Schumann, Robert Alexander

1810-1856

One of the few really great musicians; born June 8, 1810, at Zwickau, Saxony; the youngest of five children. His parents were not musical, nor, so far as has been discovered, were any of his ancestors. His father, Friedrich Gottlob, was a bookseller with literary tastes and ability, who encouraged his son's fondness for music and literature; his mother was a practical housewife of very ordinary intellect, but warm-hearted, devoted to her children, and while not imaginative, possessed a certain sentimentality of nature which is said to have been the source of Robert's romantic tendencies. The boy showed an early inclination toward music, and was placed at seven years of age under the instruction of a school-teacher, Kuntsch, whose knowledge of music was limited; however, the boy studied for several years until his teacher declared he could go on alone, and it is said, prophesied future greatness for him. It is evident from a letter of Schumann's in 1852, that he remembered Kuntsch with loving respect and gratitude. At ten he became a student at the Zwickau Academy, where he formed a friendship with the son of a musician, and the two played together four-hand arrangements of the works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Schumann discovered in his father's shop a complete orchestral score of the overture to Tigranes, and organized a band among his schoolmates to perform it. Not having enough instruments for all the parts, he supplied the rest on the   piano. He also showed his originality in improvising musical portraits of the other boys, which were so true to life as to be at once recognized by his young friends. According to his own account, he composed some choral music unaided at eleven; at any rate, he set the 150th Psalm to music for this little orchestra, and also composed other sketches for them. The elder Schumann watched and sympathized with all these early experiments, and opened up correspondence with von Weber in regard to placing Robert with him for a thorough course in music; but for some reason the negotiations failed to bring about any result. At about fourteen Robert, who inherited his father's literary turn, made some contributions to a biographical dictionary published by the firm of Schumann Bros. For a year or two he hardly knew whether he preferred music or literature.

In 1826 Robert's father died, and with the loss of his sympathy and encouragement came a change in the son's disposition. Previously lively, mischievous, and ready to take the lead in everything, he became quieter, more reserved and shrinking, with occasional periods of melancholy, which increased as he grew older. His mother and his guardian planned that he should prepare for the profession of law; accordingly he entere4 Leipsic University at eighteen for that purpose, after completing his general education at the Zwickau Gymnasium. Here the lectures and the usual student life were alike distasteful, and he avoided both as far as possible, making but few friends, and spending much time at a piano in his own room; in fact, during the first few months of his course, his time was practically wasted as regarded his studies. The death of Schubert the same year affected him deeply; he had greatly admired the works of the latter, and was now inspired to compose some piano duets, a quartet for piano and strings, and songs to poems by Byron, none of which was ever published. Among his fellow students he formed no intimate friendships except with Rosen, who shared his unbounded enthusiasm for the writings of Jean Paul Richter, a writer whose somewhat fantastic, exuberant imagination had a stronger influence over young minds in Germany at that time than the more important poets, Goethe and Schiller. He also frequented the home of Dr. Cams, an old friend of his father, who had recently entered upon a professorship in Leipsic, and whose wife, a singer and enthusiastic musician, opened up new stores to Schumann's mind. He occupied himself at the piano with the clavier works of Bach, for which he felt an admiration and comprehension that has been called one of the clearest proofs of his own genius, untrained as it had been.