Robert Schumann (08.06.1810–29.07.1856)
Robert Schumann’s career as a composer and music critic began in Leipzig. One of his most famous piano works is “Träumerei” from his Scenes from Childhood (Kinderszenen).
Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau on June 8, 1810. His father, August Schumann, was a novelist and bookseller; his mother was Christiane Schumann, née Schnabel. During his school years, Robert Schumann founded a literary circle with his classmates and also hosted “musical entertainment evenings” in his parents’ home. After his father’s death in 1826 his mother insisted that Robert Schumann study law. He began his studies in Leipzig, where he also met Friedrich Wieck and took lessons from this renowned piano pedagogue. A letter of recommendation from Friedrich Wieck finally convinced Robert Schumann’s mother to let him pursue his dream of becoming a concert pianist. However, he soon discovered his love for the young piano virtuoso and daughter of his piano teacher, Clara Wieck. Against her father’s wishes, the couple filed a court appeal in Leipzig to gain permission to marry.
From 1840 to 1844 the artist couple lived in their apartment in the Inselstraße in Leipzig. From here two extended concert tours took place – to Hamburg and Copenhagen in 1842 as well as to St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1844. After having taken a position as a professor at the newly founded Conservatory for one year, Schumann left Leipzig with his young family – two daughters, Marie and Elise, had been born during this time – and moved to Dresden.
In Dresden a new chapter began for Schumann who ventured into the theatrical realm with his first and only opera Genoveva. 1850 Robert Schumann was appointed municipal music director in Düsseldorf.
However, his health declined shortly after taking on the position, such that he reduced his activities as director of the choir and orchestra considerably in 1853. During this same year he met the young composer Johannes Brahms, whom he referred to as his musical successor. In 1854 he was admitted to an asylum in Endenich, near Bonn, where he died two years later.
2. Private Life
Robert Schumann experienced tragedy early in life: When he was only seven years old, Schumann’s only sister was admitted to an asylum; she later took her own life. In 1825 his sister-in-law Emilie died, to whom he was very close. One year later, when Robert Schumann was sixteen, his father died. This death was followed in 1833 by his brother Julius’ death; three years later he lost his mother as well. Other tragic events in Schumann’s life were the death of his brother Eduard Schumann in 1839 and that of his good friend, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in 1847 at only 38 years of age. These many losses early on of people who were close to him may have contributed to a lack of inner emotional stability. During his entire life he battled against depressive phases, which alternated with highly productive phases. For instance, he composed his first symphony for orchestra in only six days in his study in Leipzig. The years he spent newly married in Leipzig were probably the happiest years of his life.
3. Connection to Leipzig
When Robert Schumann came to Leipzig for the first time in 1828, he experienced the city as a law student. After one year as a guest student at the University of Heidelberg he returned to Leipzig in 1830 with a firm resolution to give up studying law in order to become a concert pianist. For two years he lived with the piano pedagogue Friedrich Wieck and took intensive piano lessons with him. When he injured his right hand through excessive and unhealthy practice, he turned towards composition and music literary activities. He founded the “New Journal for Music” in Leipzig, in order to document innovative developments in music, to introduce and support new composers and to publish reports from musical correspondents all over the world. Those Leipzig musicians, characters, and advocates of this new direction Robert Schumann adopted into his imaginary club called “League of David” (Davidsbündler).
Married years in Leipzig
Newlywed, the artist couple moved into their Leipzig apartment in the Inselstraße in 1840. Here Schumann composed is first symphony in 1841, also known as the “Spring Symphony”, which was premiered in the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The so-called “Year of Chamber Music” followed in 1842, during which Schumann composed many string and piano quartets and quintets. The Schumanns’ house was a place of musical encounters; many personalities from the Leipzig music scene, but also from all over the world, came to Clara Schumann’s soirées to present and discuss new compositions by Mendelssohn, Schumann or Liszt. In his journal, Schumann also promoted the Leipzig Conservatory, which Mendelssohn had founded and for which Schumann also taught as a professor.
Robert Schumann was initially known as a music journalist and critic. During his Leipzig years his wife, the concert pianist Clara Schumann, was significantly more famous than he was. However, through his “New Journal for Music” Schumann was able to forge and cultivate many contacts, and carried on correspondences with European and American music centers, which helped him to find publishers for his compositions. His style of composing was described as poetic by some of his contemporaries; the great piano virtuoso and composer Franz Liszt once said: “Schumann is a soulful poet and a great musician.” As a result of his alleged mental disease, Robert Schumann’s late works were not properly appreciated or seen as progressive until the end of the 20th century; up until then these were considered second rate and negatively impacted by his declining health.
Schumann’s creative output can be divided into different phases. At first he composed exclusively for piano, then he broadened his scope to the “Lied” or art song. Subsequently he turned towards symphonic, but also chamber music works. His innovations played a great role in the development of the piano trio as a form of chamber music. Stage works and larger choral works complete Schumann’s over 150 compositions.
1831: Abegg Variations Op. 1; Leipzig: Kistner
1832: “Papillons” Op. 2; Leipzig: Kistner
1838: “Kreisleriana” Op. 16; Wien: Haslinger
1839: “Kinderszenen” (“Scenes from Childhood”) Op. 15; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1839: Fantasie in C major Op. 17; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1848: “Album für die Jugend” (“Album for the Young”) Op. 68; Hamburg/Leipzig/New York: Schuberth
1843 (comp. 1840): “Frauenliebe und -leben” Op. 42; Leipzig: Whistling
1844 (comp. 1840): “Dichterliebe” Op. 48; Leipzig: Peters
1841: Songs (12) from Rückert’s “Liebesfrühling” Op. 37 (joint cycle with Clara Schumann, her Op. 12); Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1841: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major “Spring Symphony” Op. 38; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1846: Piano concerto in A minor Op. 54; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1847: Symphony No. 2 in C major Op. 61; Leipzig: Whistling
1851: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major“Rhenish” Op. 97; Bonn: Simrock
1853: Symphony No. 4 in D minor Op. 120; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1843: Three String Quartets Op. 41; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1843: Piano Quintet in E-flat major Op. 44; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1845 (comp. 1842): Piano Quartet in E-flat major Op. 47; Leipzig: Whistling/Hofmeister
Stage and choral works
1844/45 (comp. 1843): Secular Oratorio "Paradise and the Peri" Op. 50; Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
1850: Opera "Genoveva" Op. 81; Leipzig: Peters
1858 (comp. 1844-49): Scenes from Goethe’s Faust WoO; Berlin: Friedlaender
1862/63 (comp. 1852/53): Missa sacra (Mass in C minor) Op. 147; Leipzig/Winterthur: Rieter-Biedermann
1864 (comp. 1852): Requiem in D-flat major Op. 148; Leipzig/Winterthur: Rieter-Biedermann
Ausgewählte Werke von C. & R. Schumann im Schumannportal https://www.schumann-portal.de/H%C3%B6rbeispiele.html#t
Kinderszenen op. 15 (1838) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeoFfK0iAAI
Dichterliebe op. 48 (1840) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX1LTPV0QuA
Sinfonie Nr.4 in D-Moll op. 120 (1816) ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OewzNCzlP10
6. Sources and Links
Köhler, Hans Joachim (2014). Blickkontakte mit Robert Schumann – Begegnungen im heutigen Leipzig. Leipzig: Eudora-Verl.
Musgrave, Michael (2012). The life of Schumann. Cambridge (GB): Cambridge University Press.
Schumann, Robert, Schumann, Clara, & Nauhaus, Gerd (2013). Ehetagebücher: 1840-1844. Frankfurt, M.: Stroemfeld.
Sutermeister, Peter (1982). Robert Schumann. Eine Biographie nach Briefen, Tagebüchern und Erinnerungen von Robert und Clara Schumann. Tübingen: Heliopolis.
Synofzik, Thomas (2015). Schumann Briefedition. Köln: Dohr.
Schumann Portal: https://www.schumann-portal.de/startseite.html
Von Adolph von Menzel - Vita Robert Schumann, photo by Michael Sondermann Presseamt Stadt Bonn, Gemeinfrei commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php