Robert Schumann (1810–1856) was a German romantic composer and influential music critic. Although Schumann was no child prodigy, he went on to become one of the most important composers of the 19th century and is recognised as such 200 years after his birth.
Life and Music
Schumann's early musical progress was unremarkable. He was 10 before he began piano lessons and, despite his increasing enthusiasm for composition and a passion for Romantic literature, he toed the family line by enrolling as a law student at Leipzig University.
After an ailment in his right hand proved incurable, Schumann was forced to concentrate solely on composition.
Schumann co-founded one of the most influential musical publications, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. He wrote many of the articles himself, using the pseudonyms Florestan and Eusebius.
Schumann married Clara Wieck despite her father's blistering opposition. Between March and July, Schumann composed five of the most treasured of all song cycles - the two Liederkreis collections (Opp. 23 and 39), Dichterliebe, Myrthen and Frauenliebe und-Lieben - as part of a remarkable outpouring of more than 140 songs.
Schumann then turned his attention to multi-instrumental composition, producing the Piano Concerto, Piano Quintet and Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 4.
Following the Cello Concerto and Rhenish Symphony (both 1850), there was a marked decline in Schumann's creative powers and his ability to keep a hold on reality.
He met the young Brahms and predicted a successful future for him, but time was slipping away. Following a paralytic attack, which left his speech impaired, his hallucinatory periods increased in intensity and he attempted to drown himself in the Rhine.
He spent the last two years of his life in an asylum where his condition gradually worsened. He finally succumbed on 29 July 1856.
Did you know?
When Schumann developed an ailment in his right hand that proved incurable, the story was that he devised a finger-strengthening contraption which collapsed, leaving him crippled. It's more likely that he was receiving mercury treatment for syphilis!