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Most Beautiful Romance in Musical History

[Editor's Note.—The remarkable love of Robert Schumann for his talented and faithful wife is one of the very brightest spots in the story of musical art. Mr. Finck is peculiarly adapted to write upon this subject as any reader of his first published work, "Romantic Love and Personal Beauty," will realize. In fact this article might well have been a chapter in this book in which Mr. Finck advances the interesting idea that romantic love is the product of modern civilization.]
As a lad of eighteen, Robert Schumann went to Leipsic with the intention of studying law at the university. But while he was enrolled as a studiosus juris, he was very much more interested in music. Looking about for a piano teacher, his choice fell upon Fried- rich Wieck, partly because of his fame, but largely also because Wieck had a daughter who, though but nine years old, already played astonishingly well; indeed, she began her public career as a pianist the following year. Schumann concluded that a man who could produce such results with his daughter must be a good teacher. He was also interested in this bright and talented girl, whose name was Clara, and spent many hours telling her fairy and ghost stories.
That was the beginning of the most romantic of all musical courtships.
In accordance with the migratory custom of German students, Schumann spent the following year in Heidelberg, but in 1830 he returned to Leipsic and not only continued his lessons with Wieck, but for two years lived in the same house with him, being treated as if he were a member of the family. On one occasion, when Clara was to play at Zwickau, Schumann wrote to his mother that the thirteen-year-old prodigy would give her much to think about. The two met; they happened to be looking out of the window when Robert passed, whereupon the mother clasped the girl in her arms and said: "You must be my son's wife some day."
Never was there a more romantic lover than Robert Schumann. When he was twenty-three, she fourteen, he wrote to her suggesting the following plan for mitigating the pangs of temporary separation: "To-morrow, precisely at eleven o'clock, I shall play the adagio of Chopin's Variations and at the same time think intently and exclusively of you. I beg you to do the same, so that we may meet and see each other mentally."
robert-and-clara-schumann.jpgCLARA'S RIVAL.
To move our feelings a piece of music must have its dissonances as well as its concords of sweet sound. The same is true of a love story. The course of true love never did run smooth, as the greatest of poets has told us; certainly that of Clara and Robert didn't. The first discord was the appearance of a rival. On one of her concert tours Clara had made the acquaintance of a girl named Ernestine von Fricken, who came with her to study with Wieck. Just at that time Wieck sent Clara to Dresden to study theory with Reissiger. During her absence Robert became more and more interested in Ernestine. He described her as "a delightfully innocent, childish soul, tender and pensive, attached to me and to everything artistic by the most sincere love, extremely musical—in short, just the kind of a girl I could wish to marry."
He had suffered from fits of despondency because success came to him so slowly; his doctor had advised him to marry; Ernestine loved him; he thought he loved her; they became informally engaged and he gave her a ring when she left Leipsic; but after her departure he soon discovered that it had been only a momentary infatuation—"a summer-night's dream." He found she had not told him the truth regarding her parentage; her letters were painfully ungrammatical—he contrasted them, and her personality, with Clara's, and he awoke from his dream to find that, after all, she was the girl he really loved.
As for poor Clara, she was greatly distressed when she came back home and heard that Robert was engaged to Ernestine. She started on a concert tour, but her heart was no longer in her work. "Clara plays reluctantly and seems disinclined to do anything," her father wrote from Hamburg.
Fortunately, the foolish episode with Ernestine came to an end soon, and Clara was happy again. In his diary Robert noted that he got his first kiss from her in November, 1835; she had lighted him downstairs and he had declared his love. "When you gave me the first kiss," she subsequently wrote to him, "I thought I should faint away; all was black before my eyes; I could scarcely hold the candle that was to show you the way."
Robert felt that the rival had been inconsiderately treated. "I cannot deny that an injustice has been done," he wrote to Clara some years later, "but the misfortune would have been greater, it would have been calamitous, if I had married her; for, sooner or later, my old affection for you would have returned, and then what a wretched situation—we should all three have been horribly unhappy."
Ernestine did not despair; she felt that Clara had had a prior claim to Robert's love. She married another in 1838. Three of Schumann's compositions are dedicated to her.
Like a thunderbolt in a blue sky suddenly came Wieck's furious opposition to his daughter's love affair, which some unknown person had revealed to him. He addressed her in the rudest manner, threatening to shoot Schumann unless he broke off with her at once, and making her give him all the letters he had written to her. Robert had given her on the preceding Christmas some pearls, and "pearls mean tears" she was told. She shed many of them, while her father, day after day, abused her lover and she could not see him. For more than a year they did not meet or exchange letters. Wieck tried to give the impression that Clara had given up Robert. He sent her his F sharp minor piano sonata, which he dedicated to her, and of which he once said that it was "one long heart-cry for her;" but he got no answer to this echo of his passion.
schumanns-in-1845.jpgSuch situations bring out what is best in a man's genius!
A year later Clara played this sonata at a public concert in Leipsic. It was a bold thing to do, for Schumann was not yet acknowledged a great composer. He was among those who heard it. "Did you not guess," she afterwards wrote to him, "that I played this work because there was no other way of revealing to you something of my inner life? Privately I was not permitted to do this, so I did it publicly. Do you suppose my heart did not flutter?"
Of this interesting mingling of life and music there is much in Schumann's years of courtship.
Girls in love are great diplomats. One day (in the year preceding the concert just referred to) she sent a friend whom she could trust to beg Robert to give back his letters to her which her father, a year previously, had compelled her to return to him. His heart beat violently when he got this message. Even more than the playing of the sonata, this proved that she still loved him. He replied that he was going to keep the old letters, but that she could have as many new ones as she pleased, and gave a sample to the messenger, together with a bouquet. In this letter he begged her to write him a simple "Yes;" and she answered: "Merely a simple Yes you ask for? It is such a short word—but how important! Yet, should not a heart so full of inexpressible love as mine is be able to utter that word with all its soul? I do it—from my inmost depths I whisper to you an eternal Yes."
Wieck did not relent. On Clara's eighteenth birthday he withheld from her a letter Schumann had addressed to her. She knew of it, and wept for days. In a later letter, which came into her hands, Robert says: "In vain I seek an excuse for your father, whom I had always considered a noble man. In vain I seek for his refusal a worthy, cogent reason, such as your youthfulness, or the fear that a premature engagement might harm your artistic career. But that is not it—believe me, he would throw you into the arms of the first man of wealth and title who comes along. His highest aim is concert giving and traveling; for this he lets you bleed, ruins my power and impulse to create things of beauty for the world, and then laughs at all your tears."
In a later letter he says: "What deprives me all at once of the power to create? If I improvise at the piano the result is chorals, if I compose I do it without thoughts—except one, which I am eager to paint on everything with big letters and chords—Clara."
And Clara, in turn, thought only of him when she played. After describing the excitement she created at a concert in Prague, and the many recalls, she adds in her letter: "The thought of you while I was playing enthused me so that the whole audience became sympathetically enthusiastic."
In another letter, written in Vienna, she says: "Although the Emperor, the Empress and others conversed with me, need I tell you that I would rather talk with you?"
"So the Kaiser spoke with you?" he replies. "Did he not ask you: 'Are you acquainted with Signor Schumann?' and did you not answer: 'Slightly, your Majesty ?'" Then he begs her, in the same mood, to try not always to play so well; "for every enthusiastic demonstration will make your father more inclined to withhold you from me."
Wieck by no means underrated Schumann's genius; on the contrary, he was one of the first to appreciate it. "He speaks of you" writes Clara, "to everybody with the greatest enthusiasm, and asks me to play your pieces. The other day he gave a large party (at which the leading poets in Vienna were present) solely to have them hear me play the 'Carnaval;' and in February he wants me to play your Toccata' and the 'Etudes Symphoniques.' "
For a time, indeed, Wieck was in a conciliatory mood. He was willing to let Robert marry Clara provided they promised not to make their home in Leipzig, where their humble circumstances would contrast too much with the affluence of Mendelssohn and David. "One thing is certain," he wrote in his diary; "Clara must never live in poverty and seclusion, but must have an income of over 2000 thalers a year." On this point Clara agreed with her father. She had previously written her lover that while she did not desire horses and diamonds, she did wish to feel sure that her wants would be provided for and that she need not give up her artistic career.
She was quite able to support herself, but on that point Schumann had views of his own. The career of a loving wife and mother seemed to him above that of a concert giver; and as regards teaching, he once wrote to her: "That you give lessons is well, but when you come to be my own you must not do that any more; it will then be my duty."
Apparently, however, his income, in 1838, was only $750 a year (of which some $75 came from the sale of his compositions). To this, she wrote to him, she could add the same amount ($750), if they lived in Vienna, by giving an annual concert, and another similar sum by giving one lesson daily.
In one respect Schumann did not share the opinions of his time regarding woman's sphere and powers. He did not discourage Clara's efforts to compose, but assisted her, the result being that she wrote some of the best songs ever penned by a woman, songs which, oddly, reflect Mendelssohn's spirit rather than Schumann's. In 1839, however, she wrote modestly: "There was a time when I thought I had talent for composing, but I have changed my mind. A woman ought not to want to compose; none has ever succeeded in it—Should I be destined for it? To think that would be an exhibition of conceit to which no one but my father formerly could have prompted me."
Wieck had asked for a delay of two years and his daughter had consented; so Robert fixed the marriage date for Easter, 1840; but many things happened in the meantime.
The lovers found opportunity for many more or less clandestine meetings, and when they could not see each other they sought solace in their art. "How love does make one appreciative of all that is beautiful!" wrote Clara; "music is now to me quite a different thing from what it used to be … Oh, how beautiful is music, how often my consolation when I feel like weeping."
Wieck introduced other men of distinction to Clara in the hope that she might give up Robert; but in vain. "Strange!" she wrote, "but no other man pleases me, I am dead to all; for one only do I live—for my Robert."
When Wieck found that this method led to no results, his wrath increased. Clara saw him write "never will I give my consent" and doubly underscore the words; whereupon she wrote to Robert: "What I had feared has happened; I must do it without his consent, without the parental blessing. That is painful! But what would I not do for you! Everything, everything !"
If that is the case, Robert answered, if he will never consent, why wait two years—why not take the law in our hands and get married at once? He had transferred his home and his weekly paper, the Neue Zeit-schrift für Musik, to Vienna, because Wieck had promised to consent to his marriage anywhere except in Leipzig; but that, he found, had been a mere ruse, to gain time. Wieck became more and more agitated. He threatened that if his daughter refused to give up Schumann he would disinherit her and begin a suit which would last four or five years.
For a time Clara was intimidated. She wrote Robert that the marriage would have to be postponed unless he could bring legal proof that his income approximated $1,500 a year. He figured out what he got from several sources, and it barely exceeded $1,000, which, however, seemed to him quite sufficient for a loving couple. A second letter from Clara on this subject displeased him so that he destroyed it. However, peace was soon restored, and Robert now proceeded to write a note to Wieck in which he once more formally demanded his daughter's hand. "We are in need of rest after these terrible struggles; you owe it to yourself, to Clara, and to me"
Wieck now gave his consent, subject to six conditions regarding residence and Clara's property and inheritance, conditions which made it impossible to regard it as a real compromise. "There is nothing left but to invoke the courts," Robert wrote to Clara. "The breach is beyond repair … Yet depend on it that friendly relations will again be established later on. He is, after all, the father of my dear, good, hearty Clara and I promise you that when once we are united, I shall do all I can do to conciliate him."
When Clara refused to accept her father's conditions he became more furious than ever. He wrote her a letter which, as she informed her lover, was "so extremely insulting that I asked myself in dismay if it could have been written by my own father." He also refused to hand over to her the money she had earned at recitals, on the ground that she owed it to him in payment for the thousand lessons he had given her.
His conduct for a time resembled that of a madman rather than a parent. Clara's chief rival was the popular pianist Kamilla Pleyel. To her Wieck paid great homage, accompanying her to her concerts, turning her leaves, and indulging in other acts calculated to hurt his own daughter. When the court took up the pending suit, he talked so vehemently that he had to be called to order. He accused Schumann of being a heavy drinker—a false charge which caused the lovers inexpressible agony.
The mania for persecution reached its climax in an anonymous letter Wieck wrote to Clara, containing violent denunciations of Schumann. He expected her to get this letter just before her first great recital in Berlin, which he hoped it would turn into failure by bringing her to the verge of nervous prostration. Fortunately, the recital had to be postponed because of a slight injury to her hand.
The court to which Wieck had applied dismissed, after a year's delay, his charges as trivial and insufficient. As he did not appeal the case, there was no further impediment to the marriage, which was quietly celebrated on September 12, 1840. What Schumann had called their "superhuman patience" was rewarded by a happy union, both conjugal and artistic. Without neglecting her domestic duties, she continued to play, making the world acquainted with her husband's masterworks, which she still inspired by her sympathy, as during their days of courtship. Wieck was conciliated and happiness hovered over the household.

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