Schumann

Schumann

Schumann

Schumann

Synopsis

Robert Schumann, one of the most beloved composers of the Romantic movement, embodied the passion and imaginative spirit of his age. Known for his musical and literary genius and his legendary romance with his wife Clara, Schumann was also plagued with debilitative bouts of depression that led him to live his last days in a German mental asylum. This important new biography recreates the dynamics of this man and his music with unprecedented range, offering new insight into his final years and his lasting musical achievements. Drawing on Schumann's recently published journals, letters, and new research, author Eric Jensen renders a balanced portrait of the composer with both scholarly authority and engaging clarity. Biographical chapters alternate with commentary on Schumann's piano, choral, symphonic, and operatic works, demonstrating how the circumstances of his life helped shape the music he wrote at various periods. Chronicling the forbidden romance of Robert and Clara, Jensen offers a nuanced look at the evolution of their relationship. He also follows Schuman's creative musical criticism, which championed the burgeoning careers of Chopin, Liszt, and Brahms and challenged the musical tastes of nineteenth-century Europe. Most importantly, he presents new evidence that Schumann--locked away in the asylum at Endenich--had returned sufficiently to health to justify his removal from confinement a year before his death. Like the innovations of his final compositions from 1845-1854, his sanity was overlooked and misunderstood by his contemporaries. Jensen corrects the historical record, illuminating the tragedy of Schumann's final days and refuting the common dismissal of his final works as the result of an unstable mind. A significant addition to music literature, Schumann is the first authoritative biography of the composer written for general readers as well as music students and historians.

Excerpt

Schumann's contemporaries would be astonished by the amount of interest in him today. To some, he was the composer of bizarre and often peculiar works for piano. To others, he was the composer of chamber music and symphonies too conventional and traditional in basis. To most, he was better known as a music critic than as a composer. Few would have considered him among the most significant composers of his day, preferring instead Mendelssohn or Spohr, Meyerbeer or Wagner.

Yet, Schumann is increasingly regarded not just as a composer of stature but as one of the leading figures of German Romanticism. the past decades have witnessed a phenomenal growth of interest in him and his music. a new scholarly edition of his compositions is in progress. a revised thematic catalogue of his work and complete editions of his correspondence and music criticism are being planned. a great number of scholarly articles and monographs have appeared, as well as recordings of virtually all of his music.

But Schumann's move to prominence has been a slow process. in 1854, he had a nervous breakdown (one of three over a twenty-year period), and at his own request was placed in a mental institution to recover. He died there two years later. Mental illness in the Victorian era was regarded with fear, suspicion, and abhorrence. Schumann was suddenly seen as a pathetic figure whose mental instability had marred much of his work. This attitude was one that lingered forcefully for much of the twentieth century. It was complemented by a maudlin view especially popular in the English-speaking world: Schumann the Romantic tone-poet, the sentimental creator of “Träumerei. ”

Conflicting perceptions of Schumann emerged during the first half of the twentieth century, primarily a result of social and political turmoil in Germany. When Schumann's private papers and journals (he maintained a copious series of diaries) became available for examination, they fell into the hands of Nazi scholars. Their studies, filled with fabrications and lies, presented Schumann as a model Aryan and devout anti-Semite.

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