Schumann, Robert Alexander

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Schumann, Robert Alexander

(sho͞o`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), M. Geck (2012), and J. Chernaik (2018); studies by T. A. Brown (1968), S. Walsh (1972), A. Walker, ed. (1974), and J. W. Finson (1989); biography of Clara Schumann by N. Reich (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Schumann, Robert Alexander


Born June 8, 1810, in Zwickau; died July 29, 1856, in Endenich, near Bonn; buried in Bonn. German composer and musicologist.

The son of a book publisher, Schumann showed a talent for the arts, including music, while still a child. He studied under the teacher and organist J. G. Kuntzsch and made his debut as a pianist at the age of 13. He entered the University of Leipzig to study law in 1828 and continued his studies at the University of Heidelberg the following year; during this period he studied piano with the celebrated teacher F. Wieck. In 1831 and 1832 he studied music theory with the composer and conductor H. Dorn. While experimenting with a mechanical device to strengthen the muscles of the fingers, Schumann injured his right hand and destroyed all hope of becoming a piano virtuoso.

Schumann founded the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in Leipzig in 1834 and was its editor and a contributor until 1844. The journal served as a rallying point for progressive German music; Schumann called the circle of friends and musical allies who gathered around the journal the Davidsbund, after the Biblical king and bard who defeated the Philistines. In 1840 he married the pianist Clara Wieck, a daughter and student of Wieck. In 1843 he accepted a post at the Leipzig Conservatory, where for a time he taught piano, composition, and playing from score. He and his wife made several concert tours, including one to Russia in 1844. Schumann moved to Dresden in 1844, and in 1850 he took up residence in Düsseldorf, where, in addition to composing, he directed choruses and conducted a symphony orchestra. From the late 1840’s the mental illness that had plagued him gradually worsened, and he spent the final two years of his life in a hospital in Endenich, where he died.

Schumann is one of the most brilliant representatives of 19th-century romantic art. His music, which in many respects shows an affinity with the poetry of H. Heine, challenged the spiritual poverty of philistine Germany of the 1820’s to 1840’s and offered in its stead a lofty humanism. Following the tradition of F. Schubert and C. M. von Weber, Schumann further developed the democratic and realistic tendencies in German and Austrian romantic music; his work is closely tied to folk art and the traditions of German classical music.

At the same time, Schumann stands out in the history of music as a daring innovator who expanded and enriched the musical language. He sought to convey fully and precisely the processes of spiritual life, on the one hand, and exterior life—the relations and contrasts between phenomena that constitute the drama of life—on the other. This impulse partially accounts for his attempt to bring music closer to literature, especially poetry.

Most of Schumann’s piano works are cycles whose small pieces in the lyric, dramatic, mimetic, and “portrait” genres are interrelated and form a thematic and psychological sequence. One of the most characteristic examples is the cycle Carnaval (1835), which presents a variegated series of miniature scenes, dances, masques, depictions of women (among them Chiarina, who represents Clara Wieck), and musical portraits of Paganini and Chopin. Similar to Carnaval are the cycles Papillons (1831), which was inspired by the works of Jean Paul, and the Davidsbündlertänze (1837).

Among Schumann’s greatest achievements is the piano cycle Kreisleriana (1838), named after E. T. A. Hoffmann’s work, whose hero is the musician and dreamer Johannes Kreisler. Passionate longings, heroic ardor, and the world of romantic images are reflected in such piano works as the Etudes symphoniques (1834), various sonatas (1835, 1835–38, and 1836), Fantasy (1836–38), and the Concerto in A for Piano and Orchestra (1841–45). In addition to variations and sonatas, Schumann composed piano cycles that resemble suites or albums of piano pieces, such as Fantasiestücke (1837), Kinderszenen (1838), and Album für die Jugend (1848).

In his vocal works, Schumann further developed the lyric song created by Schubert. His songs subtly render details of mood, the poetry of the text, and the intonations of living speech. The role of the piano accompaniment is considerably enhanced, richly filling in the poetic image and sometimes completing the content of the song. Schumann’s most popular song cycle is Dichterliebe (1840), to poems by Heine. The cycle of 16 songs includes “Und wüssten’s die Blumen,” “Hör ich, das Liedchen klingen,” “Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen,” “Ich grolle nicht,” “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet,” and “Die alten, bösen Lieder.” Another cycle of thematically united songs is Frauenliebe und Leben (1840), to poems by A. Chammisso.

Songs on a variety of subjects are included in the cycle Myrthen (1840), set to poems by F. Rückert, Goethe, R. Burns, Heine, and Lord Byron, and the Leiderkreis (1840), set to poems by J. Eichendorff. Schumann’s songs and ballads touch on a wide variety of subjects. The ballad “Die beiden Grenadiere,” to the poem by Heine, is a brilliant example of Schumann’s civic lyricism. Many of his songs create miniature scenes or portraits of everyday people, and their music recalls the German folk song; an example is “Volksliedchen,” to the poem by Rückert.

In the oratorio Das Paradis und die Peri (1843), which is based on a theme from T. Moore’s series of oriental tales Lalla Rookh, and in Szenen aus Goethes “Faust” (1844–53), Schumann came close to realizing his old dream of writing an opera. His only completed opera, Genoveva (1848), which is based on a medieval legend, did not gain recognition in the theatrical world. Schumann’s music to Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred (1849), which consists of an overture and 15 numbers, was a great success. His four symphonies—the Spring Symphony (1841), the Symphony No. 2 (1845–46), the Rhenish Symphony (1850), and the Symphony No. 4 (1841–51)—are marked by a bright and joyous mood, and they are dominated by episodes that suggest songs and dances and by passages of a lyric and descriptive character.

Schumann composed three string quartets (1842), three piano trios (1847,1847, and 1851), a piano quartet (1842), and a piano quintet (1842) that has achieved wide renown. He is the author of choral works and of chamber music for solo strings and winds.

Schumann made a major contribution to music criticism. His journal disseminated the works of classical composers, fought against conservatism and philistinism, and championed the new romantic school in European music. Schumann castigated virtuo-sic posturing and an indifference to art that hid behind a mask of approved notions and fake erudition. His ideas were expressed through fictional personae, notably the impulsive, insolent, and mordantly ironic Florestan and the sensitive dreamer Eusebius, both of whom embodied aspects of the composer’s own personality.

Schumann’s ideals were close to those of the progressive 19th-century composers. He was regarded highly by F. Mendelssohn, H. Berlioz, and F. Liszt. In Russia, Schumann’s work was popularized by A. G. Rubinstein, P. I. Tchaikovsky, and G. A. Lar-osh, as well as by the Russian Five.


Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker, 5th ed., vols. 1–2. Leipzig, 1914.
Jugendbriefe, 4th ed. Leipzig, 1910.
Briefe: Neue Folge, 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1904.
Tagebücher, vol. 1. Leipzig, 1971.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. stat’i o muzyke. Moscow, 1956.
O muzyke i muzykantakh: Sobr. statei, vols. 1–2-A. Moscow, 1975–78.
Pis’ma, vol. 1. [Moscow, 1970.]


Larosh, G. “Shuman kak fortepiannyi kompozitor.” Sovremennaia letopis’, 1870, nos. 28–29.
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Glebov, Igor’ (B. Asaf’ev). In the collection R. Shuman: Pesni. Moscow, 1933. Pages ii-vi.
Tchaikovsky, P. I. Muzykal’no-kriticheskie stat’i. Moscow, 1953.
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Robert Schumann in seinen Schriften und Briefen. Introductory article by W. Boetticher. Berlin, 1942.
Wörner, H. Robert Schumann. [Zürich, 1949.]
Eismann. G. Robert Schumann: Ein Quellenwerk über sein Leben und Schaffen, vols. 1–2, Leipzig, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.