Schumann, Robert Alexander
Schumann's early attempts at large works were hampered by his want of theoretical knowledge, especially the piano sonatas, of which the G minor is considered the best. He never attained the same command of orchestration as Mendelssohn or Beethoven, yet at times displayed originality in writing for instruments as well as his customary unfailing freshness of invention. Of the overtures, those to Manfred and to Genoveva rank the highest. He also wrote overtures to the Faust scenes, to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a festival overture with chorus on the Rhine Wine Song, and two to proposed operas that were never written, viz., Schiller's Bride of Messina, and Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea. Of his choral works Paradise and Peri, The Pilgrimage of the Rose, and the part-songs have been reviewed. "The rest," says Hadow, " belong to Schumann's period of exhaustion."
Although Schumann declared that sacred music was the "highest aim of every true artist," he did not turn to it until his latter years; owing partly to this, and perhaps also in part to the fact that his early home atmosphere had not been strictly religious, he did not succeed especially in his sacred compositions. Then, too, his sympathies were with the Protestant Church, and the prevailing sentiment at Düsseldorf, where he wrote these works, was Catholic, and the immediate incentive to this kind of composition was doubtless the demand for music to be performed at the periodical church concerts there. The Advent and New Year's Hymn, previously mentioned, a mass, a requiem, a motet with organ accompaniment, were all settings of poems by Rückert. Although their conception is grave and noble enough, they were not entirely satisfactory as choral music. The sketches, studies, and fugues for pedal piano may be considered Schumann's contribution to organ music ; it is comparatively unimportant, and unequal in value and character. A canon, in B minor, is frequently heard on modern organ programs.
His dramatic music comprises Genoveva, the Faust scenes, and music to Byron's Manfred. In the last he found a subject which appealed closely to him, and the result was one of his most inspired works, although a compromise between theatre and concert room, and not wholly adapted to either. It is a work for a musician rather than for the ordinary listener. His piano concerto in A minor is considered one of his most beautiful and mature works. He established a deeper relation between the piano and the orchestra than his predecessors. There are several other works of the kind for piano, and also two concertos and a fantasie, dedicated to Joachim, which belong properly to the period of decline. A violin concerto in manuscript by Schumann was found after the death of Joachim among his papers, which he had refrained from publishing because of the too evident traces of his friend's insanity. Schumann's violin sonatas, and various pieces for other instruments with piano, such as oboe, clarinet, etc., were all written after his climax had been reached.
A number of piano-pieces have already been mentioned. Other important ones are the toccata, opus 7, and the allegro, opus 8, both brilliant concert-pieces of originality and power. The Papillons and Carnival are well-known works of his first period; to that of his engagement to Clara Wieck belong the well-known smaller numbers, Evening, Soaring, Why, Tangled Dreams; and other miniature gems which appeal alike to musician and to music-lover are the Traumerei (Dreaming), and the Bird as Prophet, from the Waldscenen (Wood Scenes). Others worthy of mention are the Arabeske, Blumenstuck, and the Nachtstucke, especially the familiar one in F. The Album for the Young is what its name implies, and differs in purpose and character from the Scenes from Childhood. In the fantasia, opus 17, dedicated to Liszt, we find a highly-inspired composition, which recalls Beethoven, upon whose monument the composer originally intended to bestow it as an " Obolus." Schumann also wrote a small sonata for each of his three daughters.
Schumann was the first Composer who grasped the deepest significance and possibilities in rhythm, and the first who possessed both creative genius in music and the qualities of a just, broad-minded and appreciative musical critic. He is one of the most original of musicians. Bach exercised a stronger influence over him than any other, but Schumann's use of counterpoint differs from the earlier master's in that it deals with harmonic forms rather than in melodic passages. By natural gifts he was the strongest of the group of contemporary romanticists. In speaking of his contemporaries, Mendelssohn and Schubert, he stated that, while he could learn something from the former, Mendelssohn could also learn something from him, and that if he himself had been situated in the same happy circumstances he would have surpassed all of them. This shows at once his modesty and his self-respect.
It is true that the piano and his individual style of writing for it, while it placed him at the head of composers for that instrument, influenced all his work to the extent of interfering with the technique of composition for orchestra, chorus, or stringed instruments.