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Robert 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

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

other way."

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.


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.


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

wrote this."

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

his mind.

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.