On this blog, I have discussed many famous German composers. Germany seems to have no shortage of influential classical musicians who left their mark on European culture. One such individual was Robert Schumann, who was born on June 8th, 1810.
Robert Schumann demonstrated an interest in the piano at an early age. His father encouraged his musical studies, but when he died he was forced by his family to study law. However, he instead chose to focus his studies on music and learned from the piano master Friedrich Weick. Unfortunately, in his early twenties, he sustained an injury to the hand that prevented him from pursuing a career playing the piano, and he instead focused on composition. He spent the 1830s composing various pieces. Most of his work was part of the romance movement. In 1838 he composed Kreislerania, a notable piece. In 1840 he married Clara Weick, daughter of his former teacher, against the wishes of her father. In the 1840s he continued to compose, but suffered from several illnesses, both mental and physical. He wrote one of his most famous works, the music to Manfred by Byron, in 1849. He was a poor conductor, and so continued to work primarily as a composer. His mental health deteriorated throughout the 1850s until he was confined to a sanatorium in 1854. He died on July 29th, 1856. There are several theories as to what illness caused his death ranging from syphilis to a brain tumor. Clara lived until 1896 and made efforts to popularize her husband’s music. She and the composer Brahms, a friend of Schumann, may have destroyed some of his later works in the belief that they were tainted by his madness.
Schumann certainly made important musical contributions, but the most interesting part of his life may be his precipitous descent into insanity. He composed brilliant works of music, but became increasingly deranged as his mind deteriorated. His work became increasingly reflective of his mind as his friends and family rejected the work they thought would reflect poorly on him.