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Events in the Life of Robert Schumann.

Robert Schumann was the son of a man in whom the love of literature and the aesthetic side of life had finally triumphed after confronting many difficulties. It may therefore be imagined that the youthful musician suffered from no lack of encouragement in his musical tastes from his father. It was not until after his father's death that obstacles were put in his way by his mother, thus curiously reversing the usual process. He took his first lesson from a teacher named Baccalaureus Kuntzsch, who, while hardly fitted to be the instructor of a genius, nevertheless possessed solid musical attainments which enabled him to lay the foundation of Schumann's future knowledge of piano technic. It was in an atmosphere of sympathy and encouragement, therefore, that Schumann first learned to love the art he so truly served. Here is a picture of the tender loving home life which sheltered Schumann's youth, taken from Wasielawski's biography of Schumann:
"The simple musical life in Schumann's home was soon enlarged by an accidental discovery. Robert found, as if by chance, in his father's shop, the overture to Rhigini's Tigranes, with all the orchestral parts complete, which had probably been sent by some mistake. This discovery at once excited the bold idea of performing the piece. All the disposable strength of the boy's acquaintance was summoned; and soon a little company was formed, which, though wholly incompetent, was devoted to music. The orchestra consisted of two flutes, two violins, a clarinet, and two horns. Robert, who directed with all the requisite fervor and zeal, undertook to supply the missing instruments, principally the bass, on the piano, to the best of his ability. This attempt, of course, filled the little band with joy and satisfaction; and Robert's father assisted them by the present of the necessary music racks. From time to time they undertook other orchestral works, not too difficult of execution, which Robert directed. He also set to music, most certainly inspired by those meetings, the one hundred and fiftieth psalm for a chorus, with orchestral accompaniment, which was performed with the help of such comrades as could sing. This composition occurred in his eleventh or twelfth year. These very select soirees (only the father was present in a corner, pretending to take no notice of the boys' doings) were generally closed by a phantasy, extemporized by Robert on his instrument; which impressed his associates in no slight degree."
Though Schumann was originally intended for the law, and indeed went to Heidelberg for the purpose of study, he was not very industrious at this work. We are told in Grove's Dictionary:
"If Schumann was industrious in anything at Heidelberg, it was in pianoforte-playing. After practicing for seven hours in the day, he would invite a friend to come in the evening and play with him, adding that he felt in a particular happy vein that day; and even during an excursion with friends he would take a dumb keyboard with him in the carriage. By diligent use of the instruction he had received from Wieck in Leipsic, he brought himself to high perfection as an executant; and at the same time increased his skill in improvisation. One of his musical associates at this time used afterwards to say that from the playing of no other artist, however great, had he ever experienced such ineffaceable musical impressions; the ideas seemed to pour into the player's mind in an inexhaustible flow, and their profound originality and poetic charm already clearly foreshadowed the main features of his musical individuality. Schumann appeared only once in public, at a concert given by a musical society at Heidelberg, where he played Moscheles' variation on the Alexandermarsch with great success."
He was not, however, destined to succeed as a piano virtuoso, as his zeal in practice proved its own undoing, and the mechanical apparatus he used to make his fingers more lissome made one of them useless. Undeterred by this obstacle, he kept to his musical course and instead of becoming one of many great pianists became one of the few great composers. His compositions, however, were ahead of their time, and were not fully appreciated by his contemporaries, and he was obliged to turn to journalism for a living. As a musical critic Schumann was unique. To his untiring efforts in bringing before public notice the works of unknown composers is due the recognition of many who would not otherwise have been known. He resuscitated Schubert's great symphony in C, and it was thanks to his efforts that this work obtained its first hearing —under Mendelssohn's baton. He championed the cause of Chopin and Wagner, no less than that of Mendelssohn and Sterndale Bennett, and he performed marvels in bringing about a public acceptance of higher ideals in chamber music. His generosity to others is the more noticeable on account of the indifference with which his own compositions were regarded by many who owed much to his unstinted championship.
In Dr. Annie Patterson's life of Schumann we have a pen portrait of the composer as seen by one of his contemporaries:
"That able Schumann authority, Professor Jansen, describes the composer as of stately and powerful build, adding that, although his clothing was not at all striking or studied, his general bearing was a distinguished one. Truhn, as quoted by Jansen, enters into further particulars. He says that Schumann had a good-sized and very German style of head, which was plentifully covered with fine, dark-fair hair, and a full and beardless countenance, with lips shaped as if in the act of commencing to whistle softly. His eyes, although neither large nor energetic in expression, were of a beautiful blue, and they had an absorbed look about them as if the owner was always intent on finding out something about his own inner being. He held himself uprightly, but the walk was leisurely—that of one whose bones were loosely put together and hardly compatible with the strong, broad-shouldered figure that he presented. An eyeglass was used a good deal—he was short-sighted— but this without a shadow of affectation, as one would well imagine from the honest, straight-forward nature of the man himself."

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You are reading Events in the Life of Robert Schumann. from the August, 1910 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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