Robert Schumann

Legendary actress, Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid, were portrayed in the 1947 Hollywood film “Song of Love” which embodied the enigmatic romance of composer couple Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann. Each actor hand-synced at the piano while performing Schumann’s masterpiece in the movie.

Born in 1810 in Germany, Robert Schumann, whose works embody the idea of Romanticism in music was rated as an advanced composer of his times. Schumann was ill at ease with larger musical forms like the symphony and the concerto. Instead, he expressed his wide range of lyrical geniuses in songs and short pieces for piano. In fact, his critical writing, which is as fantastic, subjective, and lyrical as his early music, represents a valuable document of the trend and period.

 Like many geniuses, Robert Schumann had a relatively troubled life. Since his widowed mother wanted him to take up a stable and profitable career, Schumann intended to study law, but later he sent home a letter stating, ‘I have…arrived at the conviction that with work, patience, and a good master, I shall be able within six years to challenge any pianist…Besides this, I also possess imagination, and perhaps aptitude, for individual creative work.’ Thereafter he went on to study piano intensively under German pianist, Friedrich Wieck.

Schumann: Piano Concerto (excerpt)

His teacher assured him that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream, which led to Schumann focussing his musical energies on composing. Unfortunately, Wieck became his worst enemy later when Schumann fell in love with his daughter Clara, and both of them despite the father’s defiance, went on to marry each other after a sordid legal battle. Clara described their marriage day as,’ the fairest and most momentous of my life’. And Schumann would call Clara, an accomplished pianist, the guardian angel of his genius. In fact, Clara would suppress her talents as a composer, prodding him to do great compositions and conceal her own contribution.

Till the age of 40, Schumann wrote exclusively for the piano, and later composed piano and orchestral works. Schumann possessed an extraordinary ability to translate profound and delicate states of the soul which is evidenced in works such as the song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love), and his brilliant collections of short piano pieces, including Phantasiestücke (Fantastic Pieces), Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), and Waldszenen (Forest Scenes). Critics state that what is defined as the ultimate goal of art, which is the harmonious fusion of music and poetry, was achieved by Schumann.

He composed four symphonies, one opera and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. Some of his other well-known works include Carnaval, Symphonic StudiesKreisleriana and the Fantasie in C. Schumann had a reputation for infusing his music with characters through motifs, as also references to works of literature. These characters found expression in his editorial writing in a publication co-founded by him, the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik (New Journal for Music).

It can be said that Schumann’s most characteristic work is introverted that recorded precise moments and their moods. At the same time, his complex personality reveals another side that is evident in the forthright approach and strongly rhythmic patterns of such works as the Toccata and the Piano Quintet.

Symphony No. 3 (Excerpt)

A music full of enigmas, musical quotations and veiled allusions is a Schumann hallmark. Undoubtedly, in the realm of the piano miniature and the pianistic song, Schumann is considered a supreme master; in the simpler kind of lyrical inspiration and in the invention of musical aphorisms, he has an unrivalled standing.

While in his early 30s itself Schumann suffered from manic and depressive episodes, which resulted in periods of melancholy and phases of exaltation which kept on recurring several times. He also survived a suicide attempt after which he was admitted to a mental asylum near Bonn, as he was ‘lost in voices and horror’. Since doctors would not permit Clara to meet her deranged husband, she would sit out of sight and watch him through a window. At the age of 46, Schumann died without recovering from his mental illness.