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Which statement is NOT true
of composer Robert Schumann?
A. He destroyed his hand (and his career as a
B. He married his piano teacher’s daughter—and
there wereTWO lawsuits about this.
C. He was the first person to call Frederic Chopin
D. He ended his days in an insane asylum.
Schumann is famous for all
four of those reasons.
(Statement A, however, is only partly true, as we will
He’s also famous for writing
some of the loveliest piano
music ever. As well as
ROMANTIC--Chopin BEETHOVEN—can’t be put in
Schumann is a Romantic.
Because of the style of
music he composed. The other
meaning of the word applies
to him, too, though.
He famously eloped with Clara Wieck (pronounced
Veek), who became Clara Schumann when they married.
Clara was world famous. She is
still considered to be one of the
greatest pianists of all time.
She was the first to do many of the
things that pianists still do
today. She was the first, for
example, to completely memorize all
her music. She never played while
reading from a score; something
which was unheard of at that time.
Clara was a famous pianist at age eleven. Robert
first heard her play at a concert when she was
fifteen. He immediately decided that he also was
going to become a ‘virtuoso’—a great pianist.
He was also already twenty-four years old.
However, he got accepted as a piano student by
Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, who was her
Robert moved into the Wieck
home to study full time. When
he got engaged to Clara, her
father not only threw him out,
but sued him in court. He
wanted a judge to prevent the
marriage, and said that not
only was Robert a terrible
person, but that he had bad
When the judge ruled that
twenty year old Clara could
marry as she pleased, her
father sued her for her
earnings up to that point,
saying she had earned the
money because of his
teaching. Clara was rich
from her piano playing at
Wieck did have excellent
teaching methods. He believed
in overall musical development,
not in just drills, and
emphasized expressiveness over
finger dexterity. Clara was
famous for her beautiful legato
playing. She would later teach
this skill to some of the
important twentieth century
When Clara married Robert, her father didn’t speak to her
again until she had her first child. Here are the Schumanns
together, and this is a photograph of Clara with her first
The Schumanns had eight children. Here are six
of them. They were Marie, Elise, Julie, Emil,
Ludwig, Ferdinand, Eugenie, and Felix.
Clara was famous when she
got married—Robert was not.
He had showed a great deal
of talent as a piano student
though and Friedrich Wieck
thought he could make him
into a virtuoso, before
Robert injured his hand.
The story is that he did it using
something like this ‘Dactylion’...
…hoping for a shortcut to
improve his finger dexterity.
This is not true. Robert
most probably had a
performance injury, of the
repetitive stress type. This
is unfortunately quite
common among pianists. It’s
why proper piano technique
and posture are VERY, VERY
The bench should be high enough so that
your hips are level with or slightly above your
You should be able to place your hands
comfortably on the keys without having to
reach too far forward.You should not have to
move your elbows more than a few inches
forward in order to reach the keys.
Your feet should be directly below or slightly
in front of your knees, never behind your
Stretch before playing, take
breaks and stop playing if
you have pain.
Playing the piano should
With proper technique, you should be able to
enjoy playing for a long time. Clara’s last
performance was when she was 71. So she
performed for sixty years.
She always played a lot of
Robert’s music at her
concerts, and she made his
music famous. Robert began
composing when he realized
he would not recover the use
of his hands, at least not
enough to perform regularly
Robert was not only a great
composer. He was a very
talented writer. He is one
of the most important music
It was as a music critic that he
‘discovered’ Chopin in 1831. When he
wrote about how good Chopin’s music was,
others began to notice the Polish genius.
Robert’s creative writing
talents made him want to
write music in a particular
way. He wanted to portray
ideas and events with his
music writing, just as he
did with words. Or as close
as possible. This kind of
literary music writing is
called ‘program music’…
…and Robert was its pioneer.
One of his first pieces of
music was called Papillons
‘Program music’ was to become
very important, but the public
was confused by it at first. It
was not like the kinds of music
they were used to—concertos and
sonatas. It took years for
Robert’s style to become
admired—Clara spent years
A lot of Robert Schumann’s
loveliest music is like
poetry. Listen to the famous
Traumerei means ‘dreaming.’
Traumerei is part no. 7 of his
Kinderszenen (opus 15).
Other pieces in this work
have names like Blind Man’s
Buff (no. 3) and Knight of
the Hobbyhorse (no. 9).
‘Kinderszenen’ means ‘Scenes
from Childhood’. Robert
Schumann loved children. He
wrote piano music
specifically for them in his
Album for the Young.
He was a very good father to
his family, and a good
husband to Clara. The
Schumann family was happy
while he was alive and
Unfortunately, Robert was prone to
mental illness. He eventually
became completely insane.
It’s not clear exactly what went
wrong inside his brain. He said he
heard the note ‘A’ sounding inside
his head and that it would not
stop. He saw ghosts (one of his
last great pieces of music, Ghosts
Variations, opus 24, is based on
the ghosts he saw). He became very
depressed. He told Clara he needed
to be in a mental hospital, away
from her and the children. It was
very sad for all of them.
There weren’t a lot of
treatments or medicines for
mental illnesses then. He
died in 1856, still
hospitalized. He was 46,
and Clara was only 37.
Clara did not remarry. The Schumanns are
buried in the same grave.
Robert made a friend before he went to the mental
asylum. This was another astonishing pianist,
Johannes Brahms, who fell desperately in love with
Clara, while Robert was sick.
Young Brahms. He was fourteen years younger than Clara.
When Robert died, Clara was free to marry
Brahms. But she did not. So Brahms never
Brahms wrote Clara hundreds of
letters. He wrote music for her.
His last four songs (Serious Songs,
opus 121) were written after she
had a stroke, mourning for her, as
she died. He helped her to promote
Robert’s music. He even babysat
for her, when she went on her
concert tours to support the family
as a single mother.
Brahms became one of the
great composers. He composed
some lovely piano music
(which Clara introduced to
the public), but we won’t
have a slide show on him.
Look him up, though. He
wrote a lot more than just
Clara composed some music herself,
which is quite good. Robert had
encouraged her with this. She was
a bit shy about it. She stopped
when he died.
Some of her music is featured here:
It would have been a lot for
her to continue to perform,
and tour, as she did, and
teach in one of the most
important German music
schools and take care of the
eight children—and compose
It’s amazing she managed as
much as she did.
It won’t be so long before
you can play some of Robert
Schumann’s music for
children. It’s not all that
difficult. But it’s so
interesting to play that
concert pianists like to
perform it. You have to have
good technique for it.
I hope you will listen to some
of his other music as well.
Carnaval , Opus 9
Symphonic Etudes, Opus 13 (what’s an
Kreisleriana, Opus 16
Next time we will talk about
composer, Claude Debussy.
For your homework, look up
the impressionist painters.
Look at some of their