Robert Schumann

Schubert gave a decided impetus to the Romantic movement through his spontaneous melody and deep fund of imagination. He infused poetry into the classic forms, his piano works in the small forms showed the way to future achievement in these lines, but especially he founded German song, which had scarcely been hinted at by Mozart and Beethoven. Al-though Weber extended the province of piano technique, and exhibited further possibilities of romantic feeling in combination with the rondo and sonata forms, his chief work was the realization of German opera, elsewhere described. But still another German was destined to contribute richly to romantic piano literature, to prove no mean successor to Schubert in the province of song, and to add further proofs of his genius in chamber-music, choral works and the symphony.

Schumann’s Early Life. — Robert Alexander Schumann was born at Zwickau, in Saxony, June 8, 1810. His father was a bookseller with some attainments as an author. Schumann’s gift for music asserted itself early. He had piano lessons from a local organist at the age of six, and began to compose soon after. A taste for improvisation also developed. For several years his literary interests were as pronounced as those for music. He read assiduously, and was especially devoted to poetry. His general education was continued at the Zwickau Academy, where he studied until 1828. In 1827, he came under the joint influence of the writings of Jean Paul (Richter) the poet and novelist, and of Schubert’s music, both of which played an important part in his mental and artistic growth. In 1828, he entered the University of Leipzig with the intention of studying law. He kept up his music, however, and not only became enthusiastic over the clavier works of Bach, but took piano lessons of Friedrich Wieck, a celebrated teacher in Leipzig. In 1829, Schumann went to Heidelberg. Here he continued his law studies in a desultory fashion, but worked with the greatest persistence at piano playing. In 1830, be resolved to study law with more seriousness, but it was intensely repugnant to him, and after some reflection, ne determined, with Wieck’s advice, to adopt music as a profession. Accordingly, he returned to Leipzig to study the piano with Wieck, but having the misfortune to injure a finger in his zeal for speedy perfection, he was obliged to forego the career of a virtuoso, perhaps to the great gain of music.

Schumann’s Professional Career.—He now devoted his attention to thorough study of composition with Heinrich Dorn. In 1834, Schumann founded the “New Journal of Music” in the interests of a higher critical standard, and the furtherance of worthy compositions. During ten years of editorship, Schumann found abundant outlet for his literary interests, and his paper exerted a considerable force on public opinion. Two of his greatest piano works, the Carnival, Op. 9, and the Symphonic Studies, Op. 13, belong to the year 1834. During the years 1836 and 1837, he had some intimacy with Mendelssohn. From 1836-39 date most of Schumann’s important works for the piano. In 1840, Schumann married Wieck’s daughter, Clara, the celebrated pianist, after several years’ struggle to gain her father’s consent. Schumann’s marriage was the turning-point in his artistic career, and his wife’s sympathy was a great stimulus to his creative activity. In the year following his marriage, Schumann turned to song-composing, producing more than one hundred songs in this period. In 1841, he gave himself up wholly to orchestral composition, writing his symphony in B-flat, the first draft of his D minor symphony, a third work, afterwards published as Overture, Scherzo and Finale, as well as the first movement of his piano concerto. In 1842, he confined himself almost exclusively to chamber-music, composing three string quartets, the masterly quintet, Op. 44, the quartet, Op. 47, for piano and strings, and a trio. To 1845 belong the “Variations” for two pianos, and a large choral work, “Paradise and the Peri. ” In 1844, Schumann began the music to Goethe’s “Faust,” but ill-health interrupted him for more than a year. However, in 1845 he completed the piano concerto, wrote several works for pedal piano, and in 1846 finished his second symphony. In 1847, he began his opera “Genoveva,” which was not given until 1850. Late in 1850 he went to Düsseldorf to take a position as director. While here he composed his third symphony. In the following years he wrote several overtures, works for solo instruments and orchestra, the overture and incidental music to Byron’s “Manfred,” “The Pilgrimage of the Rose” and many other choral works, including a Mass and a Requiem. Early in 1854, symptoms of a mental disorder, which had been in-creasing of late years, culminated in an attempt at suicide. He passed the remaining years of his life in an asylum near Bonn, where he died July 29, 1856.

Schumann’s Personality.—By reason of his two-fold activity as critic and composer, Schumann was a new force in music. Highly cultivated in literature, philosophy and poetry, he possessed a keen and discerning critical taste, and a literary style that was picturesque and eloquent. Schumann was shy and reserved by nature, he talked little but observed and reflected abundantly. He was never fond of society, and as years went by he lived more and more like a hermit, absorbed in composition and family life. For ten years, however, he was in touch with the public by reason of his editorship of the “New Journal,” and by his championship therein of all that was good and progressive in the music of the day, did much for the encouragement of true art. His articles on Schubert, Mendelssohn, Gade, Chopin, Berlioz, Liszt, Brahms and others formed a new epoch in musical criticism, and helped the cause of Romanticism immeasurably. No estimate of Schumann’s character is complete without taking into account these distinct tendencies as critic and composer. His collected writings give a graphic illustration of his views on music, and form a supplement to his personality as expressed in his music.

Schumann’s Compositions.—Schumann’s most representative works include four symphonies and the “Overture, Scherzo and Finale,” the overtures “Genoveva” and “Manfred” ; three string quartets, a piano quintet, a piano quartet, three piano trios and two sonatas for piano and violin; the music to “Faust” and “Manfred”; “Paradise and the Peri,” “The Pilgrimage of the Rose” and other works for solos, chorus and orchestra; more than two hundred songs; the piano concerto and two smaller works for piano and orchestra, besides a monumental series of works for piano alone. In addition there are duets, part-songs, choruses, pieces for piano duet, a concert piece for four horns and orchestra, a concerto for ‘cello and orchestra, a fantasy for violin and orchestra, besides short pieces for oboe, viola, clarinet and ‘cello with piano accompaniment, the opera “Genoveva,” the overtures “The Bride of Messina,” “Julius Cæsar” and “Herman and Dorothea,” the Mass, Op. 147, and the Requiem, Op. 148.

It will be seen that Schumann wrote much in the sonata or symphonic form, yet his command of it was far from complete. In this respect and in instrumentation, Schumann was inferior to his romantic contemporary, Mendelssohn. On the other hand, he was far more original and his music has a much greater depth of sentiment, a higher sense of beauty and a noble human breadth that forms one of the highest points in the development of romanticism. What he lacked in technical attainment, he more than made up in beauty of themes, vigor and spontaneity of treatment, and thorough-going romanticism in moods. It is difficult to say which is his best symphony, they all have merits of their own; of the overtures, that to “Genoveva” (almost the only surviving portion of the opera) and “Manfred” are examples of Schumann’s ardent romanticism at its best. The string-quartets are not always in quartet style and their structure is sometimes open to criticism, but they are individual and contain much that is beautiful. The piano-quartet is a genial work of great spontaneity that took Europe by storm. It was immediately hailed as the greatest work since Beethoven, although its position might now be assailed by the piano quintets by Brahms and César Franck. The piano quartet, as well as the quintet, is a pioneer in this form of chamber-music, but has not the same flow of melody as the former. The trios and sonatas for violin and piano, although not on a level with the other chamber-music, have nevertheless striking qualities to commend them. Schumann’s choral music is decidedly unequal, but the “Paradise and the Peri,” and portions of the “Faust” and “Manfred” music display the same breadth of human emotion so characteristic of his best music. In the field of song, Schumann is a worthy successor to Schubert. Schumann’s songs have not the inexhaustible melody of Schubert’s, but they are richer harmonically, the accompaniments more individual, and the character of the poems more subtly brought out.

Schumann’s Contribution to the Short Piece. — Perhaps Schumann’s most conspicuous service to music lies in his development of the short piece. In this direction he has cultivated a branch of expression, with an originality, a freedom and a richness that have no parallel in the Romantic movement except in Chopin. Mendelssohn undoubtedly did something for the short piece, but his “Songs Without Words” are limited to a few types, while Schumann made the short form serve every variety of expression. He undoubtedly owed much to the examples of Schubert with his waltzes and other dances, the impromptus and moments musicals, but in richness of resource and spontaneity of ex-pression he went much beyond the older master. His piano style is highly distinctive; it does not offer much that is new in finger technic, but in polyphonic treatment of melodies, in striking rhythms and harmonic effects and in original use of the pedal it is remarkable. Both in the sets of small pieces, such as the “Papillons,” Op. 2, the “Davidsbundler Dances,” Op. 6, the “Carnival,” Op. 9, or the Flower Pieces, Op. 19, and in the Novellettes, Op. 21, the Fantasy Pieces, Op. 12, the Symphonic Studies, Op. 15, the Toccata, Op. 7, and the great Fantasy, Op. 17, Schumann displays a wealth of imaginative poetry that makes him one of the greatest romanticists in piano music. His piano works from Op. 2 to Op. 28 are matchless, although the sonatas, Op. i i and 22, suffer from lack of coherence. The variations for two pianos, Op. 46, and the concerto, Op. 54, are models of their type. The “Album for the Young,” Op. 68, the “Forest Scenes,” Op. 82, the “Varied Leaves,” Op. 99, and the “Album Leaves,” Op. 124, are all admirable, and contain a great variety of short pieces, many of which were composed early in his career. Schumann’s songs and piano pieces are the best examples of his contribution to romanticism.

Schubert and Jean Paul Richter (the romantic novelist and poet) were the earliest influences in Schumann’s studies, nevertheless he admired Beethoven greatly, and shut him-self up with his quartets as a preparation for his own chamber-music. As a student in Leipzig, he was devoted to Bach’s clavier works, and later in life he renewed his enthusiasm for Bach while writing the works for pedal piano and the piano fugues. Fugal form and romantic sentiment do not go well together, however, and Schumann’s compositions in this form are not his greatest. Schumann’s influence is strongest upon composers of songs and short piano pieces. It would be difficult to name even the most representative, but the most signal example is Brahms, whose songs and piano pieces could hardly exist but for Schumann. In many of the modern Russian composers we find distinct traces of Schumann, as well as among the Frenchmen Gabriel Fauré and Vincent d’Indy, the German Adolf Jensen, the Italian Sgambati, and many others.

Compositions Suggested for Study.—The symphonies, overtures, the chamber-music and the larger choral works are all characteristic of Schumann at his best, but for more detailed study of his piano music and songs the following are suggested. Of the piano works,the “Papillons,” Op.2, the “Paganini Caprice,” Op. 3, No. 2 ; the “Davidsbundler” dances, Op. 6, Nos. I, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18; the “Toccata,” Op. 7 ; the “Carnival,” Op. 9 ; the Sonata, Op. 11, especially the “Aria” and “Scherzo”; the “Fantasy Pieces,” Op. 12, entire except the “Fable”; the “Symphonic Studies,” Op, 13; the “Scenes from Childhood,” Op. 15, Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13; the “Kreisleriana,” Op. 16, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 ; the “Arabesque,” Op. 18; the “Flower Pieces,” Op. 19; the “Humoreskes,” Op. 20; the “Novellettes,” Op. 21, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8; the Sonata, Op. 22; the “Night Piece,” Op. 23, No. 4; the “Carnival Prank,” Op. 26, Nos. I 2, 3 and 4; the “Romance,” Op. 28, No. 2; the Variations for two pianos, Op. 46; the Concerto, Op. 54; the “Album for the Young,” Op. 68; “The Happy Farmer,” “May, Lovely May,” “First Loss,” “Small Romance,” “Remembrance,” November 4, 1847 (the date of Mendelssohn’s death) ; “Canonic Song,” “Theme,” two pieces without name, “Northern Song”; Op. 76, Nos. 1, 3 and 4 ; “Forest Scenes,” Op. 82; “Entrance,” “Lovely Flower,” “Inn,” “Bird as Prophet,” “Hunting Song,” “Elves”; Op. 99, Al-bum Leaf, and Novellette ; “Album Leaves,” Op. 124, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 13, 15 and 17. Of the songs : “Dedication,” “The Nut Tree,” “The Lotus Flower,” “Highland Cradle Song,” “Two Venetian Songs,” “Thou Art like a Flower,” and “Conclusion,” “The Boy with the Magic Horn,” “To the Sunshine,” “Forest Dialogue,” “Moon-light,” “Spring Night,” “Woman’s Love and Life,” “Spring Journey,” “In the Wondrous Month of May,” “From My Tears,” “The Roses, the Lily,” “When I Look into Thine Eyes,” “I Grudge it Not,” “The Two Grenadiers,” “Folk-Song.”


Grove’s and Riemann’s Dictionaries.—Article on Schumann.

Grieg.—Robert Schumann (Century Library of Music).

Hadow.—Studies in Modern Music. (Chapter on Schumann.)


Wasielewski.—Life of Schumann.

Finck.—Chopin and Other Essays. (Chapter on Schumann.)