- Robert Schumann - Through the Eyes of a Child [Biography]
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Robert Schumann

"Music is to me the perfect expression of the soul. "

Robert Schumann was born 8 June, 1810 in Zwickau, Germany. He was the son of a book publisher and writer. As a child, Robert Schumann showed early abilities in both music and literature, but was not considered a prodigy by any means. At sixteen, after the tragic deaths of his sister and father, he was sent to the University of Leipzig at his mother's insistence. He studied law there until he was able to convince his mother of his need to study music.

In Leipzig, from 1830, he worked under the renowned piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, whose favourite daughter, Clara, was already a well-known piano prodigy. It is thought that Schumann and Clara were lovers by 1835. His own ambitions as a pianist were hampered by a weakness in the fingers of one hand (possibly caused by the syphilis that would later claim his sanity), but the 1830s nevertheless brought a number of marvellous compositions for the instrument.

Robert Schumann's work is noted for its links to literature. Many of his compositions allude to characters or scenes from poems, novels, and plays; others are like musical crossword puzzles with key signatures or musical themes that refer to people or places important to him. This intimate relationship with the written word gives his music an extra dimension. At the same time, its sheer joyfulness ranks it among the best loved music of the age.

Schumann was not only interested in literature, he was also a working journalist who edited his own influential musical magazine, the Neue Zeitsfchrift fur Musik. This put Schumann in a unique position: his music was often inspired by the world of words, while his work as writer and critic kept him in touch with the Romantic musical scene at large. Through his music journal he helped to bring the young Chopin and, later, the young Brahms to the attention of the German-speaking public.

Schumann's courtship of and marriage to Clara Wieck is one of the most famous romances in music history. Clara's father was one of Schumann's piano teachers. He predicted a great future for his pupil, but he fiercely opposed the young man's request to marry his daughter. He not only disapproved of Schumann's drinking, he also wanted Clara to become a famous pianist in her own right. For years Friedrich did everything he could to keep Schumann and Clara apart. Schumann eventually took Wieck to court and obtained permission to marry her, but it had been a long and bitter struggle.

Overall, Robert Schumann's early piano compositions, many of which were played by his wife Clara, are the most original and daring of his works. As a composer, he tended to concentrate on one type of music at a time. For instance, his songs qualify him as a worthy successor to Schubert. And while his great orchestral works remain closer to the traditional Classical forms of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, he is regarded as a talented, but not masterful. Nor was he successful as a composer of operas. It is in his piano music and his songs - Carnival ("Dainty Scenes on Four Notes") in particular - that he accomplished his greatest work.

In 1850 Schumann was appointed Music Director to the city of Dusseldorf, where he enjoyed no great success. Suffering from hallucinations and rapidly declining mental facilities, he resigned in 1853. Mounting fears of insanity plunged Schumann into a serious mental break-down, and in 1854 he attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine. He was then confined to an asylum at Endenich, where he remained until his death on 29 July, 1856.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


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