Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Schumann, Robert Alexander
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German composer and writer. His songs and short piano pieces portray states of emotion with great economy. Among his compositions are four symphonies, a violin concerto, a piano concerto, sonatas, and song cycles, such as Dichterliebe/Poet's Love (1840). Mendelssohn championed many of his works.

Schumann was born at Zwickau, Saxony, Germany, the son of a bookseller and publisher. He began to learn the piano from a schoolmaster and organist at the age of 8 and played well by the time he was 11. He studied all the music found at his father's shop, where he also developed a literary taste. He played at school concerts and private houses, and made such progress in improvisation and composition that in 1825 Weber was approached to teach him, but could not, being busy preparing Oberon for London and expecting to go there. Schumann's father died in 1826, and in 1828 he was sent to Leipzig University to study law. There he met Friedrich Wieck, from whom he took piano lessons, and first met his daughter Clara. He neglected his legal studies, as he did again when, in 1829, he moved to Heidelberg University. There he came under the influence of Anton Friedrich Justus Thibaut (1772–1840), a legal scholar and amateur musician who, with his book Über Reinheit der Tonkunst (1825), made a major contribution to aesthetics and to Cecilian reforms later in the century. Back at Leipzig in 1830, Schumann lodged at Wieck's house, wrote his first published works (Op. 1 and 7), and the next year went to the St Thomas cantor, Christian Weinlig, for instruction, but left him for the younger Heinrich Dorn. In 1832 he permanently injured his hand with a mechanical contrivance he had invented for finger-development and thus had to give up a pianist's career for that of a composer.

With a circle of young intellectuals (calling themselves the ‘Davidsbündler’) he founded the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1834. Apart from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (Leipzig, 1798/9–1848), this was the most comprehensive and innovative musical journal, championing the improvement of music in Germany and promoting Romantic creativeness. He fell in love with Ernestine von Fricken in 1834, but the engagement was broken off in the following year, during which he wrote his first great keyboard work, Carnaval. In 1836 Wieck's daughter Clara, already a remarkable pianist, was 17 and she and Schumann fell in love. Some of his feelings were expressed in the C major Fantasy for piano, which also quotes from Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte/To the Distant Beloved. Clara's father violently opposed the match and in 1839 they took legal proceedings against him; he failed to yield, but they married on 12 September 1840, the day before she came of age.

Now followed the most prolific period of Schumann's creative life: the ‘Spring’ symphony of 1841 seems to symbolize artistic as well as natural growth and the same fervent, vital impulse informs the song cycles Dichterliebe and Liederkreis (Op. 24, Op. 39), the string quartets Op. 41, and the Piano Quintet, all of this same period. The first, rhapsodic movement of the Piano Concerto also dates from this time (1841–42); the last two movements were added 1845. In 1843 Schumann suffered a crisis of mental exhaustion and he had a more serious breakdown after a tour in Russia with Clara in 1844, at the end of which year they settled at Dresden. Although his nervous complaint grew more marked after periods of recovery, in 1850 he accepted the conductorship at Düsseldorf, including subscription concerts, choral practices, and church music, a post for which he proved quite unfit.

In spite of his personal problems Schumann completed in 1850 the most exuberant and accomplished of all his orchestral works, the 3rd symphony in E♭, which celebrates the Rhineland, the flowing of the Rhine itself, and Cologne cathedral. The committee at Düsseldorf tactfully suggested his resignation in 1852, but with Clara's injudicious support he obstinately refused to withdraw. Signs of a mental collapse grew more and more alarming and his creative work progressively less convincing, and in February 1854 he threw himself into the Rhine. On being rescued he was sent at his own request to a private asylum at Endenich, where he died more than two years later.

Schumann's works of all genres tend towards the lyrical qualities found most obviously in his songs; although the spontaneity and melodic naturalness of his piano music and Lieder have rightly been praised, his chamber and orchestral music shows similar qualities, although on a larger scale. One of his most attractive features is the essentially private nature of his genius. The quintessential Romantic, his personal experiences, and in particular his love for Clara, found expression in his music. His inward-looking personality is reflected in the musical cryptograms of many of his works.

WorksStage opera Genoveva (1850); incidental music to Byron's ‘Manfred’ (1852); 15 works for chorus and orchestra with or without solo voices, including Requiem für Mignon and scenes from Goethe's Faust (1844–53).

Orchestral four symphonies (1841, 1846, 1850, 1841 revised 1851); Overture, Scherzo and Finale; concertos for piano, violin, and cello (1841–45, 1853, 1850); Concertstück for four horns and orchestra (1849).

Chamber three string quartets, Op. 41 nos. 1–3 (1842), three piano trios, piano quartet (1842), piano quartet, Fantasiestücke and Märchenerzählungen for piano trio (the latter with clarinet and viola).

Piano 36 Op. nos. of piano music including Papillons (1831), Davidsbündlertänze (1837), Carnaval (1835), three sonatas, Etudes symphoniques (1837), Kinderszenen (1838), Kreisleriana (1838), Humoreske, Nachtstücke, Faschingsschwank aus Wien (1840), Waldscenen.

Songs 35 Op. nos. of songs (some containing numerous pieces), including the cycles Frauenliebe und -leben (1840) and Dichterliebe (1840), also Liederkreis (Heine and Eichendorff, 1840) and Myrthen; 14 Op. nos. of part songs.


Schumann, Robert Alexander


Schumann, Robert Alexander


Schumann, Robert Fantasy Pieces

Schumann, Robert Piano Concerto

Schumann, Robert Scenes from Childhood

Schumann, Robert Scenes from Childhood

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Schumann, Robert (Alexander) (1810 - 1856)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

He played and composed music from an early age and at Leipzig University devoted more time to it than to his law studies....

Full text Article Schumann, Robert Alexander
Philip's Encyclopedia

1810-56 German composer and leading figure of Romanticism . Schumann's piano compositions include Kinderszenen (1838), Carnaval (1834-35),...

See more from Credo