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The Influence of Heredity and Youthful Training Upon Schumann's Career

by CLARENCE G. HAMILTON
 
For the sources of a man's greatness we must look to his early surroundings. Parental tendencies and tradition, natural environments, youthful friendships, all have their influence upon budding genius, and tinge the full flower of later life. Judged by these standards, Robert Schumann was apparently an exception to the rule, for, unlike most musicians, he had no musical ancestry. But if we remember that music is an intensified form of expression, we discover that his musical strivings were really a continuation of that passion for art which dominated his father's life, and which, in the case of the elder Schumann, found its vent in the parallel guise of literature.
 
Robert Schumann's paternal grandfather was a clergyman of good standing, who eventually became Archdeacon of Weida. Robert's father, Friedrich August Gottlob Schumann, born in 1773, was intended by his parents for a merchant, and to this end was given a good education. But his love for literature forced him continually away from this career; and as a result of various writings he finally obtained a position in a bookstore at Zeitz. Here he fell in love with the daughter of the chief surgeon of the place, Johanna Christiana Schnabell. Objections were made to the marriage on account of Schumann's insufficient resources, and, with indomitable perseverance, he applied himself so zealously to writing that, in a year's time, he had amassed a thousand thaler, a sum sufficient to set him up in business for himself. In 1795 he entered into partnership with a merchant of Nonneburg, and received the reward of his labors by his marriage with the maiden of his choice. Four years after, however, he retired from this partnership to open a bookstore, a venture in which he was so- successful that, in 1808, he removed to the Saxon mining town of Zwickau, and with one of his brothers, established the house of "Schumann Brothers," which continued in a flourishing condition till 1840, and which undertook many important, publications. Filled with enthusiasm for the rising romantic school, he completed, as one of his last labors, German editions of the works of Walter Scott and Byron, himself translating some of the important poems of the latter writer.
 
Robert's mother was a woman of moderate culture and of practical views of life. Her sympathy with art was small, and it became her cherished wish that Robert should succeed as a man of affairs—a wish that was put aside only after a long struggle, in which his inclination toward a musical career finally received her reluctant sanction.
 
Placed under such parental influences, the extraordinarily gifted mind of the boy Robert took on certain habits which clung to him throughout his life. The fact that he was the youngest of a family of five children caused him to be the pet not only of his mother, but also of his Godmother, the wife of the Burgomaster, who frequently kept him at her house for long visits. We can imagine that Robert was effectually spoiled by the adulation of these two women. Thus his naturally dominant nature asserted itself in his leadership in all boyish sports. When his friends banded together in an orchestra, too, it was Robert who took command; and later, in his student days, it was he who advanced the fight against the musical Philistines, and who founded and edited the journal which furthered the cause. So in his musical writings he refused to submit to conventionalities, and struck out fearlessly to assert his own personality in his own way, snapping his fingers at musical authority.
 
But this dominancy many times, in the form of mere willfulness, brought less agreeable consequences. He studied, for instance, only what attracted him, and delighted in. striking out along paths of his own invention, in defiance of his teachers. So he tried the experiment with his fourth finger which ruined his prospects as a pianist. Again, he left untouched necessary parts of his education, notably the study of harmony, because these did not appeal to him, and in consequence found himself seriously handicapped in the technique of his art.
 
SCHUMANN'S YOUTHFUL STUBBORNNESS.
 Stubbornness was the natural accompaniment of this wilful disposition. In his dealings with his mother and guardian after his father's death, this characteristic is veiled by a diplomatic bearing which amusingly recalls the tactics of the spoiled child. His mother determines that he shall be a lawyer, and accomplishes his matriculation at Leipzig University. But having done this, she is powerless to compel him study. He relates that on one occasion he went as far as the door of the lecture room, and then slowly walked away. This seems to have marked the extent of his law studies at Leipzig, where his time, as he tells us, is spent in "playing on the piano, writing letters and Jean-Pauliads."
 
At Heidelberg there is the same story. Money is artfully wheedled out of his unwilling guardian for delightful journeys to surrounding places and finally to Italy; but of law there is little account made; and at last, in a letter which is a model of diplomacy and which would soften a heart of adamant, he wrings from his mother her consent to his musical career. So also, when his pianistic designs are nipped in the bud, he turns undauntedly to the study of composition, apparently strengthened in his determination by the unexpected obstacles in his way. Again, in his marriage with Clara Wieck in absolute defiance of her father's bitter antagonism, we see the crowning act of an invincible will.
 
From his father was derived his strong imagination and his burning desire for expression. As a boy he browsed through his father's bookshop, stimulating his fancy at will. From the writing of boyish poems he came at fourteen to assist his father in some of his literary work. At the latter time, too, he seized with avidity upon the works of the imaginative writers of the day, Scott, Byron, and especially Jean Paul, the ultra sentimentalist and fanciful delineator of extreme moods. On his first visit to Leipzig we find him contracting a strong friendship for a young man of kindred tastes, and afterward making with him a sentimental pilgrimage to the scene of Jean Paul's labors, and gloating over the relics found there. Heine, too, came in for a share of his adulation, and was made the object of attention on the same journey.
 
But Schumann found an intenser medium for expression in his music. Gaining piano prowess young, he applied it to fanciful characterization, picturing thus to his comrades events and scenes such as were afterward embodied in his groups of short pieces. Thus his music meant for him a carrying forward of literary ideas into mystical regions inaccessible to speech alone. As the full dignity of music revealed itself to him, however, he gradually emancipated it from this serfage. In a later edition of the "Carnaval,"' for instance, he erased the fanciful names formerly attached to its movements.
 
SCHUMANN'S TASTES.
Highly strung and delicate in adjustment as was his nature, it is not surprising that he shrank from persons of coarse or mediocre fibre, attaching himself to a chosen few companions. The average student life at the universities has little attraction for him, and with two or three friends he pores over music scores and analyzes the art-status of musicians. Having been brought into contact with the best in literature in early life, he cultivated that nice discrimination between the pure and the spurious which gave him rare judgment as a critic. This very nicety of mental balance, however, could be the more easily overthrown, as was proven in those unfortunate closing days of his career, when his reason plunged headlong into a gulf of chaos.
 
Fostering as it did certain headstrong qualities, therefore, his early traditions and training yet left him with that sterling quality of sincerity, and that enthusiasm for true merit wherever found, which gleams through all his productions, both literary and musical. Searching continually, with no shred of jealousy, for the hallmarks of genius, he rejoiced whenever he found a trace of it, and held out both hands to its possessor. Likewise into his own music he threw that abandon and whole-heartedness which derived its inspiration from the glowing soul within, and which rose triumphant over the mere conventionalities and pruderies of accepted musical speech.
 
 
 

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