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Robert Schumann was born on 8th June 1810 in Zwickau, Saxony. His father was a novelist, publisher and bookseller so Robert's childhood was occupied by literature as well as music - he had begun to compose before the age of seven. In 1819 he heard Moscheles play and his style clearly influenced his early piano works. Whilst still at school he read Goethe, Schiller and Byron but it was Jean Paul who gave him the strongest literary inspiration. At 14 he wrote an article on music aesthetics, this was a foretaste of his future as he would become a renowned music critic as well as one of the most famous and important Romantic composers.
In 1826 his father died and with him went parental support for his music studies; he therefore, somewhat reluctantly, followed the wishes of his mother and guardian by studying law at Leipzig University. Before going to Leipzig however he met the poet Heine, then aged 31, who would become one of Schumann's favourite poets for his Lieder. Impressed by Paganini's virtuosity he felt he needed to return to his musical studies.
His old master, Friedrich Wieck, even persuaded his mother that he could be fashioned into one of the greatest pianists. In October 1830 he went to live with the Wieck family but his promises to reform his drinking and smoking habits remained unfulfilled. By now Wieck's priorities were turning towards his prodigy daughter Clara such that their absence on tour meant that he would have to look elsewhere for instruction and after an abortive letter to Hummel he started ten months of study with Heinrich Dorn, a composer six years his senior and conductor of the Leipzig opera.
His wish to become a virtuoso pianist became impossible once an injury to his right hand proved incurable. He therefore resolved that he must make his career as a composer. All the works published with Op. Nos. are for piano until 1840 - 23 pieces in all including the big majority and most popular of his works for the instrument. There were particular reasons or influences on some of these works; firstly Chopin's works recently published and the impact of Jean Paul's novel Flegeljahre; Schumann identified the two main sides to his character in the protagonists - he called his Florestan and Eusebius. The former was passionate whilst the latter was dreamy and introspective. Some have links to the various girls in his life, even one to whom he became engaged. He was first attracted to Wieck's daughter in 1834 - before it had even been resentment over her gifts - and gradually it flourished. He asked for his consent to marry Clara in 1837 but was refused which started a three year acrimonious legal battle which was finally settled when she reached the age of 21 and her father's command no longer applied.
1840 was the year when Schumann's "piano-only" life as a composer ended - he wrote no less than 168 songs; no one else can surely have demonstrated their love and the achievement in securing marriage to their beloved by such a monumental offering. The songs have inner messages too, for example "Widmung", the first of 26 songs in the collection entitled Myrthen: Rückert's opening line "Du meine Seele, du mein Herz" is obviously addressed to Clara as his Soul and Heart and then he "exalts" her by quoting the melody of Schubert's Ave Maria in the postlude.
The following year he turned his attention to the orchestra by composing two of his four symphonies, a year later it was chamber music in the spotlight with the three string quartets, the piano quintet and piano quartet being published. Two years later he was with Clara for a Russian tour and on returning to Germany he had to return to Leipzig suffering from what was called `nervous prostration', since as soon as he started to work he would be gripped by shivering fits and vertigo; his diaries state that he imagined hearing a musical note (A5) perpetually in his ears. By 1846 he had recovered sufficiently to travel to Vienna and on to Prague and Berlin, reaching his old home town of Zwickau in the following spring.
In 1848 he wrote his only opera Genoveva in which he tried to remove all recitatives and this allow the music to flow without interruption; it should be noted that Wagner, who was similarly striving to attain this goal, had completed Lohengrin but Das Rheingold was fully five years away.
The revolution of 1849 in Dresden - the one which caused Wagner to flee from arrest to Switzerland and be banished from Germany for 11 years - caused Schumann to move to a village out of the city. He had written the music to Byron's Manfred and in August the scenes so far composed of Goethe's Faust were performed in Dresden, Leipzig and Weimar to mark the centenary of Goethe's birth; the rest of the work was written in 1853.
In 1850 he moved to Düsseldorf to succeed Ferdinand Hiller as musical director, but as a conductor Schumann was poor and, following a player's revolt, his contract was terminated. He completed his third symphony ("Rhenish") and revised what would be published as his fourth symphony in the following year. In the autumn of 1853, Brahms, then 20, arrived with a letter of introduction from the celebrated violinist, Joseph Joachim. Amazing both of them with his music he was invited to stay for several weeks, becoming a close family friend. Clara would need Brahms for support because in the following February Schumann warned his wife that his hitherto angelic dreams were being replaced by demonic visions and he feared that he would do her harm. After a suicide attempt in the Rhine he asked to be taken to an asylum for the insane which is where he remained until death freed him on 29th July 1856.