(8 June 1810, Zwickau - 29 July 1856, Endenich)
Highly regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era, Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German Romantic composer, pianist and music critic. The boy quickly developed an interest for music and literature (the latter being undoubtedly influenced by this father who was a bookseller, publisher and novelist) and so at the age of 7 he started taking piano lessons from Johann Gottfried Kuntzsch (a teacher at the Zwickau high school). Shortly after, Robert started to create musical compositions, without the aid of Kuntzsch.
At the age of 14, Schumann wrote an essay on the aesthetics of music and also contributed to a volume, edited by his father, titled Portraits of Famous Men. Among his early influences, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert and poet Jean Paul Richter played an important role on his development as a composer. In 1828 Schumann left school and, under family pressure, enrolled at the University of Leipzig as a law student. During this time, instead of studying law, he devoted his time to song composition, improvisation at the piano, and attempted to write novels.
While studying piano for a few months with the celebrated teacher, Friedrich Wieck, Robert met his future wife, Clara (at that time 9 years old), a brilliant pianist who was just then beginning a successful concert career. In the summer of 1829 he left Leipzig for Heidelberg. There he composed waltzes in the style of Franz Schubert, afterward used in his piano cycle Papillons (Butterflies, Opus 2; 1829-1831). Following his desire, he abandoned law and became a virtuoso pianist, in October 1830 he returned to Leipzig to study for a trial period under Wieck.
After he somehow injured one of his right hand fingers, Schumann abandoned ideas of a concert career and devoted himself instead to composition. He began studying music theory under Heinrich Dorn, a German composer six years his senior and, at that time, conductor of the Leipzig Opera. This was a period of prolific composition in piano pieces such as the piano cycles Papillons and Carnaval (composed 1833-1835) and the Études symphoniques (1834–37; Symphonic Studies), another work consisting of a set of variations.
By spring 1834, Schumann inaugurated Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ("New Journal for Music"), first published on 3 April 1834. Schumann published most of his critical writings in the journal, and often lambasted the popular taste for flashy technical displays from figures whom Schumann perceived as inferior composers. Schumann campaigned to revive interest in major composers of the past, including Mozart, Beethoven and Weber, while he also promoted the work of some contemporary composers, including Chopin (about whom Schumann famously wrote, "Hats off, Gentlemen! A genius!") and Hector Berlioz, whom he praised for creating music of substance. On the other hand, Schumann disparaged the school of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.
In 1837 Schumann formally asked Clara’s father for permission to marry her, but Wieck evaded his request. The couple were finally married in 1840 after Schumann had gone to court to set aside Wieck’s legal objection to the marriage. Schumann had by now entered upon one of his most fertile creative periods, producing a series of imaginative works for piano. Among these are the Davidsbündlertänze (composed 1837), Phantasiestücke (1837), Kinderszenen (1838; Scenes from Childhood), Kreisleriana (1838), Arabeske (1838), Humoreske (1838), Novelletten (1838), and Faschingsschwank aus Wien (1839–40; Carnival Jest from Vienna).
In the year of 1840 Schumann returned to a field he had neglected for nearly 12 years, that of the solo song; over 11 months he composed nearly all the songs on which much of his reputation rests: the cycles Myrthen (Myrtles), the two Liederkreise (Song-Cycles) on texts by Heinrich Heine and Joseph Eichendorff, Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love) and Frauenliebe und Leben (Woman’s Love and Life), and many separate songs.
At the insistence of his wife Clara, he began to broaden his scope and started composing for orchestra. In 1841 he composed his Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, which was performed under the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy at Leipzig; an Overture, Scherzo, and Finale; a Phantasie for piano and orchestra, which was later expanded into the famous Piano Concerto in A minor by the addition of two more movements in 1845; another symphony, in D minor; and sketches for an uncompleted third symphony, in C minor.
In the year of 1842 he dedicated himself to chamber music, he composed several chamber works, the finest being the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, along with the Piano Quartet and 3 string quartets. In 1843 he wrote Paradise and the Peri, his first essay at concerted vocal music, an oratorio style work based on Lalla-Rookh by Thomas Moore. In 1845 he began another symphony, No. 2 in C Major, but because of aural nerve trouble nearly 10 months passed before the score was finished. Schumann wrote the incidental music to Lord Byron’s drama Manfred in 1848–49. In 1851 he completed his Symphony No. 3, Rhenish (a work containing five movements and whose 4th movement is apparently intended to represent an episcopal coronation ceremony).
Much of Schumann's most characteristic work is introverted and tends to express precise feelings. His considerable influence in the nineteenth century and beyond displays the genius that was Schumann. His early piano works, many of them dedicated to Clara, are wonderful distillations of a wide range of sensibilities, with Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (1838) painting glorious miniature pictures of the life of children, while Album für die jugend, Op. 66 (1832-45) collated a long series of pieces meant to be heard and appreciated by children. Equally, his Carnaval, Op. 9 (1833-35) and Waldszenen, Op. 82 (1848-49) illustrated ideas and scenes from life, often taking as their inspiration – as did so much of his piano work – a literary source.
Another form of music much favored by Schumann – also taking its inspiration directly from literature – was lieder. The bulk of them were written between 1840 and 1849, and included such Romantic masterpieces as Liederkreis (two books, Op. 24 and 39), Frauenliebe und leben, Op. 42 (1840), and the four books of Lieder und Gesänge (1840-50). This is a treasure-trove of wonderful settings, and shows Schumann as a worthy successor to Schubert in this field. His four symphonies have been popular since his own day, and that popularity shows no sign of abating, while of the concertos (cello, violin, piano), the latter, Op. 54 (1841-45) has become one of the best-loved piano concertos in the repertoire.
Here you can find a list of Robert Schumann's works.