Robert Schumann – Beloved Chief Romantic Composer

Robert Schumann’s life was full of the romantic drama he poured into his music.

Robert Schumann, 1839

First, he pushed aside his law books to concentrate on music. When he ended up studying under the rigorous tutelage of Friedrich Wieck, he fell in love with the teacher’s young daughter, Clara (she was 13, Robert was 22). He also fell in love with her incredible artistic abilities and dedicated many of his earlier piano works to her. But when Robert became engaged to another of Wieck’s students—a woman beneath him in intelligence and above him in station—Clara’s affections for the young composer began to appear in the form of jealousy.

The engagement eventually cooled and Robert again turned his attention toward Clara. Her father had a tight hold on her and violently opposed the match. After many trying situations with her abusive father, they married anyway, the day before she turned 21.

Convinced the only way to prove oneself as a “real” composer was to write symphonies, Robert dove into creating them. His first symphony, “Spring,” premiered in Leipzig on March 31, 1841. Yet, his triumph was overshadowed by Clara’s first reappearance as Mrs. Schumann in her native town. The devoted husband was enchanted with her performance as much as her fans.

What began as his second symphony, D minor, composed in 1841, ultimately became his fourth when he revised it ten years later. To this day the symphony is considered one of the greatest criteria of Romantic sensibility. This, as with his other symphonies, shows Robert was born to be an orchestral composer. Perfect instrumentation seemed to come easily to him.

After Robert suffered a severe physical and mental breakdown in 1844, the family moved to Dresden, where he continued composing; among his works his C major second symphony, and only piano concerto—one of the best-loved piano concertos in the repertoire—were completed within that first year.

The third symphony, “Rhenish”, premiered in 1851, and wastes no time in getting to the point. The opening is immediate and powerful, but not overwhelming. This piece had more to do with geography, describing the atmosphere of the celebration in Cologne Cathedral. The symphony has five movements (most symphonies typically have three or four). The fourth movement is majestic in tone, written with Robert’s memory of the archbishop’s elevation to the College of Cardinals.

Robert’s insanity from syphilis he contracted in his earlier days, settled in about 1852. Following an attempted suicide, he was committed to an insane asylum. Their last child, the eighth, was born a few days later. His situation deteriorated and the once vibrant, magnificent composer spent his last few years in a degrading state. He died in 1856.

The music of the chief Romantic composer is performed worldwide. Robert imbued beauty into his music while living a life of love, happiness, complexities and suffering.

What about you? Is there a Schumann piece or particular performance by an orchestra you admire?

*Source: Clara Schumann – The Artist and the Woman, by Nancy B. Reich (revised 2001 edition)

Schumann Performances:
Nov. 18 & 20, 2010

Symphony no. 1, “Spring”
Piano Concerto
with Nelson Freire
Symphony no. 4
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Nov. 22, 2011
Belsatzar, Op. 57
Liederkreis, Op. 39
Two Romances and Ballads from Op. 49
Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op. 142, No. 4
with Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone
Malcolm Martineau, piano
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Nov. 26, 27, 30, 2010
Symphony no. 3, “Rhenish”
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Dec. 2-4, 2010
Symphony no. 2
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Jan. 6-9, 2011
Piano Concerto
with Hélène Grimaud
San Francisco Symphony

Jan. 13-15 & 20, 2011
Symphony no. 4
New York Philharmonic

Feb. 3-5, & 8, 2011
Piano Concerto
with Mitsuko Uchida
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 18 & 20, 2011
Cello Concerto
with Gautier Capucon
Los Angeles Philharmonic

March 9, 2011
Humoreske in B-flat, op. 20
Los Angeles Philharmonic

March 31-April 2, 2011
Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97, “Rhenish”
National Symphony Orchestra

April 1 & 3, 2011
Symphony no. 3, “Rhenish”
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

April 14-16, 2011
Symphony no. 4
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

May 1, 2011
Spanische Liebeslieder
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

May 12 & 13, 2011
Cello Concerto
with Yo-Yo Ma
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

May 12 & 15, 2011
Manfred: Overture (arr. Mahler)
Symphony no. 1, “Spring” (arr. Mahler)
Symphony no. 2
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

May 12-14, 2011
Manfred: Overture
Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra

May 26-28 & 31, 2011
Manfred: Overture
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

June 9-11, 2011
Overture to Die Braut von Messina
Symphony no. 2
National Symphony Orchestra

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