Robert Schumann in 1839
Robert Schumann in 1839

Sunday 8th June is Schumann’s birthday, so we’ve put together a playlist of our favourite compositions or performances (check out the selections by our German and French editors, Hedy and Martin).

Schumann was undoubtedly one of the greatest German composers of the Romantic era. A hand injury, sustained in a misguided attempt to strengthen the fingers on his right hand by the use of a mechanical device, ended his career as a concert pianist. After this time, Schumann focused on composition instead.

 Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) is a charming piano collection from 1838, of which “Träumerei” (Dreaming) is the best known.

 

Most of his compositions were for piano, until 1840, a turning point in his life, for in that year he married Clara Wieck, against the wishes of her father and following a long legal battle. In 1840 year alone, Schumann wrote 168 songs (it is commonly referred to as the Liederjahr).  

Included here is “Stille Tränen” (Silent Tears) from his Op.35 collection of songs, sung by the incomparable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

You have risen from sleep
and are wandering through the meadow.
There lies over all the land
Heaven's wondrous blue.

As long as, free from cares,
you've been slumbering without pain,
Heaven has, since morning,
shed many tears.

In silent nights,
many weep from pain,
and in the morning you assume
their hearts are always light.

 

Another favourite is the brooding “Ich grolle nicht” from the cycle Dichterliebe (The Poet's Love) Op.48. Few brood better than Jonas Kaufmann!

I bear no grudge, even as my heart is breaking,

 

eternally lost love! I bear no grudge.

Even though you shine in diamond splendour,

there falls no light into your heart's night,

that I've known for a long time.

I bear no grudge, even as my heart is breaking.

I saw you, truly, in my dreams,

and saw the night in your heart's cavity,

and saw the serpent that feeds on your heart,

I saw, my love, how very miserable you are.

I bear no grudge.

 

As a lapsed clarinettist, I think Schumann’s Op.73 Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces) are rather special – and deceptively tricky to play!

Also from 1849, comes the Konzertstuck for four horns Op.86. Horn concertos were nothing new – Mozart’s stand out – but a concertante for a quartet of horns was unusual scoring for its time:

 

Of Schumann’s orchestral music, the four symphonies stand out. Symphony no. 3 in E flat major is subtitled the “Rhenish” after he was inspired to compose it after a trip with Clara to the Rhineland in 1850. It was the final symphony Schumann composed (but not the last one to be published). The fourth movement (of five) was inspired by Cologne Cathedral.

 

Sadly, after attempting suicide in 1854, by throwing himself into the Rhine, Schumann was – at his own request – admitted to a mental asylum, dying two years later. During his confinement, he was not allowed to see Clara until she was finally admitted just two days before he died.