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R.Schumann
House Of Sensibilities

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Robert Schumann
b.Zwickau,Germany 8 June 1810
d.Edenich,Germany 29 July 1856

Robert Schumann was born the son of a bookseller and publisher. From his father's library, the young Schumann fell in love with literature and at one point was even considering a career as a poet. However, he showed immense interest and ability for the piano too, he was able to improvise "sketches" depicting his friends, on the instrument. We are to see the young man combining his two loves in his eventual career as a composer, writing music that always contain strong literary influences.

It is puzzling why Schumann took up law in University (probably to please his mother). But it is no surprise that he neglected his studies and spent all his time on music. Eventually, he gave in to his heart and began serious piano study in 1830 with Friedrich Wieck, the most prominent teacher then, with the intention of becoming a piano virtuoso. Unfortunately for him (and luckily for us), a finger ailment forced him to give up his initial intent, but enabled him to concentrate on composition. In the 1830s, his compositions were mainly for the piano, amongst them the very popular Kinderszenen "Scenes from Childhood". At the same time, Schumann fell in love with the pretty and innocent Clara, daughter of his teacher, who was a virtuoso pianist and a composer in her own right. The elder Wieck however severely opposed the union (probably because of Schumann's family history of mental problems) and Schumann had to take him to court to legalize the marriage (the only instance where Schumann's legal knowledge came in handy!).

The year of their marriage (1840) was a happy year for Schumann, and his creative and melodic powers were at their height. From that year came an outpouring of lieder (the German song), many of which describes the joy of love. In the ensuing years, Schumann turned to other genres, writing orchestral, chamber and choral music. He also obtained a teaching post in the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatory. All seemed well for the Schumanns, Robert was a successful composer and Clara was winning the world as a pianist. However, tragedy was soon to struck.

Schumann, ever the sensitive man, already had suffered bouts of depression in the late 1830s. Although he seemed to have recovered then, the mental discomforts returned in the mid 1840s, hampering his creativity. In 1850, he took up a conducting post in Dusseldorf but was ill-suited to the responsibilities, being unable to excercise authority on the orchestra. From then on, his health and spirits failed rapidly. He suffered hallucinations and in 1854, he threw himself into the Rhine river but was rescued by fishermen. At his own request, he was put up in an asylum in Edenich where he died an insane man in 1856.

Schumann was one of the most important composer of German romanticism. His literary bent was realized in his often descriptive music, where he came up with fanciful titles for his compositions. Forms meant little to him, melodic spontaneity and exuberence was everything. His piano music are the staple of every pianist today and his songs could be ranked side by side Schubert's. Although his orchestral music is often critisized for the thick scoring and lack of fluency, the spontaneity of his writing never fails to win over the audience. In his time, he contributed to the musical circle through his perceptive and witty writings in the local music journal. He also encouraged and helped launched the careers of many young composers such as William Sterndale Bennett and especially, Johannes Brahms. In our time, we will never fail to be delighted by the youthfulness and refreshing quality of his many lovely compositions.

Schumann Picture Gallery

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Schumann as a boy

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Robert and Clara Schumann

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Schumann in his last years

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Manuscript of Schumann's 4th Symphony

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Schumann's grave

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Click on the Schumann icons below to access the various links.

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A project on Schumann:lots of interesting material

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Schumann Discussion Deck:A Schumann forum

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The Davidsbundler:The society fighting against "new" music "founded" by Schumann

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Schumann midi files

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The Clara Schumann Page

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My favourite Schumann works

Piano Concerto in A Minor

Schumann's only piano concerto was originally a 1 movement work dedicated to Clara as a wedding gift. I think it is the dreamiest and loveliest music that Schumann has ever written. It shows Schumann at his spontaneous best. The recording I like is the one by Sviatoslav Richter on DG. In view of the poor orchestral accompaniment, he has balanced out the masculine and feminine elements of the work single-handedly. I feel this is the introductory work for anyone who wants to experience Schumann.


Piano Quintet

Schumann's Piano Quintet is a very well written work that employs the cyclic form (the work as an entirety) where the opening theme recurs towards the end. The opening theme really conjures up a myriad of moods. It's at the same time noble, elegant, refreshing and perhaps heroic. Listen to Arthur Rubinstein play it with the Guaneri quartet. It's chamber music making at its best.


Davidsbundler Tanz (Dance in the league of David)

The Davidsbundler is a society founded by Schumann to fight against the emergence of "new" music. This piano work consists of many little character pieces, each having its own unique personality. Boris Berezovsky plays them with great sensitivity on the Teldec label.


Symphony No.2

I think Schumann's second symphony is the technically best written amongst the four. Listen out for the lively Mendelssohnian 2nd movement and to the grand conclusion. The slow movement is one of the most inspired music Schumann has ever written. It is so full of pathos that it brings tears to one's eyes. There are so many good recordings of the work, try the ones by Sinopoli or Bernstein, both on DG.


Symphony No.4

The fourth symphony has a intense and tragic opening very typical of the romantic spirit. The finale is very very exciting especially with the appropriate accelerando in Bernstein's DG recording.


Violin Concerto

Schumann's sole violin concerto was written very late in his life. It was to suffer at the hands of the composer's violinist friend, Joachim, whom the work was dedicated to. Joachim claimed that the work's not worthy of Schumann's true genius. It is true that the mentally ill composer's declining facilities were apparent (the finale does not really "take off" and the solo violin part is not really violinistic). However, the slow movement is a gem. Its sheer inspiration and beauty deserves a listen!

Others

Schumann's numerous piano music is very worth listening too. Young pianists today have many opportunities of playing his pieces especially written for them, like the Scenes from Childhood and Album for the Young.

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Some interesting Schumann trivia

Schumann was very sensitive by nature and was easily moved to tears.

One of Schumann's sons suffered from mental illness too.

Schumann's Violin Concerto, one of his last works disappeared from the concert platform until many years later, when a famous Hungarian violinist claimed that Schumann visited her in her dreams, asking her to unearth the work for performance.

In one of his hallucinations, Schumann thought that the spirits of Mendelssohn and Schubert had come to him, presenting him with music themes.

Created on 15/4/2001
Updated on 21/5/2001