Tuesday, June 8, 8810

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Symphony No. 4

Robert Schumann, sometimes given as Robert Alexander Schumann

[Mulde River, Zwickau]

(June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Saxony, Germany - July 29, 1856) was the fifth and last child of the family.

[House where Schumann was born]

His father was a bookseller, and his boyhood was spent in the cultivation of literature quite as much as it was spent in music. Schumann himself said that he had begun to compose before the age of seven.

At the age of 14, he wrote an essay on the aesthetics of music and also contributed to a volume, edited by his father, titled Portraits of Famous Men. While still at school in Zwickau he read the works of the German poet-philosophers Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as Byron and the Greek tragedians. His most powerful and permanent literary inspiration was Jean Paul, whose influence is seen in Schumann's youthful novels Juniusabende, completed in 1826, and Selene.

Schumann's interest in music was piqued as a child by the performance of Ignaz Moscheles playing at Carlsbad, and he developed an interest in the works of Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn later. His father, however, who had encouraged the boy's musical aspirations, died in 1826, and neither his mother nor his guardian would encourage a career for him in music. In 1828 he left school, and after a tour, during which he met Heinrich Heine in Munich, he went to Leipzig to study law. In 1829, his law studies continued in Heidelberg.

During Easter, 1830, he heard Niccolò Paganini play in Frankfurt. In July he wrote to his mother, "My whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law." By Christmas he was back in Leipzig, taking piano lessons from his old master, Friedrich Wieck who assured him that he would be a successful concert pianist.

During his studies with Wieck, Schumann permanently injured his right hand. One suggested cause of this injury is that he damaged his finger by the use of a mechanical device designed to strengthen the weakest fingers, which held back one finger while he exercised the others. Others have suggested that the injury was a side-effect of syphilis medication. A more dramatic idea is that in an attempt to increase the independence of his fourth finger, he may have carried out a surgical procedure to separate the tendons of the fourth finger from those of the third. Whatever the cause of the injury, Schumann abandoned ideas of a concert career and devoted himself instead to composition. To this end he began a course of theory under Heinrich Dorn, the conductor of the Leipzig opera. About this time he considered composing an opera on the subject of Hamlet.

The fusion of the literary idea with its musical illustration, which may be said to have first taken shape in Papillons (Op. 2), is foreshadowed to some extent in the first criticism by Schumann, an essay on Frédéric Chopin's variations on a theme from Mozart's Don Giovanni, which appeared in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1831. Here the work is discussed by the imaginary characters Florestan (the embodiment of Schumann's passionate, voluble side) and Eusebius (his dreamy, introspective side) -- the counterparts of Vult and Walt in Jean Paul's novel Flegeljahre. A third, Meister Raro, is called upon for his opinion. Raro may represent either the composer himself,

Wieck's daughter Clara, or the combination of the two (Clara + Robert).

However, by the time Schumann had written Papillons in 1831 he went a step further. The scenes and characters of his favorite novel had now passed definitely and consciously into the written music, and in a letter from Leipzig (April 1832) he bids his brothers "read the last scene in Jean Paul's Flegeljahre as soon as possible, because the Papillons are intended as a musical representation of that masquerade."

In the winter of 1832 Schumann visited his relations at Zwickau and Schneeberg, where he performed the first movement of his Symphony in G Minor. In Zwickau, the music was played at a concert given by Clara Weick, who was only 11 (b. September 13, 1819).

On this occasion Clara played bravura Variations by Herz, a composer who Schumann was already opposing as a philistine. It was also on this occasion that Robert's mother said to Clara, "You must marry my Robert one day."

The aforesaid symphony was never published by Schumann, but has been played and recorded since then. The death of his brother Julius as well as that of his sister-in-law Rosalie in 1833 seems to have affected Schumann with a profound melancholy, leading to his first apparent attempt at suicide.

By the spring of 1834, Schumann had sufficiently recovered to inaugurate Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ("New Journal in Music"), first published on April 3, 1834. Schumann published most of his critical writings in the Journal, and often lambasted the popular taste for flashy technical displays from figures Schumann perceived as inferior composers. Schumann campaigned to revive interest in major composers of the past, including Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber, while he also promoted the work of some contemporary composers, including Chopin (who did not like Schumann's work) and Berlioz, whom he praised for creating music of substance. On the other hand, Schumann disparaged the school of Liszt and Wagner. Amongst his associates were the composers Ludwig Schunke, the dedicatee of Schumann's Toccata in C, and Norbert Burgmüller.

Schumann's editorial duties, which kept him occupied during the summer of 1834, were interrupted by his relations with Ernestine von Fricken, a girl of 16, to whom he became engaged. She was the adopted daughter of a rich Bohemian, from whose variations on a theme Schumann constructed his own Symphonic Etudes. The engagement was broken off by Schumann, due to the burgeoning of his love for the 15-year-old Clara Wieck. Flirtatious exchanges in the spring of 1835 led to their first kiss on the steps outside Wieck’s house in November and mutual declarations of love the next month in Zwickau, where Clara appeared in concert. Having learned in August that Ernestine von Fricken’s was of illegitimate birth, which meant that she would have no dowry, and fearful that her limited means would force him to earn his living like a "day-labourer," Schumann engineered a complete break towards the end of the year. But his idyll with Clara was soon brought to an unceremonious end. When her father became aware of their nocturnal trysts during the Christmas holidays, he summarily forbade them further meetings.

Carnaval (Op. 9, 1834) is one of Schumann's most genial and most characteristic piano works.

Schumann begins nearly every section of the work with the musical notes signified in German by the letters that spell Asch (A, E-flat, C, and B, or alternatively A-flat, C, and B; in German these are A, Es, C and H, and As C and H respectively), the town (then in Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic) in which Ernestine was born, and the notes are also the musical letters in Schumann's own name. Schumann named sections for both Ernestine von Fricken ("Estrella") and Clara Wieck ("Chiarina"). Eusebius and Florestan, the imaginary figures appearing so often in his critical writings, also appear, alongside brilliant imitations of Chopin and Paganini. The work comes to a close with a march of the Davidsbündler -- the league of the men of David against the Philistines in which may be heard the clear accents of truth in contest with the dull clamour of falsehood embodied in a quotation from the seventeenth century Grandfather's Dance. In Carnaval, Schumann went further than in Papillons, for in it he himself conceived the story for which it was the musical illustration.

On October 3, 1835, Schumann met Mendelssohn at Wieck's house in Leipzig, and his appreciation of his great contemporary was shown with the same generous freedom that distinguished him in all his relations to other musicians, and which later enabled him to recognize the genius of Johannes Brahms, whom he first met in 1853 before he had established a reputation.

In 1836 Schumann's acquaintance with Clara Wieck, already famous as a pianist, ripened into love. A year later he asked her father's consent to their marriage, but was refused.

In the series Fantasiestücke for the piano (op. 12) he once more gives a sublime illustration of the fusion of literary and musical ideas as embodied conceptions in such pieces as Warum and In der Nacht. After he had written the latter of these two he detected in the music the fanciful suggestion of a series of episodes from the story of Hero and Leander. The collection begins, in Des Abends, with a notable example of Schumann's predeliction for rhythmic ambiguity, as unrelieved syncopation plays heavily against the time signature just as in the first movement of Faschingsschwank aus Wien. After a nicely told fable, and the appropriately titled "Whirring Dreams," the whole collection ends on an introspective note in the manner of Eusebius.

The Kinderszenen, completed in 1838, a favorite of Schumann's piano works, is playful and childlike, and in a wonderfully fresh way captures the innocence of childhood.

Kreisleriana was also written in 1838, and in this the composer's fantasy and emotional range is again carried a step further. Johannes Kreisler, the romantic poet brought into contact with the real world, was a character drawn from life: the poet E. T. A. Hoffmann (q.v.), and Schumann utilized him as an imaginary mouthpiece for the sonic expression of emotional states, in music that is "fantastic and mad."

The Fantasia in C (Op. 17), written in the summer of 1836, is a work of passion and deep pathos, imbued with the spirit of late Beethoven. This is no doubt deliberate, since the proceeds from sales of the work were initially intended to be contributed towards the construction of a monument to Beethoven. According to Liszt, (Strelezki: Personal Recollections of Chats with Liszt) who played the work to the composer, and to whom the work was dedicated, the Fantasy was apt to be played too heavily, and should have a dreamier (träumerisch) character than vigorous German pianists tended to labour. He also said, "It is a noble work, worthy of Beethoven, whose career, by the way, it is supposed to represent."

[Schumann at 29 (1839)]

After a visit to Vienna during which he discovered Schubert's previously unknown Symphony No. 9 in C, in 1839 Schumann wrote the Faschingsschwank aus Wien, i.e. the Carnival Prank from Vienna. Most of the joke is in the central section of the first movement, into which a thinly veiled reference to the Marseillaise -- then banned in Vienna -- is squeezed.

In 1840, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father, Schumann married Clara Wieck on September 12, 1840, at Schönefeld.

Before 1840, Schumann had written almost exclusively for the piano, but in this one year he wrote 168 songs. Schumann's biographers have attributed the sweetness, the doubt and the despair of these songs to the varying emotions aroused by his love for Clara. This view is treated with skepticism by some modern scholars, especially since Dichterliebe, with its themes of rejection and acceptance, was written when his marriage was no longer in doubt.

Robert and Clara were to have seven children.

His chief song-cycles of this period were his settings of the Liederkreis of J. von Eichendorff (Op. 39), the Frauenliebe und -leben of Chamisso (Op. 42), the Dichterliebe of

Heinrich Heine (Op. 48), and Myrthen, a collection of songs, including poems by Goethe, Rückert, Heine, Byron, Burns and Moore. The songs Belsatzar (Op. 57) and Die beiden Grenadiere (Op. 49), each to Heine's words, show Schumann at his best as a ballad writer, though the dramatic ballad is less congenial to him than the introspective lyric. T

Despite his achievements, Schumann received few tokens of honour; he was awarded a doctoral degree by the University of Jena in 1840, and in 1843 a professorship in the Conservatorium of Leipzig, which had been founded that year by Felix Mendelssohn. On one occasion, accompanying his wife on a concert tour in Russia, Schumann was asked whether "he too was a musician." He was to remain sensitive to his wife's greater international acclaim as a pianist.

In 1841 he wrote two of his four symphonies. The year 1842 he devoted to the composition of chamber music, which included the piano quintet (op. 44), now one of his best known and most admired works. In 1843 he wrote Paradise and the Peri, his first essay at concerted vocal music. After this, his compositions were not confined during any particular period to any one genre.

The stage in his life when he was deeply engaged in his music to Goethe's Faust (1844–53) was a critical one for his health. The first half of the year 1844 had been spent with his wife in Russia. On returning to Germany he had abandoned his editorial work, and left Leipzig for Dresden, where he suffered from what was referred to as persistent “nervous prostration.” As soon as he began to work he was seized with fits of shivering and an apprehension of death, which was exhibited in an abhorrence for high places, for all metal instruments (even keys), and for drugs. Schumann's diaries also state that he suffered perpetually from imagining that he had the note A sounding in his ears. In 1846 he had recovered and in the winter revisited Vienna, traveling to Prague and Berlin in the spring of 1847 and in the summer to Zwickau, where he was received with enthusiasm--gratifying because Dresden and Leipzig were the only large cities in which his fame was at this time appreciated.

To 1848 belongs his only opera, Genoveva (op. 81), a work containing much beautiful music, but lacking dramatic force. It is interesting for its attempt to abolish the recitative, which Schumann regarded as an interruption to the musical flow.

The music to Byron's Manfred is preeminent in a year (1849) in which he wrote more than in any other. The insurrection of Dresden caused Schumann to move to Kreischa, a little village a few miles outside the city.

From 1850 to 1854, the nature of Schumann's works is extremely varied. The popular belief that the quality of his music quickly decayed has been questioned: the changes in style may be explained by lucid experimentation.

In 1850 Schumann succeeded Ferdinand Hiller as musical director at Düsseldorf; Schumann was a poor conductor and quickly aroused the opposition of the musicians, leading eventually to the termination of his contract. From 1851 to 1853 he visited Switzerland and Belgium as well as Leipzig. In 1851 he completed his Rhenish Symphony, and he revised what would be published as his fourth symphony.


Symphony No. 4 (1851)

I. Ziemlich langsam - Lebhaft

II. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam

III. Scherzo: Lebhaft

IV. Langsam; Lebhaft


The Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, op. 120, composed by Robert Schumann, was completed in 1841 (first version). Schumann heavily revised the symphony in 1851, and it was this version that reached publication.

Clara Schumann, later claimed on the first page of the score to the symphony -- as published in 1882 as part of her husband's complete works (Robert Schumanns Werke, Herausgegeben von Clara Schumann, published by Breitkopf und Härtel) -- that the symphony had merely been sketched in 1841 but was only fully orchestrated ("vollständig instrumentiert") in 1851. However, this was untrue, and Johannes Brahms, who greatly preferred the earlier version of the symphony, published that version in 1891 despite Clara's strenuous objections.

Schumann himself preferred the revised score for several reasons: besides the orchestration, he revised the structure of the work in particularly effective ways to emphasize the interconnectedness of the piece as a whole: he deleted the brass chorale at the opening of the third movement and recast the transitions into the Lebhaft section of the first movement and the finale. In his letter to Johannes Verhust of May 3, 1853, Schumann referred to the revised score as "...better and more effective..." than the earlier version.

The work is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and the usual string section of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

The 1851 (published) version of the work is in four movements which follow each other without pause:

Ziemlich langsam - Lebhaft (D minor)
Romanze: Ziemlich langsam (A minor)
Scherzo: Lebhaft (D minor)
Langsam; Lebhaft (D major)

However, the 1841 version used Italian rather than German tempo indications, with the four movements, as follows:

Andante con moto - Allegro di molto (D minor)
Romanza: Andante (A minor)
Scherzo: Presto (D minor)
Largo - Finale: Allegro vivace (D major)

Schumann's biographer Peter Ostwald comments that this earlier version is "lighter and more transparent in texture" than the revision, but that Clara "always insisted that the later, heavier, and more stately version [of 1851] was the better one." Both versions are included on the recent recording of Schumann's complete symphonies by John Eliot Gardiner cited below. Few conductors have agreed with Clara, and sometimes take the liberty of making minor adjustments here and there. Gustav Mahler even went so far as to re-orchestrate the entire work.


On September 30, 1853, the 20-year-old Brahms knocked unannounced on the door of the Schumanns carrying a letter of introduction from the violinist Joseph Joachim; he amazed both Clara and Robert with his music, stayed with them for several weeks and became a close family friend. During this time Schumann, Brahms and Schumann's pupil Albert Dietrich collaborated on the composition of the 'F-A-E' Sonata for the violinist Joseph Joachim; Schumann also published an article, “Neue Bahnen” (New Paths) hailing the unknown young composer from Hamburg, who had published nothing, as “the Chosen One” who would “give ideal expression to the Age.” It was an extraordinary way for Brahms to be presented to the musical world, setting up enormous expectations of him which he did not fulfill for many years. In January 1854, Schumann went to Hanover, where he heard a performance of his Paradise and the Peri organized by Joachim and Brahms.

Soon after his return to Düsseldorf, where he was engaged in editing his complete works and making an anthology on the subject of music, a renewal of the symptoms that had threatened him earlier showed itself. Besides the single note, he now imagined that voices sounded in his ear and he heard angelic music. One night he suddenly left his bed, telling Clara that Schubert and Mendelssohn had sent him a theme — in truth, he was merely recalling his own violin concerto — which he must write down, and on this theme he wrote five variations for the piano, his last work. Brahms published the theme in a supplementary volume to the complete edition of Schumann's piano music, and in 1861 himself wrote a substantial set of variations upon it for piano duet, his op.23.

In late February Schumann's symptoms increased, the angelic visions sometimes being replaced by demonic visions. He warned Clara that he feared he might do her harm. On February 27, 1854, he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a bridge into the Rhine. Rescued by boatmen and taken home, he asked to be taken to an asylum for the insane. He entered Dr. Franz Richarz's sanitarium in Endenich, a quarter of Bonn, and remained there for more than two years, until his death.

Given his reported symptoms, one modern view is that his death was a result of syphilis, which he may have contracted during his student days, and which would have remained latent during most of his marriage.

According to studies by the musicologist and literary scholar Eric Sams, Schumann's symptoms during his terminal illness and death appear consistent with those of mercury poisoning, mercury being a common treatment for syphilis and other conditions. Schumann died on July 29, 1856, and was buried at the Zentral Friedhof, Bonn. In 1880, a statue by Adolf von Donndorf was erected on his tomb.

[Clara Schumann, "One of the most soulful and famous pianists of the day," said Edvard Grieg]

From the time of her husband's death, Clara devoted herself principally to the interpretation of her husband's works. In 1856, she first visited England, but the critics received Schumann's music coolly, with some critics such as Henry Fothergill Chorley particularly harsh in their disapproval. She returned to London in 1865 and made regular appearances there in subsequent years. She became the authoritative editor of her husband's works for Breitkopf und Härtel. It was rumored that she and Brahms destroyed many of Schumann's later works that they thought to be tainted by his madness. However, only the Five Pieces for Cello and Piano are known to have been destroyed. Most of Schumann's late works, particularly the violin concerto, the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the third violin sonata, all from 1853, have entered the repertoire.

Schumann exerted considerable influence in the nineteenth century and beyond, despite his adoption of more conservative modes of composition after his marriage. He left an array of acclaimed music in virtually all the forms then known. Partly through his protégé Brahms, Schumann's ideals and musical vocabulary became widely disseminated. Elgar called Schumann "my ideal."

[The Schumann/Schubert error stamps: Schubert's music is on the left stamp, and Schumann's on the right]

Schumann has not often been confused with the Austrian composer Franz Schubert, but one well-known example occurred in 1956, when East Germany issued a pair of stamps featuring Schumann's picture, against an open score that featured Schubert's music. The stamps were soon replaced by a pair featuring music written by Schumann.

[8811 Liszt / 8810 Schumann / 8810 Chopin]