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Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann,[1] sometimes given as Robert Alexander Schumann,[2] (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856) was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is one of the most famous and important Romantic composers of the 19th century.

Schumann had hoped to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist, having been assured by his teacher, Friedrich Wieck, that he could become the finest pianist in Europe after only a few years of study with him. However, when a self-inflicted hand injury prevented those hopes from being realized, he decided to focus his musical energies on composition. Schumann's published compositions were written exclusively for the piano until 1840; he later composed works for piano and orchestra, many lieder (songs for voice and piano), four symphonies, an opera, and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. His writings about music appeared mostly in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ("The New Journal for Music"), a Leipzig-based publication that he jointly founded.

In 1840, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with his piano instructor (Wieck), Schumann married Wieck's daughter, pianist Clara Wieck, who also composed music and had a considerable concert career, including premieres of many of her husband's works.

Robert Schumann died in middle age; for the last two years of his life, after an attempted suicide, he was confined to a mental institution at his own request.




Early life

Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony the fifth and last child of the family.[3] Schumann began to compose before the age of seven, but his boyhood was spent in the cultivation of literature as much as music undoubtedly influenced by his father, August Schumann, a bookseller, publisher, and novelist.[4]

House where Schumann was born

At age 14, Schumann 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 Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as 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 Karlsbad, and he later developed an interest in the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn. His father, however, who had encouraged the boy's musical aspirations, died in 1826, and neither his mother nor his guardian thereafter encouraged a career 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, where he became a lifelong member of Corps [[1]] Saxo-Borussia [[2]] Heidelberg.


During Eastertide 1830 he heard Niccolò 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 Wieck, who assured him that he would be a successful concert pianist.

During his studies with 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 suggestion 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. The cause of the injury is not known, but in any event Schumann abandoned ideas of a concert career and devoted himself instead to composition. To this end he began a course of theory under Heinrich Dorn, a German composer six years his senior and the conductor of the Leipzig opera at that time. About this time Schumann considered composing an opera on the subject of Hamlet.


The fusion of literary ideas with musical ones, known as Program Music, may be said to have first taken shape in Papillons, Op. 2 ("Butterflies"),a musical portrayal of events in Jean Paul's novel "Die Flegeljahre" (in a letter from Leipzig (April 1832) he bids his brothers "read the last scene in Jean Paul's Flegeljahre as soon as possible, because the Papillons are intended as a musical representation of that masquerade."), This is foreshadowed to some extent in his first written criticism, an 1831 essay on Frédéric Chopin's variations on a theme from Mozart's Don Giovanni, published in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. Here Chopin's work is discussed by the imaginary characters created by Schumann himself: Florestan (the embodiment of Schumann's passionate, voluble side) and Eusebius (his dreamy, introspective side) – the counterparts of Vult and Walt in Flegeljahre. A third, Meister Raro, is called upon for his opinion. Raro may represent either the composer himself, Wieck's daughter Clara, or the combination of the two (Clara + Robert).

A youthful Robert Schumann

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 (without opus number, known as the Zwickauer). In Zwickau, the music was performed at a concert given by Clara Wieck, who was 13 years old. On this occasion Clara played bravura Variations by Henri Herz, a composer whom Schumann was already deriding as a philistine.[5] It was also on this occasion that Robert's mother said to Clara, "You must marry my Robert one day."[6] The G minor Symphony was not published by Schumann during his lifetime, but has been played and recorded in recent times. The 1833 deaths of his brother Julius and his sister-in-law Rosalie apparently led to a severe depressive episode, leading to his first apparent attempt at suicide.

Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik

By spring 1834, Schumann had sufficiently recovered to inaugurate Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ("New Journal for Music"), first published on 3 April 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, Beethoven and Weber, while he also promoted the work of some contemporary composers, including Chopin (who did not like Schumann's work)[7] and Berlioz, whom he praised for creating music of substance. On the other hand, Schumann disparaged the school of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Among Schumann's associates at this time were composers Ludwig Schunke (to whom Schumann's Toccata in C is dedicated), and Norbert Burgmüller.

Schumann's editorial duties during the summer of 1834 were interrupted by his relations with 16-year-old Ernestine von Fricken, to whom he became engaged. She was the adopted daughter of a rich Czech-born noble. Schumann broke off that engagement due to his growing attraction to 15-year-old Clara Wieck. Flirtatious exchanges in the spring of 1835 led to their first kiss on the steps outside Wieck's house in November and mutual declarations of love the next month in Zwickau, where Clara appeared in concert. Having learned in August 1835 that Ernestine von Fricken's birth was illegitimate, 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 budding romance 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 and ordered all correspondence between them burnt.


Robert Schumann, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber, in 1839.

Carnaval (Op. 9, 1834) is one of Schumann's most genial and characteristic piano works. Schumann begins nearly every section of Carnaval with the musical notes signified in German by the letters that spell Asch (A, E-flat, C, and B, or alternatively A-flat, C, and B; in German these are A, Es, C and H, and As C and H respectively), the town (then in Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic) in which Ernestine was born, and the notes are also the musical letters in Schumann's own name. Schumann named sections for both Ernestine ("Estrella") and Clara ("Chiarina"). Eusebius and Florestan, the imaginary figures appearing so often in his critical writings, also appear, alongside brilliant imitations of Chopin and Paganini. The work comes to a close with a march of the Davidsbündler – the league of King David's men against the Philistines in which may be heard the clear accents of truth in contest with the dull clamour of falsehood embodied in a quotation from the seventeenth century Grandfather's Dance. The work ends in sheer delirium and joy and a degree of mock-triumph. In Carnaval, Schumann went further than in Papillons, by conceiving the story as well as the musical representation (and also displaying a maturation of compositional resource).


On 3 October 1835 Schumann met Mendelssohn at Wieck's house in Leipzig, and his enthusiastic appreciation of that artist was shown with the same generous freedom that distinguished his acknowledgement of Chopin's greatness and most of his other colleagues, and which later prompted him to publicly pronounce the then-unknown Johannes Brahms a genius.

Clara Wieck in 1838

Despite her father's opposition, Clara and Robert continued a clandestine relationship, which matured into a fullblown romance. In 1837 he asked her father's consent to their marriage, but was refused, ridiculing his daughter's wish to 'throw herself away on a penniless composer'.

In the series of piano pieces Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, Schumann once more gives a sublime illustration of the fusion of literary and musical ideas as embodied conceptions in such pieces as Warum and In der Nacht. After he had written the latter of these two he detected in the music the fanciful suggestion of a series of episodes from the story of Hero and Leander. The collection begins (in Des Abends) with a notable example of Schumann's predilection for rhythmic ambiguity, as unrelieved syncopation plays heavily against the time signature, (leading to a feeling of 3/8 in a movement marked 2/8) somewhat analogous to the Faschingsschwank aus Wien's first movement. After a fable, and the appropriately titled "Dream's Confusion," the collection ends on an introspective note in the manner of Eusebius.

In 1837 Schumann published his Symphonic Studies, a complex set of etude-like variations written in 1834-1835, which demand a finished piano technique. These were based on a theme by the adoptive father of Ernestine von Fricken. The work is described as "one of the peaks of the piano literature, lofty in conception and faultless in workmanship" [Hutcheson]. This work was dedicated to the young English composer William Sterndale Bennett for whom Schumann had a high regard when they worked together in Leipzig

The Davidsbündlertänze op.6, (also published in 1837 despite the low opus number) literally 'Dances of the League of David', are also an embodiment of the struggle between enlightened Romanticism and musical philistinism, with the two sides of Schumann's character actually credited with the composition of the work (the more passionate numbers are signed F.(Florestan) and the more dreamy signed E.(Eusebius)). The work begins with the 'motto of C.W.' (Clara Wieck) denoting her support for the ideals of the 'Davidsbund'. The 'Bund' itself was a work of Schumann's imagination, members of which were kindred spirits (as he saw them) such as Chopin, Paganini and Clara, as well as the personalized Florestan and Eusebius.

Kinderszenen, Op. 15, completed in 1838, a favourite of Schumann's piano works exquisitely depicts the innocence and playfulness of childhood. The Träumerei, no.7 of the set, is one of the most famous piano pieces ever written, existing in myriad forms and transcriptions, and has been the favourite encore of several great pianists including Vladimir Horowitz. The piece is melodic and deceptively simple, but has been described as "complex" in its harmonic structure.[8]

Kreisleriana (1838), considered one of Schumann's greatest works, also carried his fantasy, and emotional range deeper. Johannes Kreisler, the fictional poet created by poet E. T. A. Hoffmann who is characterized as a "romantic brought into contact with reality", was employed by Schumann as an imaginary mouthpiece for the sonic expression of emotional states, in music that is "fantastic and mad." According to Hutcheson ("The Literature of the Piano") this work is "among the finest efforts of Schumann's genius. He never surpassed the searching beauty of the slow movements (Nos. 2,4,6) or the urgent passion of others (Nos. 1,3,5,7)...To appreciate it a high level of aesthetic intelligence is required...This is no facile music, there is severity alike in its beauty and its passion."

The Fantasia in C, Op. 17, written in the summer of 1836, is a work of passion and deep pathos, imbued with the spirit of late Beethoven. This is no doubt deliberate, since the proceeds from sales of the work were initially intended to be contributed towards the construction of a monument to Beethoven (who had died in 1827). The closing of the first movement of the Fantasy contains a musical quote from Beethoven's song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98 (at the "Adagio" coda, taken from the last song of the cycle). The original titles of the movements were to be "Ruins", "Triumphal Arch" and "The Starry Crown". According to Liszt,[9] who played the work for Schumann, and to whom Schumann dedicated the work, the Fantasy was apt to be played too heavily, and should have a dreamier (träumerisch) character than vigorous German pianists tended to impart. Liszt also said, "It is a noble work, worthy of Beethoven, whose career, by the way, it is supposed to represent."[10] Again according to Hutcheson: "No words can describe the Phantasie, no quotations set forth the majesty of its genius. It must suffice to say that it is Schumann's greatest work in large form for piano solo."

After a visit to Vienna during which he discovered Franz Schubert's previously unknown Symphony No. 9 in C, in 1839 Schumann wrote the Faschingsschwank aus Wien ("Carnival Prank from Vienna"). Most of the joke is in the central section of the first movement, in which a thinly veiled reference to the Marseillaise (then banned in Vienna owing to the memory of Napoleon's Austrian invasion) is given. The festive mood does not preclude moments of melancholic introspection in the Intermezzo.

After a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father (which was ultimately resolved by waiting until she was of legal age and therefore no longer subject to her father's consent), Schumann married Clara Wieck on 12 September 1840, at Schönefeld.


In the years 1832-1839, Schumann had written almost exclusively for the piano, but in 1840 alone he wrote 168 songs. Indeed 1840 (referred to as the Liederjahr or "year of song") is highly significant in Schumann's musical legacy despite his earlier deriding works for piano and voice as inferior.

Prior to the legal case and subsequent marriage, the lovers exchanged love letters and rendezvoused in secret. Robert would often wait in a cafe for hours in a nearby city just to see Clara for a few minutes after one of her concerts. The strain of this long courtship, (they finally married in 1840) and its consummation led to this great outpouring of lieder (vocal songs with piano accompaniment). This is evident in "Widmung", for example, where he uses the melody from Schubert's "Ave Maria" in the postlude – in homage to Clara. Schumann's biographers have attributed the sweetness, the doubt and the despair of these songs to the varying emotions aroused by his love for Clara and the uncertainties of their future together.

Robert and Clara had eight children, Emil (who died in infancy in 1847), Marie (1841-1929), Elise (1843-1928), Julie (1845-1872), Ludwig (1848-1899), Ferdinand (1849-1891), Eugenie (1851-1938), and Felix (1854-1879).

Robert and Clara Schumann.jpg

His chief song-cycles of this period were his settings of the Liederkreis of Joseph von Eichendorff (depicting a series of moods relating to or inspired by nature) (Op. 39), the Frauenliebe und -leben of Chamisso (Op. 42) (relating the tale of a woman's marriage, childbirth and widowhood), the Dichterliebe of Heine (Op. 48) (depicting a lover rejected, but coming to terms with his painful loss through renunciation and forgiveness) and Myrthen, a collection of songs, including poems by Goethe, Rückert, Heine, Byron, Burns and Moore. The songs Belsatzar (Op. 57) and Die beiden Grenadiere (Op. 49), both to Heine's words, show Schumann at his best as a ballad writer, though the dramatic ballad is less congenial to him than the introspective lyric. The opus 35, opus 40 and opus 98a sets (words by Justinus Kerner, Chamisso and Goethe respectively), although less well known, also contain songs of lyric and dramatic quality.

Franz Grillparzer said,

"He has made himself a new ideal world in which he moves almost as he wills."

Despite his achievements, Schumann received few tokens of honour; he was awarded a doctoral degree by the University of Jena in 1840, and in 1843 a professorship in the Conservatory of Music which Felix Mendelssohn had founded in Leipzig that same year. On one occasion, accompanying his wife on a concert tour in Russia, Schumann was asked whether 'he too was a musician'. He was to remain sensitive to his wife's greater international acclaim as a pianist.

In 1841 he wrote two of his four symphonies, no. 1 in Bb (op.38, known as the 'Spring') and no. 4 in D minor (first published in 1 movement, but later revised extensively and published as op.120- this work is a pioneering essay in 'cyclic form'). He devoted 1842 to composing chamber music, which included the Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44, now one of his best known and most admired works, the Piano Quartet and three string quartets. In 1843 he wrote Paradise and the Peri, his first essay at concerted vocal music, an Oratorio style work based on the "Lalla Rook" of Thomas Moore. After this, his compositions were not confined during any particular period to any one form.

The stage in his life when he was deeply engaged in setting Goethe's Faust to music (1844–53) was a critical one for his health. He spent the first half of 1844 with Clara on tour in Russia. On returning to Germany he abandoned his editorial work, and left Leipzig for Dresden, where he suffered from 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 A5 sounding in his ears.

His state of unease and neurasthenia is reflected in his Symphony in C, numbered second but third in order of composition, in which the composer explores states of exhaustion, obsession and depression, culminating in Beethovenian spiritual triumph. Also published in 1845 was his Piano Concerto in A Minor (op. 54), originally published as a one movement Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, one of the most popular and oft-recorded of all piano concertos; pace Hutcheson "Schumann achieved a masterly work and we inherited the finest piano concerto since Mozart and Beethoven".

In 1846 he felt 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. This pleased him, since at that time he was famous only in Dresden and Leipzig.

His only opera was written in 1848: Genoveva, Op. 81. In it, Schumann attempted to abolish recitative, which he regarded as an interruption to the musical flow (an influence on Wagner; Schumann's consistently flowing melody can be seen as a forerunner to Wagner's Melos). The subject of Genoveva, based on Ludwig Tieck and Christian Friedrich Hebbel, was not an ideal choice, often considered to be a text lacking dramatic qualities and as a result the work has not held the repertoire. As early as 1842 the possibilities of German opera had been keenly realized by Schumann, who wrote, "Do you know my prayer as an artist, night and morning? It is called 'German Opera.' Here is a real field for enterprise . . . something simple, profound, German." And in his notebook of suggestions for the text of operas are found amongst others: Nibelungen, Lohengrin and Till Eulenspiegel.

The music to Byron's Manfred was written in 1849, and the overture of which is one of his most frequently performed orchestral works. The insurrection of Dresden caused Schumann to move to Kreischa, a little village a few miles outside the city. In August 1849, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Goethe's birth, such scenes of Schumann's Faust as were already completed were performed in Dresden, Leipzig and Weimar, Liszt, as always giving unwearied assistance and encouragement. The rest of the work was written later in 1849, and the overture (which Schumann described as "one of the sturdiest of [his] creations") in 1853.

Robert Schumann monument at his birthplace Zwickau, Germany
Grave of Robert and Clara Schumann at Bonn

After 1850

From 1850 to 1854, Schumann composed in a wide variety of genres, however controversy has raged regarding the merit of his output at this time; a widely held view was that his works of this period already showed signs of mental breakdown and creative decay. However this popular belief that this music was inferior has been questioned heavily in more recent times: the changes in style may be explained by lucid experimentation.[11]

In 1850 Schumann succeeded Ferdinand Hiller as musical director at Düsseldorf, but he was a poor conductor and quickly aroused the opposition of the musicians. According to Schonberg ("The Great Conductors") "The great composer was impossible on the platform...There is something heartrending about poor Schumann's epochal inefficiency as a conductor." His contract was eventually terminated. From 1851 to 1853 he visited Switzerland, Belgium and Leipzig. In 1851 he completed his Symphony No. 3 "Rhenish" (a work containing 5 movements and whose 4th movement is apparently intended to represent an episcopal coronation ceremony), and he revised what would be published as his fourth symphony. On 30 September 1853, the 20-year-old Brahms knocked unannounced on the door of the Schumanns carrying a letter of introduction from the violinist Joseph Joachim (Schumann was not at home, and would not meet Brahms until the next day). Brahms amazed Clara and Robert with his music, stayed with them for several weeks and became a close family friend (later working closely with Clara to popularize Schumann's compositions during her long widowhood). During this time Schumann, Brahms and Schumann's pupil Albert Dietrich collaborated on the composition of the 'F-A-E' Sonata for Joachim; Schumann also published an article, "Neue Bahnen" (New Paths) in the Neue Zeitschrift (his first article for many years in the paper he founded) hailing the unknown young composer (Brahms) from Hamburg, who had published nothing, as "the Chosen One" who "was destined to give ideal expression to the times."[12] It was an extraordinary way to present Brahms to the musical world, setting up enormous expectations of him which he did not fulfill for many years.[13] In January 1854, Schumann went to Hanover, where he heard a performance of his Paradise and the Peri organized by Joachim and Brahms. Two years later at Schumann's request the work was received its first English performance conducted by William Sterndale Bennett.

Schumann returned to Düsseldorf and set himself to editing his complete works and making an anthology on the subject of music, but a renewal of the symptoms that had threatened him earlier showed itself. Besides the single note (possibly evidence of tinnitus), he now imagined that voices sounded in his ear and he heard angelic music. One night he suddenly left his bed, having dreamt or imagined that a ghost (purportedly the spirit of either Schubert or Mendelssohn) had dictated a "spirit theme" to him. In truth, this theme was merely a recollection of one he had used several times before: in his Second String Quartet, again in his Lieder-Album für die Jugend, and finally in the slow movement of his Violin Concerto. In the days leading up to his suicide attempt, Schumann wrote five variations on this theme for the piano, his last published work[14]. Brahms published it in a supplementary volume to the complete edition of Schumann's piano music, and in 1861 Brahms published his op.23 variations based on this theme.

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 27 February 1854, he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a bridge into the Rhine River. Rescued by boatmen and taken home, he asked to be taken to an asylum for the insane. He entered Dr. Franz Richarz's sanatorium in Endenich, a quarter of Bonn, and remained there until his death on 29 July 1856.

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.[15] 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 was buried at the Zentral Friedhof ("Central Cemetery"), 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 later years. She became the authoritative editor of her husband's works for Breitkopf & Härtel. It was rumoured that she and 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.


The Schumann/Schubert error stamps: Schubert's music is on the top stamp, and Schumann's on the bottom

Schumann exerted considerable influence in the nineteenth century and beyond, despite his adoption of more conservative modes of composition after his marriage. He left an array of acclaimed music in virtually all the forms then known. Partly through his protégé Brahms, Schumann's ideals and musical vocabulary became widely disseminated. Composer Edward Elgar called Schumann "my ideal."

Schumann has not often been confused with Austrian composer Franz Schubert, but one well-known example occurred in 1956, when East Germany issued a pair of postage stamps featuring Schumann's picture against an open score that featured Schubert's music. The stamps were soon replaced by a pair featuring music written by Schumann.


Fictional portrayals

Song of Love was a 1947 film starring Paul Henreid as Schumann, Katharine Hepburn as Clara Wieck, Robert Walker as Johannes Brahms and Henry Daniell as Franz Liszt.

Peter Schamoni's 1983 movie Frühlingssinfonie [Spring Symphony] tells the story of Robert and Clara's romance, against her father's opposition. Robert was played by Herbert Grönemeyer, Clara by Nastassja Kinski, and Clara's father by Rolf Hoppe. The role of Niccolò Paganini was played by the violinist Gidon Kremer. The score was written by Grönemeyer and conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.


Media files for the Kinderszenen can be found with the article on them. Other media files are:

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  • Daverio, J, "Robert Schumann," Grove music online, L Macy (ed), accessed June 24, 2007 (subscription access)
  • Ostwald, Peter, Schumann — The inner voices of a musical genius, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1985 ISBN 1555530141.
  • Scholes, Percy A, The Oxford Companion to Music, Tenth Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1970 ISBN 0-19-311306-61.


  1. ^ Daverio, Grove online. According to Daverio, there is no evidence of a middle name "Alexander" which is given in some sources.
  2. ^ Scholes, page 932.
  3. ^ Ostwald, page 11
  4. ^ Robert Schumann (1982). Konrad Wolff. ed. On Music and Musicians. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520046856. 
  5. ^ Robert Schumann, musical Journal
  6. ^ Berthold Litzmann 1910
  7. ^ Vladimir Ashkenazy's notes, Favourite Chopin
  8. ^ Alban Berg, replying to charges that modern music was overly complex, pointed out that Kinderszenen is constructed on a complex base.
  9. ^ Strelezki: Personal Recollections of Chats with Liszt
  10. ^ Anton Strelezki: Personal Recollections of Chats with Liszt. London, 1893.
  11. ^ Daverio, Grove online, 19
  12. ^ Robert Schumann's Artikel Neue Bahnen, 28 October 1853
  13. ^ Brahms' A German Requiem, published in 1868, brought the first widespread agreement of his talent
  14. ^ From All Music Guide, available at
  15. ^ Reich, Nancy B., "Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman," Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 151.

Further reading

  • Fuller-Maitland, John Alexander. (1884). Schumann. S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 9781108004817)
  • Ostwald, Peter (1985). Schumann, The Inner Voices of a Musical Genius. Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1-55553-014-1. 
  • Perrey, Beate (ed.) (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Schumann. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521789508. 
  • Worthen, John (2007). Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300111606. . The author argues that the composer was mentally normal all his life, until the sudden onset of insanity near the end resulting from tertiary syphilis.

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856) was a German composer and pianist.


  • In order to compose, all you need do is remember a tune that nobody else has thought of.
  • The talent works, the genius creates.
  • If that's what your jokes sound like, I'm afraid to hear what your serious pieces sound like.
    • letter to Chopin after hearing Scherzo number 2 in B Flat Minor
  • Hats off gentlemen; a genius.
    • Comment after hearing an early set of variations by Chopin.

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Simple English

[[File: |frame|Robert Schumann]] Robert Schumann (b. Zwickau in Saxony, June 8, 1810; died July 29, 1856) was a famous German composer. He lived in the time called the Romantic period. He had to give up his plans for being a concert pianist because he injured his hand. He published a music magazine and wrote a lot of articles about music that had just been composed. His music is full of things that are typical of Romantic music: it is full of emotion, the pieces often have titles that describe things, and they are often inspired by literature. He wrote a great deal of piano music. Some of this music is hard to play, but other pieces are quite easy. Many children learn to play some of the pieces in his Album for the Young. His songs (Lieder) are among the best ever written. He also wrote larger works like symphonies and concertos and chamber music. Sometimes he felt very happy but at other times he was very depressed. These changes of mood can be heard in a lot of his music.



Robert Schumann was the fifth and youngest child of a bookseller and publisher. As a boy he liked reading the books in his father’s shop. He began to compose when he was seven. At school he was extremely good at music and literature. He passed his school-leaving examination with very high marks. His family wanted him to be a lawyer, so he went to Leipzig to study law but he hardly ever went to any lectures. He was much more interested in music and literature, but also in women and drinking. He took piano lessons from a teacher called Friedrich Wieck. Wieck had a 9 year-old daughter Clara. Many years later she was to become his wife. Clara was a brilliant pianist. Her father took her on concert tours because she was a prodigy.

Schumann started to compose short piano pieces and songs. He loved the music of Schubert and when he heard that Schubert had died he cried all night. He often practised the piano for seven hours a day. However, he started to have problems with his fingers. It has often been said that he hurt his hands because he made something to stretch his fingers, but people now think it was more likely due to mercury poisoning because doctors had used mercury to try to cure his syphilis. Whatever the reason, he could not continue to be a pianist and he spent the rest of his life composing and writing about music. Many of his articles appeared in a journal called Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music) which he started.

In 1834 he became engaged to a girl of sixteen called Ernestine, but then Schumann broke off the engagement because he loved Clara Wieck. Clara’s parents did not want her to marry him. Her father did everything he could to stop the marriage. Maybe he guessed that Schumann had syphilis, maybe he knew that he was often drunk. In the end, after many arguments, court cases and secret meetings between Robert and Clara, they were married in 1840.

Schumann suffered from manic depression. When he was depressed he hardly wrote anything, but 1840 was a happy year for him and he wrote lots of songs as well as orchestral music. In 1841 he wrote four symphonies. In 1842 they went on a concert tour together, but Schumann found it difficult because Clara was more famous than he was. He returned alone to Leipzig to work at his publishing. He felt depressed again at this time and drank a lot of beer and champagne. He was happy again when Clara returned, and composed some chamber music. In 1844 they toured Russia and played to the Tsar. By August he had a complete nervous breakdown and could not bear to listen to his own music. It took him some time to recover.

By now he was good at writing all kinds of music. He wrote music for the famous play Faust by Goethe. He wrote one opera, Genoveva , in 1849. His fame spread slowly. For many years Dresden and Leipzig were the only towns where he was famous. In 1850 he became musical director at Düsseldorf. In 1853 he met Brahms. Brahms became a great friend of the Schumann family. Schumann published an article in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik with the heading “Neue Bahnen” (“New Paths”) in which he said that Brahms (who was 20 at the time) was going to be a very great composer. He was right.

Schumann had often thought of trying to kill himself. On 27 February 1854 he threw himself into the river Rhine. He was rescued by some boatmen, but when they brought him to land he seemed to have gone quite mad. He was taken to an asylum where he spent the last two years of his life. He died on 29 July 1856.

Schumann’s music

File:Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann in 1839.

Schumann’s piano music is very well known. Although he had to give up his career as a pianist his wife Clara played his pieces and helped them to become famous. Many of his piano works are collections of short pieces, each with a title e.g. Papillons (Butterflies), Davidsbündlertänze, Carnaval. Schumann was thinking of carnival celebrations when he wrote these pieces. The Davidsbündler was a group of people Schumann belonged to who did not like the “Philistines” (people who did not enjoy good music, named after the Philistines in the Bible) In Carnaval the two sides of Schumann’s personality are represented by Florestan and Eusebius. Schumann's manic depression (the happy and the tragic moods that he had) are heard side by side in his music. Other piano works include Scenes from Childhood, Kreisleriana and the popular Album for the Young which has some quite easy pieces like Soldier’s March and the famous Träumerei (Dreaming). There are also longer works for piano: 3 sonatas, a Toccata and a Phantasie.

His chamber music includes string quartets and a famous piano quintet.

Schumann was one of the great composers of Lieder (German songs). He chose poetry by famous German poets and set them to music in very imaginative ways. The piano has very interesting accompaniments which help to bring out the meaning of the words. He wrote a song-cycle called Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love) which is a setting of some poems by Heinrich Heine. Another song-cycle is called Frauenliebe und -leben (Woman’s Love and Life) to words by Adalbert von Chamisso.

Although the young Schumann seemed to prefer writing short pieces, he became more interested in long works after meeting Mendelssohn. He was also inspired to write symphonies after he discovered Schubert’s Symphony no 9 which no one knew that Schubert had written. He found it in a box in Vienna at the house of Schubert’s brother. Schumann wrote four symphonies. One of his best is the Third which is often called the Rhenish Symphony (after the river Rhine). The Fourth in d minor is also a great work. Using only a few musical ideas he develops them in many ways and writes a long, four-movement work. His piano concerto is a great favourite. Clara Schumann played it with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at its first performance on New Year’s Day 1846.

After Schumann’s death Clara devoted herself to playing her husband’s music and helping it to become well known. She visited England regularly where she played at concerts. She also edited a lot of Schumann’s works for the publisher Breitkopf und Härtel.


  • New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (1980)



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