The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers

By Arthur Elson | Go to book overview
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XVI
SCHUMANN

ROBERT SCHUMANN was born in 1810 at Zwickau, in Saxony. The son of a bookseller and a doctor's daughter, he inherited literary taste from his father and a vein of deep sentiment from his mother. His early education was rather desultory, though he showed an aptitude for music, becoming a pianist and organizing a school orchestra. When he was sixteen his father died, and his mother decided to make him a lawyer. But at this time he acquired a vein of dreaminess, and a devotion to the mystic writings of Jean Paul, that did not exactly promise legal success. He was sent to Leipsic to study law; but he showed much more interest in the piano lessons that he took from Friedrich Wieck. He was greatly devoted to Schubert's works, and became known himself for his power in improvising. He was finally sent off to Heidelberg, and after that to Italy. But at last what he called the "twenty-years' war" ended in his favor, and he was allowed to devote himself to music.

At this time Schumann was rather opposed to theoretical studies. He held that a composer could write well by instinct. While he had to alter his opinion of the value of such studies, he never thoroughly mastered orchestration, and the instrumental colors of his orchestral works are often very muddy. At this time Schumann was practising to be a great pianist; and all his musical ideas occurred to him in a pianistic form, even later in life. While Schubert thought vocally, and Beethoven orchestrally, Schumann unconsciously fitted everything to the piano keyboard. The result is shown in the fact that his symphonies show less loss of effect than almost any others when transcribed for piano.

Schumann tried to strengthen the weak fourth fingers of his hands by means of a pulley-and-weight device. As a result, he lamed one of his fingers so badly that he had to give up all thoughts of becoming a great performer. But his loss, as he considered it, was the world's gain; for the accident turned him to composition, and led him into

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The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers
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