Schumann, Robert Alexander

While in Dresden, Schumann went frequently to the opera, and began to compose Genoveva. Ever since 1840 he had desired to begin an opera, but could not undertake it with his editorial work. The libretto of Genoveva was commenced by Reinicke who gave it up, continued by Hebel, and finally finished by Schumann himself. Its production was delayed by evasions and promises on the part of the director of the Leipsic Theatre till after several years his patience was exhausted, and he was on the point of going to law about it, but was dissuaded by friends. The opera was not produced until 1850, in the unpropitious month of June. However, his friends and admirers filled the house, but only Spohr commended it, as it coincided with his own ideas of opera without recitative. Schumann could not see its lack of real dramatic effect as did the public and the critics; it contained many beauties, was nobly conceived, and the overture is pronounced by Spitta a masterpiece of its kind, worthy to rank with classical models; but it did not please the public as a dramatic work, and Schumann felt deeply a lack of appreciation.

Genoveva was finished in 1848; he next took up the work begun in 1844, the setting of the Faust scenes to music. He worked at the various scenes for several years, and the overture was not composed until 1853. The year 1849 was marked by political disturbances, which the composer escaped by retiring from Dresden to a neighboring village, where he occupied himself with composition. This year was the most prolific of any since the first year of his marriage, and he is said to have worked with an ease and power of concentration never experienced before, and undisturbed by any sort of noise around him. He produced all kinds of music this year, that to Byron's Manfred being probably the most important. It was brought out by Liszt at the theatre in Weimar, June, 1852, but had been previously given at a Leipsic concert in 1851. His work was affected, to some extent, by mental agitation; he spoke afterward of 1849 as his "most fruitful year, as if the external storms moved men to greater inner action; " but his opus 76, for piano, shows the beginning of confusion in his methods of work. From this time an increasing bewilderment and weakness of judgment is revealed in his compositions for the piano, although those for piano with other instruments remain comparatively clear. A number of the later songs show this painful decline in creative power, and The Pilgrimage of the Rose, a setting for solos, chorus and orchestra, exemplifies the loss of critical intelligence which preceded more serious symptoms of mental disorder, although the opening song, a hymn to spring, is said to surpass in melodiousness and spontaneity the other songs of this period. The libretto as a whole, however, is considered too trivial a subject for such a work.

In 1850 Schumann was called upon to succeed Hiller in the directorship at Düsseldorf, from which the latter was about to retire to accept a call to Cologne. He was not anxious to make this change, but it seemed best, although he feared that the musical conditions in his new field would be uncongenial. In this he was agreeably disappointed, finding a good vocal society and a capable orchestra, both well trained by his predecessors, while his duties also included conducting the subscription concerts of the winter season. At first everything seemed auspicious; more interest than had ever been known before was shown in the concerts, and the directors found it practicable to maintain several more than the wonted half-dozen of the winter. Schumann's lifelong desire to assist young musicians was gratified to a greater extent than before; now he found it within his province to devote one of these concerts to the works of living composers. This position won him other recognitions. In 1851 he was invited to act as one of the judges in awarding the prizes at a choral contest in Antwerp, while in Leipsic, which he revisited in 1852, a week was given over to the performance of his most important works at the Gewandhaus. Liszt, Joachim and other artists had come to Leipsic for the purpose of hearing these works, but the attitude of the public was neutral. In fact, he found that his music was received with more enthusiasm in foreign countries than in Germany.