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Robert Schumann

1810 - 1856

Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856) was a German composer and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. He had been assured by his teacher Friedrich Wieck that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing.

Born at Zwickau in Germany, Schumann grew up in a literary' environment. His father was a writer and publisher and encouraged his son's enthusiasm for the Romantic authors of the time. His interest in music was nurtured by performances given locally, but was discouraged by his mother. After his father died when he was 16, it was decided that he should go to Leipzig University to study law.

He did not take studies seriously, preferring to indulge in the excesses of student life and, of course, music. He attended concerts at the Gewandhaus, took piano lessons with the fiercely idealistic Friedrich Wieck, and, during further "study" in Heidelberg, began to perform and compose. He gave up law and returned to Leipzig for further lessons with Wieck, but ruined any chance of a career as a pianist by dislocating a finger with a stretching machine he had invented.

In 1833 Schumann became ill with a depressive disorder that would recur for the rest of his life. He composed almost entirely during happier periods of intense creativity that alternated with these bouts of illness. Schumann also devoted his energy to music criticism through his journal Die Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik (New-Musical Journal), which he founded in 1834 and edited for ten years. Its aim was to sift out genius from mere talent and thus combat mediocrity in German music. He proved to be a discerning critic, recognizing the burgeoning mastery in very early works by Chopin and Brahms, enthusing over Mendelssohn, and generously acknowledging Berlioz, Wagner, and Liszt, although they did not conform to his own ideal — '"Liszt's world is not mine."

Schumann often wrote under two pseudonyms — Florestan and Eusebius — who led an imaginary Davidsbund (League of David) in the fight against musical philistinism and represented the "ecstatic" and "sensitive" sides of his personality. The two characters also appear in the piano works that dominate his output from the 1830s. "F" and "E" are credited with authorship of the various Davidsbundlertanze (Dances for the League of David), and their respective musical portraits form two of the movements of Carnaval, probably Schumann's finest solo piano work. The League of David appears once more in the final "March against the Philistines."

In Kreisleriana - another important piano work of the 1830s — he paints a musical portrait of E.T.A. Hoffmann's Romantic hero Kreisler, but the work is also a tribute to Clara, the virtuoso pianist and daughter of Wieck, to whom Schumann was engaged. Wieck strongly opposed the relationship at first, fearing a threat to Clara's career (and hence his own vicarious success) but eventually consented and the two were married in 1840. Clara became a regular performer and lifelong champion of Schumann's works, and much of his fame is due to her efforts.

Schumann's work diversified in the 1840s. An initial creative period resulted in the Dichterliebe (Poet's Love) song cycle of 1840, the first two symphonies of 1841, the Piano quintet and the Piano quartet of 1842. But in 1843 he suffered an attack of nervous exhaustion, and depression struck again the following year.

The Schumanns moved to Dresden and Robert gradually emerged from his morbid state in 1845 for another highly creative phase of six years. He completed his Piano concerto and as a result of a preoccupation with Goethe's Faust composed Scenes from Faust in 1848 — "the most fruitful year of my life" — which also saw the composition of his outstanding overture to Byron's Manfred. The Rhenish symphony (1850), his third, was his most successful and, although it suffers from overly dense orchestration, it demonstrates a true grasp of symphonic form for the first (and only) time.

In 1850 Schumann was appointed conductor of the choir and orchestra in Dusseldorf, which should have provided performance opportunities and inspiration for new works. But he was too introspective and absent-minded a person to carry out his duties effectively and quickly became unpopular. When he fell ill yet again in 1852, the authorities suggested that he retire on grounds of health, but he took it badly and considered himself to be the victim of a "Philistine" conspiracy.

A brief light in the darkness of these final years was provided by the arrival of the young Brahms in the Schumann household, where he was hailed by Robert as the future saviour of German music. But Schumann's mental condition deteriorated soon afterwards and, following an attempt to drown himself, he spent the last two years of his life in an asylum.

"Schumann is the composer of childhood... both because he created a children's imaginative world and because children learn some of their first music in his marvellous piano albums."
                                   Igor Stravinsky, Themes and Conclusions (1972)

Key Works

Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54

00:00 1st  Allegro affettuoso
15:42 2nd (Intermezzo): Andantino grazioso
20:50 3rd  (Finale): Allegro vivace

Symphony No 1 in B flat Major "Spring" Op. 38

1. First Movement - Andante un poco maestoso - Allegro molto vivace
2. Second Movement - Larghetto
3. Third Movement - Scherzo: Molto vivace - Trio I: Molto piu vivace - Trio II
4. Fourth Movement - Allegro animato e grazioso

Symphony No 2 in C Major, Op.61

I. Sostenuto assai - Allegro ma non troppo (00:00)
II. Scherzo. Allegro vivace (12:06)
III. Adagio espressivo (19:21)
IV. Allegro molto vivace (29:35)

Symphony No. 3 "Rhenish" in E flat Major, Op. 97

I. Lebhaft (00:00)
II. Scherzo: Sehr mäßig (09:42)
III. Nicht schnell (16:15)
IV. Feierlich (21:24)
V. Lebhaft (28:10)

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor Op. 120

1. First Movement - Ziemlich langsam - Lebhaft 11:51
2. Second Movement - Romanze: Ziemlich langsam 05:20
3. Third Movement - Scherzo: Lebhaft 05:55
4. Fourth Movement - Langsam; Lebhaft 8:01

Violin Concerto in D Minor

1. In kräftigem, nicht zu schnellem Tempo 
2. Langsam 
3. Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell 

Cello concerto in A minor, Op. 129

I. Nicht zu schnell in A minor 
II. Langsam in F major
III. Sehr lebhaft in A minor – A major

"Manfred"  - overture, Op. 115

Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44

1. Allegro brillante
2. In modo d'una marcia. Un poco largamente
3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
4. Allegro ma non troppo

Piano Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 47

I. (0:00 - 9:52) Sostenuto assai - Allegro ma non troppo
II. (9:52 - 13:30) Scherzo: Molto vivace 
III. (13:30 - 20:48) Andante cantabile

Sonata No. 2, Op. 22 in G minor

Fantasie, Op.17

Dedicated to Liszt, the -aperlative 1838 Fantasy in C was originally vhumann’s tribute to Beethoven. At a time hen he was forbidden to see his beloved Clara, the lines by the poet Friedrich von Schiller that preface the work were certainly intended for her eves: "Through all the sounds of Earth’s mingled dream, lies one quiet note for the secret listener”.


This impassioned and kaleidoscopic rrpouring finds little peace even in the earthbound central interlude. Only at the end do we achieve tranquillity, when Schumann quotes .; song from Beethoven’s An die feme Get iebte. It is no coincidence that its : pening words are “Take then these songs, my love”.

An overwhelmingly extrovert march whose infectious drive is produced by an almost constant stream of asymmetric rhythms even in the graceful middle w'etion. In the maniacally exuberant leaps of the final pages, joy is unconfined. “It makes me hot and cold all over”, Clara wrote.

Unusually ending with a calm, slow movement, Schumann’s mercurial nature manifests itself in a vast musical landscape suggesting both serene peace and utter despair.

I. Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen 0:00
II. Mässig - Durchaus energisch 13:53
III. Langsam getragen - Durchweg leise zu halten 20:40

Clara Schumann

Robert Schumann,
lithograph by 
Josef Kriehuber, in 1839

Grave of Robert and Clara Schumann at Bonn


Schumann's most important music was too subtle and quirky to gain much popularity in his own lifetime, and he met with very little success as a conductor and teacher.

It was mainly through performances by his widow, and ry friends such as Joseph Joachim and Brahms, that his music eventually entered the musical canon.

Carnaval, Op. 9

00:00 - 01 Preambule
02:18 - 02 Pierrot
03:23 - 03 Arlequin
04:33 - 04 Valse noble
05:57 - 05 Eusebius
06:55 - 06 Florestan
08:00 - 07 Coquette
08:50 - 08 Replique
09:21 - 09 Papillons
10:19 - 10 ASCH-SCHA
11:52 - 11 Chiarina
13:19 - 12 Chopin
13:59 - 13 Estrella
15:51 - 14 Reconnaissance
16:46 - 15 Pantalon at Colombine
17:38 - 16 Valse allemande
18:55 - 17 Paganini (Intermezzo)
20:02 - 18 Aveu
22:41 - 19 Promenade
22:58 - 20 Pause
26:40 - 21 Marche des Davidsbundler

Kreisleriana, Op. 16

Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13

00:00 - Theme - Andante
01:36 - Etude I (Variation 1) - Un poco più vivo
02:41 - Etude II (Variation 2) - Andante
05:18 - Etude III - Vivace
06:28 - Etude IV (Variation 3) - Allegro marcato
07:29 - Etude V (Variation 4) - Scherzando
08:34 - Posthumous variation I - Andante, Tempo del tema
10:11 - Posthumous variation II - Meno Mosso
12:19 - Posthumous variation III - Allegro
13:50 - Posthumous variation IV - Allegretto
16:33 - Posthumous variation V - Moderato
19:12 - Etude VI (Variation 5) - Agitato
20:06 - Etude VII (Variation 6) - Allegro molto
21:16 - Etude VIII (Variation 7) - Sempre marcatissimo
23:44 - Etude IX - Presto possibile
24:33 - Etude X (Variation 8) - Allegro con energia
25:43 - Etude XI (Variation 9) - Andante espressivo
28:04 - Etude XII (Finale) - Allegro brillante (based on Marschner's theme)


For Schumann it was a small step from writing cycles of piano music such as Camaval, where moods are swiftly captured, to distilling the essence of a poem in a song. Until 1840 he claimed that song was an inferior medium to instrumental music and ignored it, but once started, before the year was out he had written more than 150 individual songs.

The song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love), explores the journey from the joy of new love, through failure, to renunciation. The setting of Heinrich Heine’s frequendy bitter words is quiedy compelling yet heart-rending in its lyrical pathos. Equally striking is his use of the piano; no longer an “accompanist”, it is an equal partner, which sets the scene and then adds to and comments upon the narrative. In the majority of the songs, Schumann adds a piano posdude, in which he sums up the mood, most poignantly at the end of the cycle where he reflects on all that has passed. It is astounding that Schumann completed this entire masterpiece in only nine days.

1.Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
2.Aus meinen Tränen sprießen
3.Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne
4.Wenn ich in deine Augen seh
5.Ich will meine Seele tauchen
6.Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome
7.Ich grolle nicht
8.Und wüßten's die Blumen, die kleinen
9.Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen 
10.Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen
11.Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen
12.Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen
13.Ich hab' im Traum geweinet
14.Allnächtlich im Traume
15.Aus alten Märchen winkt es
16.Die alten, bösen Lieder

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