Composer, Critic. One of the great German romantic composers, he infused classical forms with emotional intensity and a poetic imagination. He is best known for his piano works and songs. His Piano Concerto (1845) and his four symphonies are considered the most successful of his larger compositions. Robert Alexander Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony, the son of a bookseller who encouraged his early musical interests. He began piano lessons at age seven and composed his first pieces at nine. Even as a child he possessed an uncanny ability to capture feelings and character in melody. Tragedy struck in 1826 when Schumann's sister Emilie, who suffered from mental illness, committed suicide; this hastened the death of his father, who was similarly afflicted. At his mother's insistence he attended the universities of Leipzig and Heidelberg (1828 to 1830) to train as an attorney, but he neglected his studies and devoted himself to music, drinking, and chasing women. Inspired after hearing a recital by the legendary violinist Paganini in 1830, Schumann persuaded his family to let him pursue a career in music. He settled in Leipzig to study piano under noted teacher Friedrich Wieck, intending to become a concert virtuoso, only to have his hopes dashed when he permanently injured a finger in 1832. He then focused on composition and journalism. In 1833 Schumann co-founded the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" ("New Journal for Music"), which became one of Europe's leading music magazines; he served as its editor and chief critic from 1835 to 1844. Around 1835 Schumann fell in love with Wieck's 16-year-old daughter Clara, already a brilliant pianist. The attraction was mutual and they were engaged in 1837. Wieck was violently opposed to the relationship, asserting that Clara was too young, Schumann's past was unsavory and his future too unpromising for marriage. For years Schumann and Clara could only see each other sporadically, in secret. The couple finally took Wieck to court and after an ugly legal battle they were married in 1840. They would have eight children. By all accounts they were devoted to each other, though from the start this union of two strong-willed artists was not all smooth sailing. Schumann was uncomfortable with Clara's international fame, her love for concert tours, and her position as chief breadwinner of the household. He particularly hated being asked, in Clara's presence, "Are you a musician too?" To boost his income he accepted Mendelssohn's invitation to join the staff of the new Leipzig Conservatory of Music in 1843. At this time Schumann began showing signs of serious mental instability, which was probably both congenital and syphilitic in origin. He tried to cope with it with increasing amounts of alcohol. In 1844 he had a complete breakdown and resigned from the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" and the Conservatory. Clara took him to the quieter city of Dresden, where by 1846 he felt he had recovered, though he continued to suffer from debilitating depressions, insomnia, and a constant ringing in his ears. He was appointed music director of the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra in 1850, but his indifferent conducting skills and erratic behavior caused friction with the musicians; he was forced to resign in 1853. By early 1854 his mental state was deteriorating rapidly and he warned Clara that he was afraid he might harm her. On February 27, Schumann attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine River. He was rescued and voluntarily placed in an asylum in Bonn, where he died two years later at 46. Clara was not allowed to see him until shortly before his death. In 1880 a monument was dedicated at his gravesite in Bonn, where Clara joined him in 1896. Schumann left some 500 compositions, most grouped into the 148 opuses that were published in his lifetime. Much has been made of his unusual composing methods, in which he would write manically in one genre for extended periods before moving on to another. During the 1830s he wrote almost exclusively for piano, arranging many of his pieces into suites with unifying themes. These keyboard works contain Schumann's purest writing and an unfettered lyricism. Most are staples of the modern repertory. They include "Papillons" ("Butterflies", 1831), the "Symphonic Etudes" (1834), two sonatas (1835, 1838), "Carnaval" (1835), "Fantasiestücke" ("Fantasy Pieces", 1837), "Davidsbündlertänze" ("Dances of the League of David", 1837), "Fantasy in C" (1838), "Kinderszenen" ("Scenes from Childhood", 1838), and "Kreisleriana" (1838). Having previously declared that songs were inferior to piano music, Schumann pounced on them with a vengeance after his marriage and became the greatest creator of lieder (German art songs) since Schubert. In 1840 alone he wrote over 160 songs, including the classic romantic cycles "Liederkreis" (to poems by Heine), "Frauenliebe und leben" ("A Woman's Love and Life"), "Myrthen", and "Dichterliebe" ("A Poet's Love"). Clara encouraged him to tackle more ambitious forms and his Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Spring" (1841), marked a new phase in his development. 1842 was his "chamber music year", in which he produced three string quartets, a piano quartet and a piano quintet; he then concentrated on orchestral, choral and dramatic compositions. Later opuses include the Symphony No. 2 in C (1846), Symphony No. 3 ("Rhenish", 1850), and Symphony No. 4 in D minor (originally written in 1841, revised and published in 1851), the cantata "Paradise and the Peri" (1843), the "Album for the Young" (1848) and "Waldscenen" ("Scenes from the Woods", 1849) for piano, the Cello Concerto (1850), an unsuccessful opera, "Genoveva" (1850), incidental music for Byron's play "Manfred" (1853), and the oratorio "Scenes from Goethe's 'Faust'" (composed between 1844 and 1853). In October 1853 Schumann completed his last major work, a Violin Concerto. Its dedicatee, violinist Joseph Joachim, felt it showed signs of "creative exhaustion" and possible madness; he never played it but retained the manuscript until his death. It would not be performed until 1937. In his day Schumann's music was considered too difficult for widespread performance and his genius was recognized only by forward-looking aficionados. He was better known as a journalist. At the helm of the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" he sometimes wrote reviews under the pseudonyms "Eusebias", "Florestan", and "Master Raro", reflecting different aspects of his own personality. He was a brilliant and progressive critic, championing such composers as Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt; he aided in the revival of J.S. Bach's music, and helped introduce several unknown works by Schubert to the public, including the "Great" C major Symphony and the three late piano sonatas. In his last article, "New Paths" (1853), Schumann proclaimed the obscure 20-year-old Johannes Brahms as a genius to watch. Brahms repaid the compliment by becoming (along with Clara) a lifelong promoter of Schumann's music. Besides Brahms, the composers most strongly influenced by Schumann were Alexander Borodin in Russia, the Norwegian Edvard Grieg, and England's Sir Edward Elgar.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
The epitaph on the stone reads: DEM GROSSEN TONDICHTER VON SEINEN FREUNDEN UND VEREHRERN ERRICHTET AM 2. MAI 1880, Translation: For the great sound poet erected by his friends and admirers on 2. May 1880.