Robert Schumann

Robert-Schumann

Born: June 8th, 1810 in Zwickau, Germany
Died: July 29th, 1856 (at age 46) in Endenich, Germany
Nationality: German
Fields: Romantic era compsitions, music critic
Famous For: Intellectual and emotional compositions

Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau, Germany. His father was a bookseller but recognized his son’s talent early and arranged for piano lessons when he was seven years old. Schumann began to compose soon after that, but he was as interested in literature as he was music. His father encouraged both his passions. Schumann was well read in Goethe and Byron and he wrote poetry and a novel himself.

Early Life and Work

1826 was tragic for Schumann. His older sister, who was only 19, committed suicide and his father died soon after. Schumann’s mother wanted him to study law. To please her he enrolled at the University of Leipzig. But Schumann found law school repellent and asked his mother for permission to devote himself to music, which she gave.

By 1830, Schumann was taking lessons from Friedrich Wieck, a famous pianist from Leipzig. Though he had dreams of becoming a piano virtuoso, Schumann injured his right hand with a mechanism he had made to help him improve his fingering technique. He turned to composing and music criticism. He grew steadily and confidently as a composer and critic during the 1830’s.

Schumann’s compositions were largely for the piano. They were received favorably and some of them were published. In 1834, Schumann founded the highly influential New Journal for Music with a group of friends. He was editor from 1835 to 1844 and used the publication to support progressive musical art and disparage the salon music and silly Italian stage productions that were then popular. He published many of his essays under pseudonyms, and greatly influenced musical taste in the 19th century. He was among the first critics to acknowledge the greatness of Brahms and Chopin.

Marriage

In 1835 Schumann fell in love with 16 year old Clara Wieck, the daughter of his former piano teacher and landlord. Her father disapproved of the union because he wanted her to marry someone who was rich enough to support her own burgeoning career as a concert pianist. But Clara and Schumann married in 1840 against her father’s wishes. The marriage was a happy one and this is reflected in Schumann’s work. In 1840 he wrote more than 130 songs and in the next year he completed his first two symphonies. In 1842 he began to write chamber music.

Like Chopin and Liszt, Schumann was one of the creators of the modern piano technique. His compositions range from small character pieces such as “Butterflies,” “Carnaval” and “Scenes From Childhood,” to large classical works that include three piano sonatas, the “Fantasy in C Minor,” the “Symphonic Etudes,” and the “Piano Concerto in A Minor.” Critics value his symphonies somewhat less. His “Spring” symphony is considered the most Romantic in spirit, while his 1846 “Symphony No. 2 in C Major” is considered to be the most Classical in form and style.

Later Years and Death

In 1843 Schumann joined Mendelssohn’s newly founded conservatory in Leipzig, but his mental health was deteriorating. Schumann resigned from the conservatory, and moved to Dresden and then to Düsseldorff. There, he tried to kill himself by throwing himself into the Rhine, but he was saved. He was then confined to an asylum near Bonn. He died there at the age of 46, leaving behind Clara and their seven children.