her father’s consent to their marriage, but was refused…
In 1840, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father, Schumann married Clara Wieck on September 12, 1840, at Schonefeld. Before 1840, Schumann had written almost exclusively for the piano, but in this one year he wrote 168 songs… Robert and Clara were to have seven children…
The stage in his life when he was deeply engaged in his music to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (1844–1853) was a critical one for his health. The first half of the year 1844 had been spent with his wife in Russia. On returning to Germany he had abandoned his editorial work, and left Leipzig for Dresden, where he suffered from what was referred to as persistent “nervous prostration”.
As soon as he began to work he was seized with fits of shivering and an apprehension of death, which was exhibited in an abhorrence for high places, for all metal instruments (even keys), and for drugs. Schumann’s diaries also state that he suffered perpetually from imagining that he had the note A sounding in his ears.
In 1846 he had recovered and in the winter revisited Vienna, traveling to Prague and Berlin in the spring of 1847 and in the summer to Zwickau, where he was received with enthusiasm—gratifying because Dresden and Leipzig were the only large cities in which his fame was at this time appreciated…
Soon after his return to Dusseldorf, where he was engaged in editing his complete works and making an anthology on the subject of music, a renewal of the symptoms that had threatened him earlier showed itself.
Besides the single note, he now imagined that voices sounded in his ear and he heard angelic music. One night he suddenly left his bed, telling Clara that Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn had sent him a theme — in truth, he was merely recalling his own violin concerto — which he must write down, and on this theme he wrote five variations for the piano, his last work.
Johannes Brahms published the theme in a supplementary volume to the complete edition of Schumann’s piano music, and in 1861 himself wrote a substantial set of variations upon it for piano duet, his Op. 23.
In late February Schumann’s symptoms increased, the angelic visions sometimes being replaced by demonic visions. He warned Clara that he feared he might do her harm.
On February 27, 1854, he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a bridge into the Rhine. Rescued by boatmen and taken home, he asked to be taken to an asylum for the insane. He entered Franz Richarz’s sanitarium in Endenich, a quarter of Bonn, and remained there for more than two years, until his death.
Given his reported symptoms, one modern view is that his death was a result of syphilis, which he may have contracted during his student days, and which would have remained latent during most of his marriage.
According to studies by the musicologist and literary scholar Eric Sams, Schumann’s symptoms during his terminal illness and death appear consistent with those of mercury poisoning, mercury being a common treatment for syphilis and other conditions.
Schumann died on July 29, 1856, and was buried at the Zentral Friedhof, Bonn. In 1880, a statue by Adolf von Donndorf was erected on his tomb.
From the time of her husband’s death, Clara devoted herself principally to the interpretation of her husband’s works. In 1856, she first visited England, but the critics received Schumann’s music coolly, with some critics such as Henry Fothergill Chorley particularly harsh in their disapproval.
She returned to London in 1865 and made regular appearances there in subsequent years. She became the authoritative editor of her husband’s works for Breitkopf und Hartel. It was rumored that she and Johannes Brahms destroyed many of Schumann’s later works that they thought to be tainted by his madness. However, only the Five Pieces for Cello and Piano are known to have been destroyed. Most of Schumann’s late works, particularly the violin concerto, the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the third violin sonata, all from 1853, have entered the repertoire.
Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann 1819 – 1896 was a German musician, one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era, as well as a composer.
Her prestige - she became known as “the high priestess of music” - exerted over a 61-year concert career, changed the format and repertoire of the piano concert and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was composer Robert Schumann.
In March 1828, at the age of nine, the young Clara Wieck performed at the Leipzig home of Ernst August Carus, director of a mental hospital at Colditz Castle, and met another gifted young pianist invited to the musical evening named Robert Schumann, nine years older than she.
Schumann admired Wieck’s playing so much that he asked permission from his mother to discontinue his studies of the law, which had never interested him much, and take music lessons with Wieck’s father. While taking lessons, he took rooms in the Wieck household, staying about a year, until Wieck left on a concert tour to Paris.
In 1830 at the age of eleven, Wieck gave her first solo concert, giving her debut at Leipzig’s famed Gewandhaus, followed by concerts in various cities and towns, including Weimar, where she performed for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who presented her with a medal with his portrait and a written note saying, “For the gifted artist Clara Wieck.”
Clara Wieck had a brilliant career as a virtuoso pianist from the age of thirteen. In her early years her repertoire, selected by her father, was showy and popular, in the style common to the time, with works by Kalkbrenner, Henselt, Thalberg, Henri Herz, Pixis, Czerny, and her own compositions.
As she matured, however, becoming more established and planning her own programmes, she began to play works by the new Romantic composers, such as Frederic Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn and, of course, Schumann, as well as the great, less showy, more “difficult” composers of the past, such as Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart, Ludwig von Beethovenn and Franz Schubert.
In her nineteenth year, her father did everything in his power to prevent her from marrying Schumann, forcing the lovers to take him to court. During this period Robert Schumann, inspired by his love for Wieck, wrote many of his most famous Lieder. They eventually married on December 12 1840.
Wieck continued to perform and compose after the marriage even as she raised seven children, an eighth child having died in infancy. In the various tours on which she accompanied her husband, she extended her own reputation beyond Germany, and her efforts to promote his works gradually made his work accepted throughout Europe.
In 1853 Johannes Brahms, age twenty, met Clara and Robert in Leipzig and immediately impressed both of them with his talent. Johannes Brahms became a lifelong friend to the Schumanns, sustaining Clara through the illness of Robert, asking for her advice about new compositions, even caring for her young children while she went on tour.
It is clear that they developed a deep and life long love for each other, although there is no indication that it was ever consummated physically. Wieck’s reputation brought her into contact with the leading musicians of the day, including Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. She also met violinist Joseph Joachim who became one of her frequent performance partners.
Clara often took charge of the finances and general household affairs due to Robert’s mental instability. Part of her responsibility included making money, which she did by giving concerts, although she continued to play throughout her life not only for the income, but because she was a concert artist by training and by nature.
Robert, while admiring her talent, wanted a traditional wife to bear children and make a happy home, which in his eyes and the eyes of society were in direct conflict with the life of a performer. Furthermore, while she loved touring, Robert hated it.
After Robert’s death (July 29, 1856), Clara devoted herself principally to the interpretation of his works. But when she first visited England in 1856, the critics received Robert’s music with a chorus of disapproval. She returned to London in 1865 and continued her visits annually, with the exception of four seasons, until 1882. She also appeared there each year from 1885 to 1888.
In 1878 she was appointed teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, a post she held until 1892, and in which she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique.
Clara played her last public concert in Frankfurt in March 1891. Five years later, on March 26, 1896, she suffered a stroke, dying on May 20, at age 77. She is buried at Bonn’s Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery) with her husband.
Clara Schumann was a woman of great character. She was the main breadwinner for her family through giving concerts and teaching, and she did most of the work of organizing her own concert tours. She refused to accept charity when a group of musicians offered to put on a benefit concert for her. In addition to raising her own large family, when one of her children became incapacitated, she took on responsibility for raising her grandchildren.
During a time of revolution in Dresden, she famously walked into the city through the front lines, defying a pack of armed men who confronted her, rescued her children, then walked back out of the city through the dangerous areas again.