BOYHOOD OF SCHUMANN
"Left, face! Forward, march!" Clear rang out the words of the little
commander. Quickly the straight ranks moved across the playground. Back
and forth they marched, every one in step. When the drill was over, the
little general dismissed his troops. Day after day the boy soldiers
drilled on the playground. Each day they chose a color bearer, but the
commander was always the same. Among all the boys, no other made so good
a general as Robert Schumann. Although his manner was gentle, the lads
knew that his orders must be obeyed.
Robert Schumann was born in a quaint little Saxon town in Germany. His
birthday was the 8th of June, 1810. His father, a studious man, kept a
bookstore in the town. His mother was a good woman, busy caring for her
five children, of whom Robert was the youngest. One of Robert's
grandfathers had been a surgeon and the other had been a minister, so
why it was that Robert cared for music no one knew. But care for it he
did with all his heart.
He was the happiest boy in all Saxony when his father told him that he
might study music with the organist at St. Mary's. He was seven years
old when he had his first lesson. By the time he was eight, he could
compose dances for his little friends. His teacher was proud of the lad
and often said: "Robert, God has given you a great talent, and very
precious is such a gift. Use it well."
Robert once thought of a new game, which afterward became a great
favorite with his playmates. The game was once carried on in this way.
Robert went to the piano and played for several minutes. Then, turning
about, he said, "Whom was I describing in that music?" All the children
shouted, "Franz!" That was the very person Robert had in mind, and the
music had told the children very well that it was none other than the
merry, laughing Franz. Then the young musician turned to the piano
again. The music was no longer bright and gay, but low and sweet. When
the last note had been played, the children clapped their hands and
exclaimed: "Robert, you are a capital player. You have told us as
plainly as can be that you were thinking of little Gretchen."
When Robert Schumann was nine years old, he attended a concert given by
a young English musician. The young Englishman played remarkably well.
Robert had never heard such music before. He wondered if he could ever
be so skillful. "At least," he said to himself, "I can try." From that
moment, the desire to become a musician never left his mind. He always
kept a programme which the pianist had touched, and every time he looked
at it he thought: "Each day I must do my best. I shall succeed in no
Sometimes Robert forgot his good resolutions. He had much rather play
pretty tunes than practice his scales. It was not so pleasant to toil
over his lesson as to play the songs that he liked. When he grew older,
he saw the mistake he had made and tried to make up lost time by working
at his music in earnest.
Robert Schumann was interested in his studies at school and in the games
on the playground, but most of all he was interested in music. He formed
an orchestra which consisted of two violins, two flutes, a clarinet, and
two horns. Robert was conductor of the orchestra and played the piano.
This piano was a fine instrument, a gift to Robert from his father.
When the little leader could find no music which his musicians could
play, he composed some for them himself.
"Let us do our best with this concerto," Robert often said to the boys
of the band, "that my father may be pleased when he comes." Then, so
interested did they become in the rehearsal, that they did not notice
the father as he came softly into the room. When the concerto was
finished, he said: "You have done well, my lads. Here is some new music
as a reward."
Once Robert's teacher gave a concert. A chorus of many voices sang a
beautiful piece of music. No orchestra played while the chorus sang;
their only accompaniment was a piano. The audience was amazed to see a
small boy take his place at the instrument and play the accompaniment
with skill. The boy was Robert Schumann.
While Robert was in the high school, he set the one hundred and fiftieth
Psalm to music. He composed not only the music for the singers, but also
an accompaniment for the orchestra. About this time, too, he often
appeared in public concerts.
In 1825 Robert's father died. The boy felt his loss keenly, for no one
else had encouraged him in his music as his father had done. His mother
loved him dearly, but she wished that he might become a lawyer rather
than a musician. She hoped that he might graduate with honors from the
law school. She dreamed that her boy might one day become the finest
lawyer in the empire.
SCHUMANN A LAW STUDENT
At last the long course at the high school was completed. Then Robert
Schumann left his native town and journeyed to Leipzig to become a
student of law. He had no desire to be a lawyer, but he loved his mother
too dearly to disobey her wishes. Now Robert should have spent every
moment at his studies, and he knew this all too well. Instead, he spent
many, many hours with his loved instrument or with friends who cared for
naught but music. He did not mean to slight his work, for he had made up
his mind not to disappoint his mother. He wrote her from Leipzig: "I
have no taste for the law. My studies are dry and irksome; but I have
resolved to become a lawyer. When a man determines to succeed, he can
indeed do all things."
At the time that Schumann was attending the university, Frederick Wieck
was one of the best piano teachers in Germany. Schumann had made rapid
progress with this teacher. He spent more time than ever at the piano
and grew more and more to dislike his lectures at the university.
After some twelve months spent in Leipzig, Schumann wrote to his mother,
asking permission to go to Heidelberg to continue his studies. He wished
to hear the lectures of one of the most famous lawyers in Germany. Now
you must know that this famous man was also a musician. Perhaps Schumann
knew this and cared more for the music than for the law. At any rate he
was very happy when his mother granted his request, and he left Leipzig
with a light heart.
Schumann had not had his piano sent to Heidelberg, and he missed it
greatly. Two or three days passed, and he had not once touched an
instrument. One day, while he was out walking, so the story goes, he
passed a music store and saw some pianos in the window. Schumann was a
timid man; but his desire to play overcame all his fears, and he walked
boldly into the shop. Seating himself before one of the pianos, he
played for three hours. At the sound of the sweet tones, the men in the
shop put aside their work and gathered about the musician. Schumann did
not see the group of listeners, did not hear their cries of wonder, nor
notice their applause. His thoughts were far away.
It was not long before Schumann found lodgings and hired a piano. He was
very happy in his new home. He said to a friend, "I look from my window
and see a splendid old mountain castle. The green hills covered with
oaks meet my view on every side. I feel like a prince, and a real prince
could not ask for anything more lovely than the view from my window."
Although Schumann had gone to a new city, he retained his old habits. It
was much more pleasant to go to the open piano than to dust-covered law
books. We are told that he practiced seven hours a day, and that the
evenings were spent with music-loving friends. Yes, life was bright and
happy for Schumann then.
Every moment that he spent among his law books was hard work for
Schumann; but he would practice a sonata or a symphony for hours at a
time and consider it mere play. He was often invited by his friends to
take long drives. Even on these little pleasure trips, he always carried
a dumb keyboard with him. On it his fingers performed the most difficult
passages, as the carriage rolled over the broad avenues of the city or
by the side of some winding stream.
It was in 1828 that Schumann went to Heidelberg, and in September of the
same year he took a little trip into Italy and Switzerland. He talked
but little of the grand old mountains, the clear Swiss lakes, and the
blue Italian skies. Though he said nothing, the beauty of it all sank
deep into his soul, and every song which he wrote afterwards was the
sweeter for it.
On this journey Schumann heard some of the greatest musicians of his
time. One of these was a violinist famed for his skill. As Schumann
listened, he thought: "I should be perfectly happy if I could play as
well on the piano as that man plays upon the violin. I need try no
longer to become a lawyer. It is of no use. When I return to Heidelberg,
I shall ask my mother's permission to devote all my time to music."
The letter was written. Before the mother made reply, she wrote to
Leipzig and asked the advice of Frederick Wieck, Robert's former
teacher. In response he wrote, saying that it might be a good plan to
give Robert six months to show what he could do as a pianist. So it was
decided that Schumann should give up law and study music in Leipzig.
SCHUMANN THE MUSICIAN
In Leipzig, Schumann found lodgings near Wieck's home and again took up
his music studies. He was so anxious to excel that he was willing to
begin with the simplest music, although he could read a concerto at
sight. He practiced even more than his teacher thought was best. The
third finger of his right hand seemed weaker than the other fingers. In
order to make it strong, he fastened it in a strained position and kept
it so for hours at a time.
Instead of the hand growing stronger, it became crippled. This made
Schumann very sad. He knew then that he could never become a master of
the piano. He did not, however, give up his music, though he could play
so little. The hours formerly spent in practice were now used for
composition. Had it not been for the change in Schumann's plans, perhaps
he would have become famous in Germany only as a pianist, but now the
world knows him as a composer.
It happened that Schumann met in Leipzig a young girl, who loved music
with all her heart. She was Clara Wieck, the winsome daughter of
Robert's teacher. She had a marvelous talent for music and even when a
child played the piano with remarkable skill. She appeared often in
public concerts and was much petted and praised. Praise, however, did
not spoil her. In fact, each day she became more gentle and lovable. She
and Robert Schumann became fast friends.
Among Schumann's other friends in Leipzig were some young men. They were
all interested in music and met every evening for study. When a new
piece of music appeared, they discussed its good points. At that time
much poor music was written, and many poor musicians were receiving
praise that they had not earned. The young men knew that this was not
right. They wished that the good musicians might become better known.
This circle of friends were thoughtful, earnest young men,--friends of
the good, enemies of the bad. They could think of no way to make matters
better. One evening Schumann said to them: "Let us publish a paper that
will help things to grow better. We will boldly speak the truth, and if
a man's work is poor, we will pay no heed to him. If any musician does
well, he shall have our praise."
As the young men agreed, the paper was started. Robert Schumann was
chosen editor. His articles for the little paper were well written and
he never spoke ill of any one. He once wrote kindly of Mendelssohn's
work. When Mendelssohn saw the article, he said: "I am quite delighted.
Such praise comes from a pure heart. Ten thousand thanks to the man who
In 1832 Schumann composed his first symphony in G minor. One movement of
this symphony was played at a concert, and the pianist was none other
than the wonder-child, Clara Wieck. The people at the concert often
heard good music, but the girl's playing amazed them. They applauded her
again and again; they waved their handkerchiefs and tried in every way
to show their admiration.
This symphony of Schumann's was never published. His compositions were
not popular. "As surely as every gleam of sunshine found its way into
Mendelssohn's music, so every shadow found its way into Schumann's." For
this reason many did not care for the music which Robert Schumann wrote.
Still he worked on, not caring for the praises of men. He was happy in
this--that he could express in music the beautiful thoughts that filled
While Schumann had been busy with his paper and his compositions, Clara
Wieck had become a beautiful young woman. Schumann saw her often at her
father's house and grew to love her dearly. In 1840 she became his wife.
We have told you that Clara Schumann had been called a wonder-child. At
the time of her marriage, she was known as the finest pianist in all
Germany. She played Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven at the concerts which
she gave in many large cities. In all of these places she was highly
All of Robert Schumann's best music was written after his marriage. In
one year alone he composed over a hundred songs, and what beautiful
songs they are! In almost every country the songs of Schumann are well
known. Just as Wagner is known as a writer of operas, so Schumann is
known as a writer of songs. Some of his most famous songs are: The
Stranger, Butterflies, and The Poet Speaks.
Robert and Clara Schumann worked together at their music in their cozy
little home. They were very happy, and home was the dearest spot in the
world to them. Sometimes they made long concert tours, but they always
rejoiced when they could return to Leipzig once more. On one of their
concert tours, they visited northern Germany, Sweden, and Russia. In all
of those countries they met with the greatest success.
While they were in Russia, they spent some time in St. Petersburg, where
they were invited to court. The royal family and all the nobility showed
them the highest honors; and when Clara Schumann played, she received
the compliments of all. Even the princess came to the Schumanns, begging
them to remain in St. Petersburg.
Clara Schumann was fond of playing her husband's music. In Russia, the
people liked one of Mendelssohn's compositions better than anything else
that she played. It was the Spring Song, one of the beautiful Songs
without Words. So delighted were the people when she played it, that
they called for it again and again. The emperor demanded it three times.
Outside of his own home Robert Schumann was a very silent man. It is
said that he once went to a friend's house, entered the music room with
a friendly nod, went straight to the piano, and opened it, softly
whistling the while. Seating himself, he played a few chords, followed
by a charming melody, closed the piano, and walked out, nodding his head
in a friendly way. Then off he went without a word to any one.
Although at different times Schumann lived in various cities, most of
his compositions were written in Leipzig. He was a hard worker, in one
year writing thirty pieces of music. Some of his well-known
compositions are The Pilgrimage of the Rose, the music for Faust,
and the music for Byron's Manfred.
In 1845 Schumann was obliged to leave Leipzig on account of failing
health. He chose Dresden for his home. He heard no music, for his doctor
had forbidden it. He led a very quiet life, seeing few friends. It was
at that time that he made the acquaintance of Richard Wagner. At the end
of the year his health was much improved. He took up his work once more
and wrote his second symphony.
During the next eight years Schumann wrote many beautiful compositions.
He lost much time, however, on account of ill-health.
Two years before his death, Schumann and his wife took a trip through
Holland. The composer was very much pleased to find that the Dutch
people knew his music and loved it well.
On his return to the Fatherland, his health failed utterly. His mind,
which had not been strong for some time, grew weaker day by day. During
the last months of his life he spent much time at his beloved piano. He
died in 1856 and was buried in Bonn.