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Robert Schumann – A Musical and Literary Giant

- a 200th anniversary tribute to one of the greatest piano composers

Several of the great Romantic composers have important anniversaries in 2010 and 2011. Nobody will have missed by now that it’s exactly two centuries since Chopin’s birth. And in 2011 we will be certain to hear a lot about that other great Romantic piano virtuoso, Franz Liszt. But Robert Schumann was also born in 1810 and has celebrated his 200th birthday this year. Although the Schumann anniversary hasn’t exactly attracted the same huge attention as Chopin’s, there has been quite a lot of celebrations going on in honour of this important 19th century personality.

Robert Schumann certainly belongs to the artistic giants of the Romantic era. Not only was he one of the greatest composers of his time, but through his journalism and his great interest in literature he influenced the thought of a whole generation of Romantic artists. His music is a perfect mix of joyful vitality and complex intellectualism. His compositions may at times seem like advanced literary crossword puzzles, but at the same time the music has the directness and naivety that we associate with a child’s outlook.

The events leading up to his marriage to Clara Wieck form one of the most famous and touching love affairs in music history. Schumann studied piano with the well-known teacher Friedrich Wieck, whose young daughter Clara was an extremely talented musician. Mr Wieck didn’t at all approve of their attachment but after years of despair, the couple was finally able to marry in 1840.

During his time of separation from Clara, Schumann composed a great number of piano pieces, mostly short character works: Fantasiestücke, Album for the Young, Kinderszenen, Three Romances, etc. He had to give up his own pianistic career because of a paralysis of his right hand, caused either by the syphilis that would later claim his sanity, or by his use of a finger-strengthening device. But Clara supplied all the inspiration he needed to keep composing for the instrument.

As a writer and one of the founder of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik he formulated a lot of the thoughts and trends of the Romantic era. Examples of his influence are his articles on Chopin and Brahms, which contributed greatly to the recognition of the genius of these composers.

“Hats off, gentlemen, a genius”

The very first article Schumann wrote was an enthusiastic and very unconventional review of Chopin’s Opus 2, a set of variations for piano and orchestra on Mozart’s “La ci darem la mano”.
In order to make this highly entertaining text more accessible, we have prepared a new translation of it into English, which we now present to you together with the original article, published in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, 7 Dec 1831. Read the article and translation here:
An Opus 2 – original article and translation
Listen to the Variations here:
Chopin – Four Concert Pieces

Schumann Träumerei – Sheet music to download and print:

Links to other interesting resources and articles about Robert Schumann:

Gramophone: Schumann’s best-loved piano repertoire matched to recordings

Wikipedia: Robert Schumann

Classical Net: Schumann biography and recommended recordings

Essortment.com: Robert and Clara Schumann – a biography

Project Gutenberg: free e-book, Advice To Young Musicians by Robert Schumann

Please post your greetings to Schumann or let us all know how you have celebrated the Schumann anniversary in a comment below!


  1. Anne Says:

    Thanks for a nice post, and Schumanns review is simply amazing!

  2. Andre Scott Says:

    I think Schuman’s music deserves the same attention as Chopin. I have been performing all the eigth pieces in Fantasiestuck op 12 earlier this year as a tribute. All are great pieces I highly recommend!

  3. Dagmar Feyen Says:

    On December 8, I gave a lecture about the live of Schumann. The research made me realize that his music is of premium quality.
    On December 10, I gave a recital, which was entitled “Dedications”. I played the works that Schumann dedicated to Chopin and Liszt, and vice versa. I t was an adventurous endavour (try playing Kreisleriana, The Fantasy opus 17, the 2nd Ballade of Chopin and the Sonata of Liszt in one concert and you will know what I mean!), but one gets so much in return that the hard work seems trivial.

  4. David Says:

    Yes, Schumann was a great composer for piano. I especially enjoy Symphonic Etudes, Fantasy in C, Carnaval, Toccata, and Concerto and also his chamber music (piano quartet and quintet in particular) and symphonies, though I wouldn’t put his symphonies up there with Beethoven, Brahms, etc. It sounds distinctive from other composers in its melodic patterns and syncopated rhythms. While I don’t think he pushed the envelope harmonically or technically like Chopin and Liszt, I am very thankful for his work.

  5. Bob MacLeod Says:

    HI I am a clarinetist and have always enjoyed playing Schuman’s Fantasy Pieces for clarinet and piano, He was truly a musical master, Bob MacLeod

  6. Lyndi McDonald Says:

    My piano students and I had a little concert on December 16th to honour Schumann and to show off our talents amongst each other and friends.
    Both Schumann and Chopin are beloved composers for all age groups.

  7. E Carol Dales Says:

    On Nov. 21, 2010, The Long Beach Piano Group in Long Beach, California presented a recital of the works of Schumann, Chopin and Samuel Barber.
    Among the highlights were performances of No. 4 of Bilder aus Osten, Op. 66,
    for four hands and the Adagio & Allegro, Op. 70, played by cello and piano. Meanwhile, a cellist friend and I are preparing to present the Op.73 Fantasy Pieces at a future event. Schumann’s piano works are a treasure trove for solo and collaborative pianists as well as for our group’s adult amateur pianists at all levels!

  8. Ernesto Chajón Says:

    I love this composition by Schumann.
    His music is really amazing!!

  9. Tijesunimi Says:

    I love Schumann’s work a lot. His life is a touching story. Schumann could do more wonderful work if not for his paralysis. But why do most composers face health challenges?

  10. Mariana Novikova Says:

    Schumann is one of my favourite composers, so this year was an extra reason for me to learn more of his music(I’m a young Russian pianist). In May with my friends-musicians we organised a concert dedicated to Schumann’s anniversary for middle and high school students and their teachers learning German. We performed Novellette#2, #1 from Diechterliebe, Hide-and seek for 4 hands from op.85-86, 1st movt from the 1st violin sonata and Schumann-Liszt Widmung and several pieces by other composeres, and I also told the audience about Robert and Clara’s life.
    Througout the year we gave several similar concerts for students and elderly people. Besides, I wrote an article about Schumann in a local newspaper published by the German community in Samara,Russia.
    In my accompaniment class with my teacher I learned his vocal cycle Frauen liebe und leben, Widmung, Nussbaum and Lotosblume from the Myrthen cycle, now I’m learning the whole Dichterliebe and Myrthen but I haven’t yet found a singer who would sing the whole thing but I hope one day I will. His vocal music is very beautiful too!
    Finally, with my friend we’re now learning his “By the fountain”for 4 hands op.85-6 – it’s one of the most difficult in ensemble pieces we’ve played but it’s worth it!
    To draw the conclusion, I’d like to say that Schumann’s music is always very honest, sincere and full of love. And today these feelings are,unfortunately, quite rare and we -people everywhere-need them very much. I think Schumann’s music can touch the hearts of people everywhere and can bring us love, piece and harmony!
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!
    Mariana Novikova

  11. Chris Says:

    For me Schumann is the composer who invites you in to his world and shares his feelings about it. I have just discovered his three Phantasiestucke Op 111. The second of these is an excellent example of what I mean. So many of his pieces of solo piano I listen to over and over again never tiring of the dialogue he seems to invite with his listeners.

  12. 46streicher Says:

    Five of the ten piano concerts in our 2010 Historical Piano Concerts series included compositions by Chopin and Schumann; two of these concerts were of music by Chopin and Schumann only. Each concert in our series is played on a piano such as the composer would have been familiar with in his own lifetime – concert grand pianos made in Europe by the top makers of their day, all in superb playing condition.

    We also loaned a Pleyel piano to a weekend-long Chopin symposium, for a re-construction of Chopin’s last public recital; and my husband gave a lecture there about Chopin’s pianos.

    The pianists who have performed on our series are amazed at how our 1846 Viennese piano changes their whole impression of Schumann’s music; the piano has different registers – like the different instruments in a string quartet – so you really hear how Schumann was playing bass, mid-range and treble voices against one another. So many of his texture effects get lost on a heavier modern piano! It’s like about a third of what he wrote is drowned out. This is also true of his Lieder accompaniments.

  13. Lea Gentile Says:

    I’m a pianist living in China and gave a concert in the major city of Tianjin in October featuring music of Chopin, Schumann and Bach. By the way, 2010 was also the 325th anniversary of J.S. Bach. so it was a good time to draw the attention of Chinese concert go-ers to these three great masters of the keyboard. The concert had an Inter-active Children’s Corner so many kids were in attendance. The concert was titled “Kaleidoscope” and ended with Schumann’s Carnaval which truly is a kaleidoscope of colors, characters, moods and movement. A powerpoint presentation accompanied each of the 20 small pieces of the set. I was particularly struck with the rhythmic aspect of Schumann’s writing and the astonishing, even bewildering variety he achieves within the framework of the 4-note ASCH-SCHA motives. Carnaval is truly a masterwork by genius and has been called the cornerstone of the romantic period in music. I feel privileged to have been able to introduce it to a young and eager Chinese audience for whom western classical music is a rare and much appreciated treat. Thank you Robert Schumann!

    In December a 7th grade Chinese piano student of mine performed Kinderscenen in its entirety with expression, musicianship and flair. I was very proud.

  14. phing lee Says:

    If he was alived today the best of healthcare would sample his blood and care for his health so that he can further compose……what a short time of 46 years…but yet an everlasting one in the memories of his brilliant emotional compositions inspired mainly by CLARA whom no one can create this type of effffectttttt to anyone with Love of the 19th century tells that her name themes appeared in most of his music……haiyo!music analysis find it so interesting to find ……Cminor L Amajor R Aminor and all its key perturbations .hear the “Faschingsswank aus Wien……no2….”LOVE IT!

  15. Maddy Says:

    I think it is wonderful! I love that I got to read something Schumann wrote about another composer. It really gives you a look at what a great composer (and writer) Schumann was himself.

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