Saturday, 21 November 2015


“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - Frederick Douglass

Robert Alexander Schumann (1810 - 1856) was the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, and he showed early abilities in both music and literature, the second facility used in his later writing on musical subjects. After brief study at university, he was allowed by his widowed mother and guardian to undertake serious study of the piano with Friedrich Wieck, whose favourite daughter Clara was later to become Schumann’s wife.

His ambitions as a pianist were thwarted by a weakness in the fingers of one hand, but the 1830s nevertheless brought a number of compositions for the instrument. The year of his marriage, 1840, was a year of song, followed by attempts in which his young wife encouraged him at more ambitious forms of orchestral composition. Settling first in Leipzig and then in Dresden, the Schumanns moved in 1850 to Düsseldorf, where Schumann had his first official appointment, as municipal director of music. In 1854 he had a serious mental breakdown, followed by two years in the asylum at Endenich before his death in 1856. As a composer Schumann’s gifts are clearly heard in his piano music and in his songs.

The piano music of Schumann, whether written for himself, for his wife, or, in later years, for his children, offers a wealth of material. From the earlier period comes “Carnaval”—a series of short musical scenes with motifs derived from the letters of the town of Asch; this was the home of a fellow student of Friedrich Wieck called Ernestine von Fricken, to whom Schumann was briefly engaged. The same period brought the “Davidsbündlertänze” (‘Dances of the League of David’), a reference to the imaginary league of friends of art against the surrounding Philistines. This decade also brought the first version of the monumental “Symphonic Studies” (based on a theme by the father of Ernestine von Fricken) and the well-known “Kinderszenen” (‘Scenes of Childhood’).

“Kreisleriana” has its literary source in the Hoffmann character Kapellmeister Kreisler, “Papillons” (‘Butterflies’) has a source in the work of the writer Jean Paul, and Noveletten has a clear literary reference in the very title. Later piano music by Schumann includes the “Album für die Jugend” (‘Album for the Young’) of 1848, “Waldszenen” (‘Forest Scenes’) of 1849, and the collected “Bunte Blätter” (‘Coloured Leaves’) and “Albumblätter” (‘Album Leaves’) drawn from earlier work.

Here is his “Kinderszenen” (‘Scenes of Childhood’) op. 15, played by Martha Argerich. This is a set of thirteen pieces of music for piano written in 1838. In this work, Schumann provides us with his adult reminiscences of childhood. Schumann had originally written 30 movements for this work, but chose 13 for the final version. Nr. 7, Träumerei (Dreaming), is one of Schumann's best known pieces; it was the title of a 1944 German biographical film on Robert Schumann.

Schumann had originally labeled this work “Leichte Stücke” (Easy Pieces). Likewise, the section titles were only added after the completion of the music, and Schumann described the titles as “nothing more than delicate hints for execution and interpretation”.


  1. Marta is wonderful Thank you for this...needed it today. The only opportunity I had to see her perform...she cancelled her concert.