Robert Schumann

Biography

Born: Jun 8, 1810; Germany   Died: Jul 29, 1856; Germany   Period: Romantic
One of the great composers of the nineteenth century, Schumann was the quintessential artist whose life and work embody the idea of Romanticism in music. Schumann was uncomfortable with larger musical forms, such as the symphony and the concerto (nevertheless, representative works in these genres contain moments of great beauty), expressing the full range of his lyrical genius in songs and short pieces for piano. Schumann's extraordinary ability Read more to translate profound, delicate -- and sometimes fleeting -- states of the soul is exemplified by works such as the song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love), after Heinrich Heine, and his brilliant collections of short piano pieces, including Phantasiestücke (Fantastic Pieces), Kinderszenen (Scenes form Childhood), and Waldszenen (Forest Scenes). In his songs, as critics have remarked, Schumann attained the elusive union of music and poetry which Romantic poets and musicians defined as the ultimate goal of art.

Schumann's father was a bookseller who encouraged Robert's musical and literary talents. Robert started studying piano at age 10. In 1828, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig as a law student, although he found music, philosophy, and Leipzig's taverns more interesting than the law. He also began studies with a prominent Leipzig piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck. There was serious mental illness in Schumann's family, and the composer, who most likely suffered from a manic-depressive condition, approached madness with the typical Romantic combination of fear and fascination. A compulsive womanizer and a heavy drinker, Schumann led a life that aggravated his psychological problems. His efforts to become a concert pianist failed after he developed partial paralysis of his right hand. According to a conventional story, the injury resulted from Schumann's compulsive use of a finger-strengthening device, but newer research points to mercury poisoning due to treatment for syphilis. Schumann settled on a career as a composer and musical writer, co-founding the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and attracting attention early with his prophetic praise of Chopin. Many of his articles take the form of dialogues featuring the "League of David," young artists fighting the "Philistines," and headed by his alter egos "Florestan" and "Eusebius," intended to represent the two contrasting facets -- one ebullient, the other reserved -- of his personality. Schumann's music, with its sharp changes in mood, also reflects his tumultuous inner life. Wieck's highly talented pianist daughter Clara grew up and fell in love with Schumann, to her father's horror. Despite Wieck's opposition, Clara and Robert gained the legal right to marry in 1840, a day before Clara's 21st birthday. During this period Schumann composed feverishly. Spellbound by a musical thought, he would work himself to exhaustion, enthusiastically cultivating a particular genre for a period of time. (For instance, 1841 was a "year of songs" in which he brought the Romantic song cycle to its apex). He virtually invented the short, poetic, descriptive Romantic piano work, and produced such works in glorious profusion in the late 1830s. Schumann tackled larger forms in the 1840s, partly at Clara's urging; his four mature symphonies retain a place in the repertoire, but his opera Genoveva failed. He held several musical jobs, teaching at the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatory, eventually becoming town music director in Düsseldorf, but without much success. On February 27, 1854, he threw himself into the freezing waters of the Rhine. After his rescue, he voluntarily entered an asylum. Although he had periods of lucidity, his condition deteriorated, and he died there in 1856, probably of tertiary syphilis. Read less

Schumann: Kinderszenen...; Janacek / Hamelin
Release Date: 06/10/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 68030   Number of Discs: 1
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Schumann: Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana... / Radu Lupu
Release Date: 01/23/1996   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 440496   Number of Discs: 1
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Mozart, Schumann, Bruch: Trios / Hilton, Imai, Vignoles
Release Date: 10/28/1992   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 8776   Number of Discs: 1
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Romantic Inspirations - Music Of Robert & Clara Schumann
Release Date: 03/29/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 10071   Number of Discs: 1
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Schumann & Schumann / Ksenia Nosikova
Release Date: 02/26/2013   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 12072   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 54

 

About This Work
Robert Schumann followed up his remarkable "year of song" (1840) with another compositional annus mirabilis. 1841 saw the creation of the composer's first works for orchestra, including the Symphony No. 1, Op. 38, the Symphony No. 4, Op. Read more 120 (substantially revised and published a decade later), and the Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52. In each of these works, thematic unity among movements is of central importance, an idea widely explored in the Romantic period in guises ranging from the idée fixe of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique (1830) to the leitmotives of Wagner's music dramas.

Schumann's other major work from 1841 is the Fantaisie in A minor for piano and orchestra. Though the Fantaisie as such has ultimately disappeared from the repertoire, it is only because it evolved into the first movement of the composer's Piano Concerto in A minor, completed in 1845. In this year Schumann appended two movements to the revised Fantasie; the composer's wife, the remarkable pianist Clara Wieck Schumann, premiered the result, a complete concerto, in Leipzig on New Year's Day, 1846.

The shifting moods that characterize so much of Schumann's music are clearly evident in the Piano Concerto. Still, as in the composer's contemporaneous works noted above, and despite the interval between the composition of the Concerto's first movement and the remaining two, inter-movement unity is one of the work's primary concerns. There is a quasi-symphonic character to the Concerto, in distinct contrast to the then-prevailing view of the concerto as primarily a vehicle for virtuosic display, exemplified by the concertante works of Franz Liszt and Nicolò Paganini. Indeed, Liszt showed little enthusiasm for Schumann's Concerto and tweaked the composer (who had earlier written a "Concerto Without Orchestra") by referring to it as a "concerto without piano."

Though the work's technical demands are not inconsiderable, they are almost wholly subservient to thematic interest and structural clarity. The Concerto opens with a downward-surging, darkly martial introductory gesture. The first theme, marked by a high-minded dignity, becomes the prime source of melodic material, spawning closely related themes that alternately brood and, in the major mode, provide respite from the sober atmosphere. The development caroms from one mood to the next in almost dizzying fashion, all the while exploring the ambiguities of the themes' various components. Schumann cannily uses the lengthy cadenza as a battleground for further emotional conflict before ending the movement with a decisive return of the lofty first subject.

The second movement, Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso, amply displays Schumann's immanent melodic sense within a spectrum ranging from genial to poetic to lushly yearning. The Allegro vivace finale commences without pause via an affirmative major-key return of the first movement's main theme. In various episodes, Schumann makes striking use of the finale's joyful, upward-leaping theme, as when it becomes the subject of a fugato. Metric and rhythmic ambiguities abound, coloring the dance-like spirit, and the prevailing mood is one of unfettered optimism that ultimately swells to exuberant triumph. Read less

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