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Robert Schumann and the “Spring” Symphony

     Robert Alexander Schumann (June 8, 1810 –July 29, 1856) was a German composer  and influential music critic who was born in Zwickau, Saxony, the fifth and last child in the family of August Schumann, a bookseller, publisher, and novelist.   Robert began to compose before the age of seven and began receiving general musical and piano instruction at the age of seven from Baccalaureus Kuntzsch, a teacher at the Zwickau high school. The boy immediately developed a love of music and worked at creating musical compositions himself, without the aid of Kuntzsch. Even though he often disregarded the principles of musical composition, he created works regarded as admirable for his age.

     At age fourteen, Schumann wrote an essay on the aesthetics of music and also contributed to a volume, edited by his father, titled Portraits of Famous Men.   Schumann’s interest in music was sparked by seeing a performance of Ignaz Moscheles playing at Karlsbad, and he later developed an interest in the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Felix Mendelssohn. His father, who had encouraged the boy’s musical aspirations, died in 1826 when Schumann was sixteen. Neither his mother nor his guardian thereafter encouraged a career in music. In 1828 Schumann left school and went to Leipzig to study law to meet the terms of his inheritance. In 1829 his law studies continued in Heidelberg.

     During Eastertide of 1830 he heard the Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer Niccolò Paganini play in Frankfurt.  By Christmas he was back in Leipzig, at age twenty taking piano lessons from his old master Frederich Wieck, who assured him that he would be a successful concert pianist after a few years’ study with him.  During his studies with Wieck, Schumann permanently injured his right hand. The most suggested cause of this injury is that he damaged his finger by the use of a mechanical device designed to strengthen the fourth finger.  Schumann abandoned ideas of a concert career and devoted himself instead to composition. To this end he began a study of music theory under Heinrich Dorn, a German composer six years his senior and, at that time, conductor of the Leipzig Opera. About this time Schumann considered composing an opera on the subject of Hamlet.  His fusion of literary ideas with musical ones – known as program music – may be said to have first taken shape in Papillons, Op. 2 (Butterflies).

     In the winter of 1832, Schumann, 22 at the time, visited relatives in Zwickau and Schneeberg, where he performed the first movement of his Symphony in G minor (without opus number, known as the “Zwickauer”). In Zwickau, the music was performed at a concert given by the daughter of his teacher Friedrich, Clara Wieck, who was then just  years old.  The 1833 deaths of Schumann’s brother Julius and his sister-in-law Rosalie in the worldwide cholera pandemic brought on a severe depressive episode. The composer made his first apparent attempt at suicide.  By spring 1834, Schumann had sufficiently recovered to inaugurate Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (“New Journal for Music).

       Schumann developed a growing attraction to 15-year-old Clara Wieck. They made mutual declarations of love in December in Zwickau, where Clara appeared in concert.   Carnaval, Op. 9 (1834) is one of Schumann’s most characteristic piano works.   In 1835, Schumann met Felix Mendelssohn at Wieck’s house in Leipzig.  Despite the opposition of her father, Clara and Robert continued a clandestine relationship which matured into a full-blown romance. In 1837, he asked her father’s consent to their marriage, but was refused.   However, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father, Schumann married Clara on  September 12, 1840, at Schönefeld.

     In the years 1832–1839, Schumann had written almost exclusively for the piano, but in 1840 alone he wrote 168 songs.   Robert and Clara had eight children, Emil (who died in infancy in 1847); Marie (1841–1929); Elise (1843–1928); Julie (1845–1872); Ludwig (1848–1899); Ferdinand (1849–1891); Eugenie (1851–1938); and Felix (1854–1879).  In 1841 he wrote two of his four symphonies, No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38, “Spring” and No. 4 in D minor (first published in one movement, but later revised extensively and published as Op. 120). He devoted 1842 to composing chamber music.  In 1844 he suffered from persistent “nervous prostration.”  His state of unease and neurasthenia is reflected in his Symphony in C, numbered second, but third in order of composition. Also published in 1845 was his Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, originally published as a one-movement Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra.  

     In 1846, he felt he had recovered.   His only opera, Genoveva, Op. 81, was written in 1848.   The music to Byron’s Manfred was written in 1849, the overture of which is one of Schumann’s most frequently performed orchestral works.   From 1850 to 1854, Schumann composed in a wide variety of genres.  In 1851 he completed his Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish,” a work containing five movements, but he began to suffer a renewal of the symptoms that had threatened him earlier.  In late February 1854, Schumann’s symptoms increased. On  February 27, 1854, he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a bridge into the Rhine River.  Rescued by boatmen and taken home, he asked to be taken to an asylum for the insane. He entered Dr. Franz Richarz’s sanatorium in Endenich, a quarter of Bonn, and remained there until he died on July 29, 1856 at the age of 46.

     Schumann wrote four symphonies:

                Symphony No. 1 in BbM, op. 38, Spring (1840).

                Symphony No. 2 in CM, op. 61 (1846). 

                Symphony No. 3 in EbM, op. 97, Rhenish (1850). 

                Symphony No. 4 in dm, op. 120 (1841/1851). 

     He also wrote three concertos, one each for cello, piano, and violin, and several other concerted works for various instruments:

                Cello Concerto in am, op. 129 (1850).  Sudwestfalische Philharmonie, Florian Merz, Julius Berger cello; Schumann concertos #1, trs. 1-3

                Piano Concerto in am, op. 54 (1841-5). 

                Violin Concerto in dm, op. Posth. (1853). 

Introduction and Concert Allegro for Piano and Orchestra in dm, op. 134 (1853). 

                Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in CM, op. 131 (1853). 

                Introduction and Allegro Appassionato for Piano and Orchestra in GM, op. 92 (1849). 

                Konzertstuck for 4 Horns and Orchestra in FM, op. 86 (1849).


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