1902 Encyclopedia > Robert Alexander Schumann

Robert Alexander Schumann
German composer and writer

ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856), musical critic and composer, was born at Zwickau, Saxony, on 8th June 1810. In deference to his mother’s wish, he made a pretence of studying for the law, until he had completed his twentieth year; but in reality he took so little pains to acquaint himself with the mysteries of jurisprudence and so much to master the technical difficulties of the piano-forte that when the day of examination drew near it was evident that he could not hope to pass with credit. His mother therefore wisely gave up her cherished project, and in the summer of 1830 permitted him to settle for a time in Leipsic [Leipzig] that he might receive regular instruction from Friedrich Wieck, the most accomplished and successful teacher of the pianoforte the living in North Germany. Under Wieck’s superintendence Schumann would doubtlessly have become a pianist of the highest order had he not endeavoured to strengthen the third finger of his right hand by some mechanical contrivance the secret of which he never clearly explained. But the process failed most signally, and the hand became so hopelessly crippled that the young artist was compelled to give up all thought of success as a performer and to devote himself thenceforward to the study of composition, which he cultivated diligently under the guidance of Heinrich Dorn.

This change of purpose led him to direct his attention to subjects connected with the higher branches of art which he had previously very much neglected. Moreover, it gave him time and opportunity for the development of a peculiar talent which he soon succeeded in turning to excellent account, -- the talent for musical criticism. His first essays in this direction appeared in the form of contributions to the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung; but in 1834 he started a journal of his own, entitled Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and to this from time to time be contributed of the most profound character, sometimes openly written under his own name, sometimes ostensibly emanating from an imaginary brotherhood called the Davidsbund, the members of which were living men and women, Schumann’s most intimate friends, though the society itself existed only in his own fertile imagination. His time was now fully occupied. He composed with inexhaustible ardour, and by the exercise of his extraordinary critical faculty struck out for himself out for himself new paths, which he fearlessly trod without a thought of the reception his works likely to meet with from the public. The habit of passing a just judgment upon the works of others led him to judge his own productions with relentless severity; and it may be safely said that he was harder upon himself than upon any candidate for public favour whose attempts he was called upon to criticize.

Schumann’s first great orchestral work was his Symphony in Bb, produced in 1841, -- the year after his marriage with Clara Wieck, now so well known to the world as Madame Clara Schumann, the accomplished pianiste, to whose faultless interpretation of her husband’s works we are indebted for our fullest appreciation of their inherent beauty. Another symphony, in D minor, and an orchestral overture, scherzo, and finale, appeared in the same year; and from this time forward works on an equally grand scale appeared in rapid succession, culminating with his first and only opera, Genoveva, which, though completed in 1848, was not produced until 1850. In 1843 Schumann was appointed professor of composition in Mendelssohn’s newly founded conservatory music at Leipsic [Leipzig]. Two years after Mendelssohn’s death he endeavoured to obtain the appointment of the Gewandhaus concerts, but was rejected in favour of J. Rietz. In 1850 he was invited to Düsseldorf as musical director -- a post in which Mendelssohn had greatly distinguished himself many years previously. Schumann retained this until 1853, when his mental powers began to decline rapidly through a disease of the brain from which he had long suffered, and of which he died at Endenich, near Bonn, 29th July 1856.

Schumann’s position in the history of German music is very important and marks the last stage but one of its progress towards its present condition. His style was very advanced and strikingly original. His published works include one opera, four symphonies, five overtures, a series of scenes from Faust, and other choral and orchestral works written on a very extensive scale, and a large quantity of songs, pianoforte pieces, and other smaller works of the highest excellence and beauty.

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