Preface

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.

-ix-

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