Schumann, Robert Alexander

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Schumann, Robert Alexander

Robert Alexander Schumann (shōō´män), 1810–56, German composer. Both as a composer and as a highly articulate music critic he was a leader of the romantic movement. He studied theory with Heinrich Dorn and piano with Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter Clara he married. Forced by a hand injury to abandon a career as a pianist, he served as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik from its inception in 1834 until 1844. In his articles he championed younger composers, particularly Chopin and Brahms. Schumann's brilliant compositions for piano, including Papillons, Die Davidsbündlertänze, Carnaval, Fantasiestücke, Études symphoniques, Kinderszenen, and Kreisleriana, occupied him until 1840, when he began to write songs and orchestral music. In his lieder he set to music lyrics by such poets as Heine, Goethe, Eichendorff, and Kerner, achieving a superb fusion of vocal melody and piano accompaniment. Among his best song cycles are Frauenliebe und -Leben [Woman's Love and Life, on verses by Chamisso] and Dichterliebe [Poet's Love, verses by Heine]. His Spring Symphony (1841), Piano Concerto in A Minor (1846), and Third, or Rhenish, Symphony (1850) are his outstanding orchestral works. They exemplify his infusion of classical forms with intense, personal emotion. His one opera, Genoveva (1847–48), was unsuccessful. After a nervous breakdown, he entered (1854) a sanitarium, where he died two years later.

His wife, Clara Josephine (Wieck) Schumann, 1819–96, was one of the outstanding pianists of her time. After bitter opposition from her father she married Schumann in 1840 and eventually bore him eight children. She made her debut in 1836 and later performed with great success on the Continent, in England, and in Russia. She was noted for the intellectual brilliance and sensitivity of her playing, and was an outstanding interpreter of Schumann's and Brahms's works. Her own compositions were mainly piano pieces and songs. From 1878 to 1892 she taught at the Frankfurt Conservatory.

See his essays, On Music and Musicians (1946); his letters, tr. by M. Herbert (1888, repr. 1970); biographies by J. Chissell (1967), H. Bedford (1933, repr. 1971), J. Worthen (2007), and M. Geck (2012); studies by T. A. Brown (1968), S. Walsh (1972), A. Walker, ed. (1974), and J. W. Finson (1989).

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