Schumann: Life & Career

  • Schumann (1810 – 1856) was born in Zwickau, Germany. HIs father was a book seller and publisher who died when Schumann was 16, soon after his sister commited suicide.
  • At age 18, Schumann’s mother allowed him to quit law and pursue musical studies with Wieck, who had a 9 year old daughter, Clara. She was a child prodigy who performed throughout her life, including Variations on a Theme by Schumann. The two admired Schubert and was saddened by his death.
  • In 1830, Schumann was inspired by Paganini’s playing, and resolved to become a virtuoso pianist.
  • Schumann began the ‘Journal for New Music’ when he in 1834, and promoted neglected works and composers, e.g. Chopin and Brahms. He wrote articles for the journal for the next ten years.
  • Schumann inflicted irreversible damage to his fourth finger, and his dreams of becoming a virtuoso were shattered. Luckily, his composing provided as a source of income.
  • In 1843, Schumann was given a teaching post at the Conservatory of Leipzig. The next year, he and Clara went on a Russian tour. The pair fell in love but kept it a secret because they knew Clara’s father would object. They finally married when Schumann in 1840– this was his most productive year for writing lieder (the “Year of Song”), as he only composed when he was feeling positive and energetic.
  • In 1853, Schumann met the young composer Brahms, who moved in with Schumann’s family and became a close friend. Schumann wrote about Brahms in the article ‘New Courses’, jumpstarting his career with statements which he would not fulfill for years to come. 
  • Schumann attempted to drown himself in 1854, and was commited to an asylum where he remained until his death. Schumann and many of his immediate family members suffered from mental health problems.

Works

Include…

  • Symphonies: ‘Spring’, ‘Rhenish’
  • Concertos: Piano concertoin A minor, a violin concerto, a cello concerto
  • Requiem Mass
  • Chamber Music: Piano Quintet, Piano Quartet, Marchenbilder, Phantasiestucke, string quartets, piano trios, Piano Quintet, Piano Quartet, string quartets, Piano Quintet in E flat major
  • Opera: Genoveva
  • Choral Works: ‘Scenes on a Faust by Goethe
  • Piano Works: Kinderszenen, Waldszenen, Album for the Young, Phantasiestucke, Carnival
  • 100+ Lieder
  • Song Cycles: Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, Fraunen und Leben

Inspiration and Influences

  • Schumann recognized the range of emotion within himself, and named the extroverted personality ‘Florestan’, and the introverted, shy personality ‘Eusebius’. These personalities often play important parts in his compositions, contrasting with each other, for example, “Florestan” and “Eusebius” in Carnival.
  • Schumann read works by Schiller, Byron, and Goethe in school; later on in life, he also read works by E.T.A. Hoffman.
  • Schumann admired and was influenced by Schubert; Schubert’s influence is obvious in many of Schumann’s works, for example, the lieder ‘And if the Flowers Knew’.
  • Style

  • Harshness: highly chromatic harmony, left and right hands spaced far apart, frequent modulations to distant keys, and non-resolution of functional harmony.
  • Independence between piano and vocal line; the piano accompaniment is given important structural roles, fulfilling what the vocal line cannot.
  • Melodies based on arpeggios or letters part of a puzzle or phrase, or word.
  • Best at writing short pieces where the contrast of Florestan and Eusebius was used.
  • Tonal ambiguity, rhythmic ambiguity (frequent tempo shifts, complicated rhythms), modal ambiguity (mixing of major and minor modes).

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