Robert Schumann: Dark Struggles, Poetic Sounds

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

For many, Robert Schumann is the ultimate romantic composer. On this edition of The Romantic piano, we once again focus on Schumann's piano music as well as the intertwining of his personal struggles into his unique style.

Robert Schumann had given his heart to the solo piano for a solid decade. In the first year of his marriage to Clara Wieck, he combined his beloved piano with the art of poetry. In that first year, Schumann composed 140 pieces. The greatest creative outburst of song since Schubert himself.

Schumann was a complicated and rather damaged person. As soon as he finished a composition, he spiraled into a deep depression and drank excessively. The couple only had one piano, and Clara bowed to Robert's superior creative gift. She set aside her piano playing completely, hoping to not regress. During their years together, Schumann did not want Clara concertizing; he was very insecure that she was a much greater pianist then he. 

By age 40, he would go weeks without speaking a word. At age 44, his catatonia heightened and the composer threw himself into the icy waters of the Rhine River. Fishermen pulled him out, but he fought them desperately. The two weeks preceding this, he had been in a psychotic state. Although he continued to compose as his musical equipments were still intact, Schumann begged Clara to have him sent to a mental hospital.

Soon after this attempt, he was taken to a treatment center outside of Bonn. He became lost in insanity, requiring a straitjacket when taken for walks. He was considered dangerous.

In the two and a half years he lived at the asylum, Clara was never allowed to visit him. Towards the end of his life, he was dying from self starvation. While on his deathbed, doctors relented and asked Clara to pay a visit to Schumann. She arrived mere hours after he passed. Thankful that he was at last set from his torturous life, she made it her mission to support their family by performing his beloved music.



Sonata for Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 22 / Martha Argerich

Carnaval, Op. 9: Chopin / Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli

Carnaval, Op. 9: Chiarina / Michael Ponti

Carnaval, Op. 9: Chiarina / Solomon

Bunte Blätter for Piano, Op. 99: 3 Stucklein: No. 1: Nicht schnell, mit Innigkeit / Maria Grinberg

Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26: Finale / Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli

Kinderszenen, Op. 15: no 7, Träumerei / Wilhelm Kempff

Kreisleriana, Op. 16 / Klára Würtz

Phantasiestücke for Piano, Op. 12: Aufschwung / Artur Rubinstein

Phantasiestücke for Piano, Op. 12: In Der Nacht / Adrian Aeschbacher

Phantasiestücke (3) for Piano, Op. 111 / Vladimir Horowitz

Toccata for Piano in C major, Op. 7 / Georges Cziffra

Phantasie for Piano in C major, Op. 17 / Sviatoslav Richter

Comments [3]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

The audio box feature seems to have disappeared from WQXR and with it much of the value of the station, especially in regards to the Internet. Nice move during a fund drive.

For Dubal fans there's still WWFM -

Feb. 23 2014 12:00 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

I didn't notice this mistake in the text:

From the audio, "He had died only hours AFTER she had come."

The doubled 'had' makes for confused timing. ??

Checking ..

A somewhat more nuanced view of Clara-

That, though, is not the full story. It appears that Clara - who did not see her husband again until he was on his deathbed - could have brought him home when his condition improved, but chose not to. The writer Bettina von Arnim visited him in Endenich and found him in good health, but in the care of doctors who verged on the sadistic. Effectively imprisoned, Schumann lost the will to live; his death was the result of self-starvation.

Certainly the doctors seemed to practice the psychological version of blood letting on Schumann.

May. 28 2013 01:11 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

There's a life in these pieces that I haven't heard in the other romantic composers presented so (thus?) far in this series. Maybe crazy is good?

Of course, this is yet another superb compilation of piano composition, interpretation and artistry, on all levels, shown to us by Mr. Dubal.

May. 25 2013 04:04 PM

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