Monday, June 08, 2009

Robert Schumann

“To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist.”
- Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann
was born on this day in 1810 (died 1856) and was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is one of the most famous Romantic composers of the 19th century.

He had hoped to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist, having been assured by his teacher Friedrich Wieck that he could become the finest pianist in Europe. However, a self-inflicted hand injury prevented those hopes from being realized, and he decided to focus his musical energies on composition. Schumann's published compositions were all for the piano until 1840; he later composed works for piano and orchestra, many lieder (songs for voice and piano), four symphonies, an opera, and other orchestral, choral and chamber works. His writings about music appeared mostly in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ("The New Journal for Music"), a Leipzig-based publication that he jointly founded. In 1840, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with his piano instructor (Wieck), Schumann married Wieck's daughter, pianist Clara Wieck, who also composed music and had a considerable concert career, including premieres of many of her husband's works. He died in middle age; for the last two years of his life, after an attempted suicide, he was confined to a mental institution at his own request.

Among my favorites of his works are the Kreisleriana (1838), a fantasia for piano that was one of Schumann's greatest works. Johannes Kreisler, the fictional poet created by poet E. T. A. Hoffman who is limned as a "romantic brought into contact with reality", was appropriated by Schumann who utilized him as an imaginary mouthpiece for the sonic expression of emotional states, in music that is "fantastic and mad." Another even greater work was the Fantasia in C, Op. 17, written in the summer of 1836, a work of passion and deep pathos, imbued with the spirit of late Beethoven. I also particularly enjoy his Piano Quintet in E flat (1842), and his four symphonies which were all written in the decade between 1841 and 1851. Much of his music reflects the two contrasting sides of his personality to which he gave the names "Florestan" and "Eusebius"; each depicts an aspect of his personality, the first being more flamboyant and the second more controlled. Overall he was the most romantic of the early Romantic composers.

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