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Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes given as Robert Alexander Schumann, (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 Leipzigmarker-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 Zwickaumarker, Saxonymarker the fifth and last child of the family. Schumann began to compose before the age of seven, but his boyhood was spent in the cultivation of literature as much as music because his father, August Schumann, was a bookseller, publisher, and novelist.
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 Carlsbad, 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 for him in music. In 1828 he left school, and after a tour, during which he met Heinrich Heine in Munichmarker, he went to Leipzig to study law. In 1829 his law studies continued in Heidelbergmarker.


During Eastertide 1830 he heard Niccolò Paganini play in Frankfurtmarker. 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 the literary idea with its musical illustration, which may be said to have first taken shape in Papillons, Op. 2 ("Butterflies"), 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 Jean Paul's novel 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).

However, by the time Schumann had written Papillons in 1831 he went a step further. The scenes and characters of his favorite novel had now passed definitely and consciously into the written music, and 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."

In the winter of 1832 Schumann visited his relations at Zwickau and Schneebergmarker, where he performed the first movement of his Symphony in G minor. 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 opposing as a philistine. 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 not published by Schumann during his lifetime, but has been played and recorded since then. The 1833 deaths of his brother Julius and his sister-in-law Rosalie apparently affected Schumann with a profound melancholy, 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 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, Beethoven and Weber, while he also promoted the work of some contemporary composers, including Chopin (who did not like Schumann's work) 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 Bohemian, from whose variations on a theme Schumann constructed his own Symphonic Studies. 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 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 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.


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 Aschmarker (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 Republicmarker) 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. In Carnaval, Schumann went further than in Papillons, by conceiving the story as well as the musical illustration.


On 3 October 1835 Schumann met Mendelssohn at Wieck's house in Leipzig, and his appreciation of that 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 the then-unknown Johannes Brahms, when they first met in 1853.

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 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 predeliction for rhythmic ambiguity, as unrelieved syncopation plays heavily against the time signature, similar to the Faschingsschwank aus Wien's first movement. After a nicely told fable, and the appropriately titled "Dream's Confusion," the collection ends on an introspective note in the manner of Eusebius.

The Kinderszenen, Op. 15, completed in 1838, a favourite of Schumann's piano works, is playful and childlike, and nicely captures the innocence of childhood. The Träumerei is one of the most famous piano pieces ever written, and exists in myriad forms and transcriptions, and has been the favourite encore of several piano artists, including Vladimir Horowitz. The piece appears simple, but has been defended as "complex" in its harmonic structure.

The Kreisleriana (1838), considered one of Schumann's greatest works, also carried his fantasy and emotional range further. Johannes Kreisler, the fictional poet created by poet E. T. A. Hoffman who is limned as a "romantic brought into contact with reality", was appropriated by Schumann who used him as an imaginary mouthpiece for the sonic expression of emotional states, in music that is "fantastic and mad."

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 first song of an die ferne Geliebte). According to Liszt, 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."

In 1837 Schumann published his Études symphoniques, a complex set of variations written in 1834-1835, which demand a powerful piano technique.

After a visit to Viennamarker 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, into which a thinly veiled reference to the Marseillaise (then banned in Vienna owing to the memory of Napoleon's Austrian invasion) is squeezed. 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 the father's command), Schumann married Clara Wieck on 12 September 1840, at Schönefeld.


Before 1840, Schumann had written almost exclusively for the piano, but in this one year he wrote 168 songs. 1840 (scholars refer to it as the Liederjahr or "year of the lied") is the most important time in Schumann's musical legacy. He had secretly courted Clara because her father did not accept him as a suitor. They 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. After this long courtship, they finally married in 1840, and this great outpour of lieder (vocal songs with piano accompaniment) is directly related to the happiness he felt from finally having his Clara. This is evident in "Widmung", for example, where he uses the melody from Schubert's "Ave Maria" in the postlude- as a means of exalting 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. Robert and Clara had eight children, one of whom died in infancy.

His chief song-cycles of this period were his settings of the Liederkreis of Joseph von Eichendorff (Op. 39), the Frauenliebe und -leben of Chamisso (Op. 42), the Dichterliebe of Heine (Op. 48) 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 (to words of Justinus Kerner) and opus 40 sets, although less well known, also contain songs of lyric and dramatic quality.
As 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 Jenamarker in 1840, and in 1843 a professorship in the Conservatory of Musicmarker 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. 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. In 1843 he wrote Paradise and the Peri, his first essay at concerted vocal music. 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 Dresdenmarker, 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. In 1846 he felt recovered and in the winter revisited Vienna, traveling to Praguemarker and Berlinmarker 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. It is interesting for its attempt to abolish the recitative, which Schumann regarded as an interruption to the musical flow. The subject of Genoveva, based on Ludwig Tieck and Christian Friedrich Hebbel, was not a happy choice; but it is worth remembering that 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. Schumann's consistently flowing melody in this work can be seen as a forerunner to Wagner's Melos.

The music to Byron's Manfred was written in 1849. The insurrection of Dresden caused Schumann to move to Kreischamarker, 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 Weimarmarker, 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.

After 1850

From 1850 to 1854, the nature of Schumann's works is extremely varied. The popular belief that the quality of his music quickly decayed has been questioned: the changes in style may be explained by lucid experimentation.

In 1850 Schumann succeeded Ferdinand Hiller as musical director at Düsseldorfmarker, but he was a poor conductor and quickly aroused the opposition of the musicians. His contract was eventually terminated. From 1851 to 1853 he visited Switzerland, Belgium and Leipzig. In 1851 he completed his Symphony No. 3 "Rhenish", 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) 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.” 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. In January 1854, Schumann went to Hanovermarker, where he heard a performance of his Paradise and the Peri organized by Joachim and Brahms.

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, 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. Brahms published the theme in a supplementary volume to the complete edition of Schumann's piano music, and in 1861 Brahms 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 27 February 1854, he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a bridge into the Rhinemarker River. Rescued by boatmen and taken home, he asked to be taken to an asylum for the insane. He entered Dr. Franz Richarz' sanitarium in Endenichmarker, a quarter of Bonnmarker, 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. 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 subsequent years. She became the authoritative editor of her husband's works for Breitkopf und Härtel. It was rumored 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.


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 Germanymarker 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.



Media files for the Kinderszenen can be found with the article on them.


  • 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, musical Journal
  5. Berthold Litzmann 1910
  6. Vladimir Ashkenazy's notes, Favourite Chopin
  7. Alban Berg, replying to charges that modern music was overly complex, pointed out that Kinderszenen is constructed on a complex base.
  8. Strelezki: Personal Recollections of Chats with Liszt
  9. Anton Strelezki: Personal Recollections of Chats with Liszt. London, 1893.
  10. Daverio, Grove online, 19
  11. Robert Schumann's Artikel Neue Bahnen, 28 October 1853
  12. Brahms' A German Requiem, published in 1868, brought the first widespread agreement of his talent
  13. From All Music Guide, available at
  14. 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)
  • . The first Schumann biography arguing that the composer was mentally sane and normal all his life, until the sudden onset of insanity (resulting from the tertiary stage of syphilis).

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