Robert Schumann Biography
SCHUMANN, Robert (1810–56). A famous German composer. He was born at Zwickau, Saxony, where his father was a bookseller and publisher. At Zwickau he received piano lessons from a pedantic teacher, Kuntzsch. Until he was 21 years old he had no instruction in composition. He then placed himself under Heinrich Dorn at Leipzig. He had begun to compose, however, according to his own statement, when he was 11 years old, setting the 150th Psalm to music. His mother being opposed to his choosing a musical career, Robert in 1828 matriculated at the University of Leipzig as a law student. Most important at Leipzig was his acquaintance with Friedrich Wieck, a gifted musician, and his daughter Klara, then in her ninth year and a surprisingly skillful pianist. Schumann placed himself under Wieck's instruction, afterward entering the University of Heidelberg, where he devoted more time to music than to law. He soon became known throughout Heidelberg as a skillful pianist and received invitations to play at Mannheim and Mainz. His compositions in 1829 include several short pieces, which afterward appeared among the Papillons, and in 1830 he composed his Variations on the Name of Abegg, which owed their origin to the lively impression made upon him by Meta Abegg. In the spring of 1830 Schumann went to Frankfort to hear Paganini. The impression the great violinist's playing made upon him is shown by his adaptation of several of the famous capriccios for the piano.
Schumann now determined to abandon law. In notifying his mother he referred her to Wieck for an opinion as to his abilities, and, on his mother's writing to Wieck, the latter's decision was in favor of Schumann. He was at last beginning to realize the disadvantage of having neglected theoretical studies. On his return to Leipzig, in 1830, he resumed his piano lessons with Friedrich Wieck. Dissatisfied with the progress he was making as a pianist, he devised a system of digital gymnastics, with the result that he injured the sinews of the third finger of his right hand so severely that he never fully regained its use. It was this forced abandonment of a pianist's career which led Schumann to arrange for instruction in composition from Heinrich Dorn, who took him as a pupil.
The year 1831 is important because during it Schumann first came before the public as a musical critic, contributing to the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung an enthusiastic critique of Chopin's Don Juan Fantasia. In November, 1832, he was in Zwickau, where at a concert given by Klara Wieck, then 13 years old, a symphony by him in G minor was performed. The score of this work was lost and not found again until the summer of 1912. In 1833 he completed the Paganini transcriptions and wrote his piano impromptus on a theme by Klara Wieck, a composition which has romantic interest, as the young pianist, with whom his relations at that time were wholly artistic, later became his wife.
In 1834 Schumann and several other enthusiastic musicians and critics banded themselves under the name Davidsbündler to wage war against philistinism in music. They established the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Schumann's contributions, when not over his own name, were signed Florestan Eusebius, Meister Raro, "2" and "12." One of his later critiques in which, under the title "Neue Bahnen," he hailed Brahms, who was then entirely unknown, as a musical Messiah, is a most notable example of musical prescience. Through the columns of his paper he also first proclaimed the genius of Chopin and accelerated the growing fame of Schubert and Mendelssohn, aided Franz and Gade, and practically introduced Berlioz to the musical world by his review of the Symphonie phantastìque. In all matters relating to the achievements of other musicians he was most liberally appreciative, save in the case of Wagner.
Schumann's important musical work of 1834 was the Etudes symphoniques. The following year saw the production of two sonatas—the first, in F sharp minor, significantly dedicated "to Klara." Subsequently he went to Vienna in hopes of there placing the Neue Zeitschrift on a more remunerative basis, but was unsuccessful. It was during his Vienna sojourn, however, that he visited Schubert's brother Ferdinand and discovered Schubert's great C major Symphony. Friedrich Wieck had long opposed the marriage of his daughter to Schumann, but in September, 1840, they were at last united. The years of Schumann's uncertainty regarding the result of his ardent passion had been productive of some of his finest music. "Truly," he wrote to Dorn, "the contest for Klara has yielded much music." Several of the beautiful "Fantasiestücke," "Noveletten," "Nachtstücke," and the "Faschingsschwank aus Wien" for piano; his first symphony; and above all the songs, 138 in number, written in 1840 and including the famous "Liederkreis" and "Dichterliebe" of Heine and "Frauenliebe und Leben" of Chamisso are among the productions inspired by his love for Klara.
When Mendelssohn founded the Conservatory at Leipzig, Schumann, who was on terms of intimacy with him, became one of the instructors, but made little impression as a teacher. Among the important works composed before his removal to Dresden are the choral work Das Paradies und die Peri and the celebrated piano quintet. The Schumanns resided in Dresden from 1844 to 1850, when they settled in Düsseldorf. The principal works of the Dresden period are the piano concerto (op. 54), the C major Symphony, the opera Genoveva (unsuccessfully produced in Leipzig, 1850), the Manfred music, and the scenes from Goethe's Faust. Schumann's conductorship of the Chorgesang-Verein also was productive of much choral music.
Even while in Dresden he had suffered from attacks of melancholia, and these became frequent after he moved to Düsseldorf, whither he had been called as musical director. Here, nevertheless, he composed the Rhenish Symphony (inspired by the festivities incidental to the elevation of the Archbishop of Cologne to the rank of Cardinal) and the D minor Symphony. On Feb. 27, 1854, during a fit of melancholy, he attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine. He was rescued and taken to a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn, where he died, July 29, 1856.
Schumann's compositions are essentially expressions of moods. He was one of the most subjective, most "intimate" of composers, and for this reason most successful in the more compact forms such as the Lied, and in one-movement pieces like his "Noveletten" and "Fantasiestücke," or in works consisting of a series of smaller divisions like his "Kinderscenen" and "Faschingsschwank." While this is true in a general way, the piano concerto, piano quintet, his sonatas and symphonies rank among the best of their kind, though, as regards the symphonies, his orchestration is far from brilliant. In his compositions he was one of the founders, and in his writings the chief advocate, of the Neo-Romantic school, and nowhere have the tendencies of this school found more compact and eloquent expression than in his own works. His songs differ from those of his immediate forerunner, Schubert, in a closer interknitting of voice and accompaniment, in which respect Brahms is, par excellence, Schumann's successor. As a composer for the piano Schumann's importance cannot well be overestimated. Together with Chopin and Liszt he is the founder of a new piano technic, exploiting the utmost possibilities of the instrument. As for musical content and beauty his piano works rank with those of Chopin. A complete edition of his works in 34 volumes, edited by Klara Schumann (q.v.), was published by Breitkopf and Härtel. In 1893 Brahms edited a supplementary volume. Schumann's criticisms and writings on music were published in four volumes under the title Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker (Eng. trans. by F. Raymond-Ritter).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 578-579.