6/9/16 – Happy birthday Robert Schumann

A little birthday note about the great composer Robert Schumann.

6/9/16 – Happy birthday Robert Schumann

If I were to associate anything with Robert Schumann off the top of my head, it would be the strong recollection of my music theory teacher (and piano genius himself) Robert Auler saying:

“If Bobby Schumann were in this class, you would love him.”

The German-born Schumann was a true “creative” in a more modern sense. He was intense and driven, and suffered from a lifelong mental illness, and it was untreated for a most of his life. He would experience intense depressive and maniac episodes, first occurring in 1833 when his brother and sister-in-law died after infection from a massive cholera outbreak. He would check himself into an asylum twenty-one years later after a suicide attempt, and would pass away in 1856.

Schumann was one of the greatest Romantic era composers, and could have been a piano legend if it weren’t for a hand injury; though his wife Clara was internationally accomplished pianist and composer. The injury turned his focus on composition.

For those unfamiliar with music, Schumann may still be a household name because of his “lieder,” or art song, which was a Romantic style of vocal music taking pre-existing poetry and giving it a musical style. Schubert, a contemporary of Schumann’s  and another (perhaps) household name, did many famous works in this style, but Schumann started it off with the creation of program music.

Program music, or music that fused literary elements or had it’s own story told in more abstract music, was becoming popular in the Romantic period, and Schumann is credited with composing the “Papillons, Op. 2 (Butterflies), a musical portrayal of events in Jean Paul‘s novel Die Flegeljahre.” We can hear it’s influence througout his later work — particularly in Carnaval, in which he writes multiple vignettes in the voice of different characters — and in the works of later composers.

For me, as a music student, I’ve heard Schumann’s lieder the most, but I was particularly moved by his Symphony No.3 “Rhenish,” when I heard it performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra back in February. His inspiration for the piece came late in his life when he and Clara took a trip to the Rhineland. He was inspired to write a symphony that would remind one of The Moldau by Smetana; roaring, with dance numbers and huge horn fanfares, the music brought a sense of nationalism, wonder, and strength to me.

Today is Schumann’s 206th birthday.

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