The youngest son of a Saxon bookseller, Robert Schumann was encouraged by his father to study music. Soon after his tenth birthday in 1820, young Robert began taking piano lessons in his home town of Zwickau. Although Schumann enrolled as a law student at Leipzig University in 1828, music remained an overriding passion and he continued to study piano with Friedrich Wieck. The early death of his father and two of his three brothers influenced Schumann’s appreciation of the world’s suffering, intensified further by his readings of Romantic poets such as Novalis, Byron and Hölderlin and his own experiments as poet and playwright. Schumann composed a number of songs in his youth, but it was not until he fell in love with and became secretly engaged to the teenage Clara Wieck in September 1837 that he seriously began to exploit his song-writing gift. Besides welcoming the financial return that published lieder [songs] could deliver, Schumann was also able to preserve his intense feelings for Clara in the richly expressive medium of song.
The personal nature of Schumann’s art even influenced his choice of certain themes, with the notes A–B–E–G–G enshrined as the theme of one set of piano variations in tribute to his friend Countess Meta von Abegg. Schumann also developed his skills as a composer of symphonies and concertos during his years in Leipzig. Four years after their marriage in September 1840, the Schumanns moved to Dresden where Robert completed his C major Symphony.
In the early 1850s the composer’s health and mental state seriously declined. In March 1854 he decided to enter a sanatorium near Bonn, where he died two years later.
from notes by Stephen Johnson © 2014