Schumann, Robert Alexander
Schumann was above medium height, rather stout, with a dignified bearing and slow movements; he could not be called handsome, the lower part of his face being too heavy, and the head, though strong in outline, did not render the expression of his face intellectual; it was pleasant and kindly, however, and when talking with intimate friends was still further lighted up by eyes usually downcast, in keeping with his absent, introspective habits of thought. The connection between Schumann's life and works is more intimate than that of any other of the great composers except Chopin, with whom he is often compared as an exponent of the romantic movement in music, and in his being first and foremost a composer for the piano. While Chopin received the education of a virtuoso as a child, and wrote brilliantly as well as poetically for his instrument, Schumann's thorough technical training, as well as his theoretical study, was delayed till early manhood, and then :ut short. His was a stronger, broader nature than Chopin's, and the peculiar technical difficulties of his compositions are invariably those that arise purely from the multitude of musical images crowding his mind and clamoring for existence. He never wrote for effect; all his music expresses phases of his mind and soul. As he advanced in years he valued all the experiences and sensations of life according to their adaptability for translation into music; and thus he deserves the title of the most subjective and psychological of composers. " In a certain sense," says Kelterborn in Famous Composers and Their Works, " Schumann's works may be regarded as a musical commentary on his life . . . particularly in the earlier piano compositions." Although he bears some resemblance to Schubert, to Beethoven and to Bach, which cannot be called in any sense an imitation of any of them; this is traceable in his later works alone, not taking into consideration those marked by the decline of his powers. In melody, harmony and rhythm, as well as in musical content, he was original from the first. The influence of poetry is directly noticeable in his songs. Finck ranks him in the same category with Schubert, Franz and Grieg. Schumann had the advantage of Schubert in a wider variety of poems from which to select, and is given much credit for popularizing the best German poets of his time. The very intimacy of the union of Schumann's music with the German words of poems by Heine, Ruckert, Eichendorff, Chamisso and Kerner causes them to lose some of their beauty when translated into other languages, and hence to lessen their appreciation among other than German-speaking peoples. His genius was akin to that of Heine in the power to suggest unexpressed depths of feeling in a few lines, both in his short piano-pieces and in his treatment of the piano ' accompaniment and the postlude to many of his songs, which intensifies their emotional atmosphere.
His best songs include those dedicated to his bride, the Myrthen cycle, including Die Lotusblume, Du bist wie eine Blume, and Der Nussbaum; other cycles, to songs by Kerner, including Wanderlust; by Eichendorff, the cycle, Woman's Love and Life; Heine's Liederkreis; Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), in which is included Ich Grolle Nicht, considered his very finest song; Liebesfruhling (Springtime of Love) cycle, of which the best two were written by his wife, without a suspicion of any assistance from her husband. Finck, in comparing Schumann with Schubert, says that the latter surpassed him in descriptive power, as in Erl King, but that Schumann possessed a vein of humor which enabled him to give adequate expression to what Fuller-Maitland calls " that mirth of Heine's, which seems always on the verge of tears." The same quality has been remarked in his Humoreske for piano.
A well-known ballad is The Two Grenadiers; the part-song, Gipsy Life, is popular, and other less known partsongs of greater musical value are the Advent and New Year's Songs of Ruckert, and the Requiem to Migjnon, from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister.
Of his chamber-music, the finest number is a quintet for piano and strings, dedicated to his wife. Berlioz heard this and had it performed in Paris; it was the work which made Dr. Schumann's reputation general throughout Europe, and has been pronounced the best piece of chambermusic since Beethoven, and a classical masterpiece for all time. A trio and quartet for piano and strings were also written in 1842, the latter being played in December, 1844, by Mme. Schumann, David as violinist, and Gade, then director at Leipsic, violaplayer. The three string quartets dedicated to Mendelssohn were composed within a month, and show the peculiarity w.hich dominates to some extent all of Schumann's compositions which may be called the idiom of the piano, for which he so long composed exclusively that all his musical thoughts were expressed in it as a native tongue. He was at his best, in this field, in the works which include the piano.