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History Of Music:
George Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Romantic Composers
Development Of The Piano
Famous Operas And Their Composers
Wagner And His Music Dramas
Tristan And Isolde
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony, not far from Leipzig, in 1810. His parents desired him to become a lawyer and were so strongly opposed to his adopting music as a profession that he reluctantly abandoned the idea. At the age of eighteen he entered the University at Leipzig and became a student of law; there he tried to interest himself in study but his heart was not in his work. His passion for music was irrepressible and he soon found himself the center of a circle of friends whose interest lay in music, rather than the legal profession. Certainly there could have been little in the law to attract this imaginative and romantic youth.
In 1830 Schumann became convinced that he was wasting his time in pursuing a study so foreign to his taste, and finally persuaded his mother to allow him six months in which to try his skill with the piano, under the guidance of Friedrich Wieck. "My whole life," he wrote in a letter to his mother, "has been a twenty years' struggle between poetry and prose, or, if you like to call it so, Music and Law." Gaining her consent, he began his study with Wieck, at the same time continuing his work at the University.
Schumann possessed a strong love for literature and became passionately fond of the productions of Jean Paul Richter, whose emotional and highly-wrought ideas gained a powerful influence upon the young composer. The effect of the power which the writings of this idol of his youth exerted upon Schumann's work was apparent throughout his life.
He spent one year in the old university town of Heidelberg, his object being primarily that of attending law lectures; but his study received only a small part of his attention, for he gave himself almost unreservedly to music. Having finally decided to abandon the law for all time and follow his own inclination, Schumann set about with such haste to make up for the many years in which he had been deprived of musical training that he did himself permanent injury. He recklessly attempted to stretch the ligaments of his hands and thus find a short road to the acquirement of a good technique. The result was that he lamed his right hand so seriously that he never again was able to use it for piano playing. The indirect consequence of this injury was most beneficial for the world of music, for he was obliged to turn his genius in the channels of composition, to which he had given little attention prior to this time.
The influence of Clara Wieck, whom he afterward married, upon Schumann's work accounts for much in the steady advancement of his genius. She was the greatest woman pianist in Europe at that time, and her artistic co-operation was a powerful inspiration to him all his life. He was of a very reserved temperament and not even his friends could be said to really know him.
The whole character of his music is robust and wholesome; his style is more original than that of any other composer, for although he sometimes resembles Beethoven, it may be truthfully said that Schumann created his own models. He tried to bring music into a closer relationship with literature, and his earlier compositions may be described as "wordpictures."
It was as a piano composer that he first came to the notice of the musical world. His piano pieces are very condensed, intricate in style and difficult of execution because his har mony is so rich and complex. He employed broken chords and wide skips, often spreading a chord over the interval of a tenth or even a fourteenth, and his compositions require great strength of arm and wrist. He relied upon harmonic effects rather than melody, and in the variety of his rhythms showed great originality.
"The inexhaustible tunefulness of the early Schumann is little short of marvellous. Few composers have been so prodigal of lovely melodies. They are like the king's daugh ters in the fairy tales, each more beautiful than the last; and though there is doubtless a family resemblance, each had a distinct physiognomy, a pronounced individuality. They are, for the most part, indeed, brief, striking motives rather than deliberately composed tunes, perfect but minute crystals of most various shapes, forming spontaneously in the highly saturated solution of the musical thought. No effort is made to purify, separate, or collect them; what their composer seems chiefly to value is their profusion and luxuriance. To state the same thing in more technical terms, there is next to no thematic development; there is simply the presentation of one charming phrase after another. The result is of course a certain fragmentariness and whimsicality, the music impresses us not by its cumulative power, its orderly advance, but by the sheer charm of its primitive elements."'
Schumann's piano pieces with titles were a result of an effort to make music more expressive of definite moods, although it was his custom to give a piece its title after it was written. His genius was slow in developing and he did not attempt the larger forms until later. Of these early sets of pieces are the "Scenes from Childhood," the "Night Pieces," and, most famous of all, the "Carnival Scenes." The latter is a series of short characteristic pieces of unsurpassed beauty and originality. Among his larger works for piano are the sonata in F sharp minor, the fantasie in C, and the concerto in A minor.
Schumann's rarest qualities are to be found in his songs. He is one of the great song-writers,-probably ranking next to Schubert, although some critics place him first. His songs are not so spontaneous nor varied in range, nor did he equal Schubert as a melodist, but in richness of harmony and wealth of piano accompaniments he surpassed him. His rare literary taste is exhibited in his selection of poems. A large proportion of his songs deal with love, and he most beautifully pictured the "soul-life" of woman, as, for example, in the "Frauen-Liebe und Leben" (A Woman's Life and Love). His finest lyrics are contained in the "Liederkreis," "Mrythen" (Opus 25), and "Dichterliebe" (Opus 48). In 1840, the year in which he was married, he composed one hundred and thirty-eight songs.
Schumann wrote five symphonies; the Spring (B flat) and Cologne (E flat) symphonies show great freshness and breadth in their treatment. Many critics consider his cham ber works the most perfect of his compositions. Of these the string quartets and the piano quintet in E flat are best known. The most popular of his works for solo, chorus and orchestra is "Paradise and the Peri," the subject which was taken from Thomas Moore's "Lalla Rookh." Schumann wrote one opera, but this was a failure, for he, like Schubert, did not possess the dramatic instinct.
Schumann's importance lay not alone in his ability as composer, for he was an important critic as well. In 1834 he and a few friends established a journal at Leipzig which was known as Die neue Zeitschrift fur Musik. They stated that their object was "to honor the old, to welcome the new with a warm heart, to denounce whatever was untrue in art, to proclaim anything that was worthy no matter from what source it came, to elevate national taste by national art." Gradually the others withdrew and Schumann became sole editor of the journal. He had all the qualifications of an able critic: high ideals, liberal views, great readiness of expression and a thorough technical knowledge of the subject in hand. The influence he exerted for the advancement of the art of music is felt at the present time. Although a champion of romanticism, he considered it but a natural outgrowth of classical laws and tried to draw public taste away from the superficiality of the so-called virtuosos of the day to a more sincere appreciation of the great masters.
Among the composers whose merits were first recognized by Schumann we find the names of Chopin and Brahms. That he failed to appreciate the genius of Richard Wagner is not to his discredit, for Wagner's style was entirely new and it was small wonder that it took time to gain true appreciation. A nervous disorder which came upon Schumann in early life gradually affected his mind and resulted in insanity. The malady was no doubt aggravated by the high tension under which he worked, and his last years were a tragic existence of depression and melancholia. He died in an asylum near Bonn, July, 1856.