The Kennedy Center

Robert Schumann


Composer Robert Schumann was the youngest of five children born in Zwickau, Saxony to August Schumann, a local publisher and Johanna Schnabel in 1810. His musical precociousness was apparent from an early age: Schumann started piano lessons at the age of six, and by the age of eleven he entered the Lyceum at Zwickau.

After the death of his father, Schumann reluctantly bent to his mother's will and entered into die Universität von Dresden to study law. However, much to his mother's chagrin, he failed to pursue his studies or career with any zeal, preferring instead to spend his years at university engaged in musical and literary activities - composing, performing, writing musical critiques were among his favorites.

Having fallen in love with his daughter, Schumann moved into the household of Frederick Wieck under the condition that he was to seriously apply himself to the study of musical theory as well as piano. Wieck, however, was absent for much of the time grooming the career of his eleven-year-old daughter Clara, a piano prodigy, taking her on concert tours for months at a time. In the meantime, Schumann's promises to give up wine, women, and cigars foundered. Finally Schumann was able to persuade Heinrich Dorn, conductor of the Leipzig Theater to take him as a pupil in piano and theory.

In 1834 Schumann founded the music journal, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and, over the next ten years he continued on as its editor as well as its principal contributor; writing a series of brilliant and perceptive articles reflecting the most advanced musical thinking of the times.

After a lengthy, troubled courtship Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck were finally wed in 1840 after getting a court to overrule the strong objections of Clara's disapproving father. During the acrimonious court proceedings, Schumann suffered a prolonged period of depression. During their sixteen-year marriage, Clara was often away on concert tours, and her absences greatly contributed to his depressed state of mind. He often told of his fear of going mad from loneliness.

Upon their return to Dresden from a lengthy concert tour through Russia, Schumann suffered a severe nervous breakdown in 1844. After taking unsuccessful treatments in the spas and baths of Carlsbad, he returned to Dresden, and there he began to recover slowly. The next years saw Schumann composing mostly for voice - first lieder, then later choral works. He wrote several operas, but none of these remain in the modern repertoire. He also began composing symphonies at the encouragement of his wife.

By 1850 he had recovered sufficiently enough to take a position as the Music Director and conductor in Duesseldorf, however; his organizational and management abilities were found wanting, and he was soon let go.

Over the years Schumann was increasingly plagued by mental problems, and in 1855, after attempting suicide, he was admitted to a mental hospital. For the next year and half he remained in the asylum, continuing his work, and being visited occasionally by friends in the music world, most notably their close friend Johannes Brahms. He was not permitted to see his wife at all during this time. By June of 1856 his mental and physical condition had deteriorated to the point that the director of the asylum wrote to Clara that Schumann's condition showed no hope of improving. She traveled from their home in Duesseldorf to Endenich to be with her husband. He recognized her but could not speak intelligibly. Clara and Brahms stayed with him constantly for the next few weeks, and on July 29th he died, most likely from complications of syphilis.

In the course of his musical career Schumann composed for many different genres. His symphonies and chamber music compositions continue to be popular. The Rhennish and the Spring symphonies are performed regularly, as is the Manfred Overture. His lieder and choral music are not as often programmed today. He wrote a few concertos, and surprisingly only one for piano however, as well as one for cello and for violin, but the list of piano solo and multiple keyboard pieces is extensive.

His grave is by the Sternentor in Bonn.
Robert Schumann


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