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very little for the honour of Franz's resting-place."
Yes, the honour ! But the official inventory of poor
Schubert's possessions may be quoted as showing how
Vienna and the world had repaid him for his priceless
creations. Here it is : Three dress coats, three walk-
ing coats, ten pairs of trousers, nine waistcoats, one hat,
five pairs of shoes, three pairs of boots, four shirts, nine
neckties and pocket handkerchiefs, thirteen pairs of
socks, one towel, one sheet, two bed cases, one mattress,
one bolster, one quilt. At the end of the inventory
was put " a quantity of old music " and the total
value was set down at fifty shillings.

It is suggestive, as Mr. Joseph Bennett has said, to
contrast this beggarly account with the honours since
laid upon Schubert's tomb and hung around his
memory. Looking at the large space now filled in the
world by the man who died worth only fifty shillings,
and with a fame that scarcely extended beyond Vienna,
we see how small and insignificant a part of the real
life of genius is that which we call life. And the moral
of the whole is this :

We live in deeds, not years, in thoughts, not breaths,
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best !



FRANZ SCHUBERT 127

Over Schubert's grave are inscribed the words :
" Here lies buried a rich treasure, but still fairer hopes '
a sentiment only half true. As Schumann said, it
was enough to make the first declaration without adding
the second. For some reason or other Schubert's re-
mains were afterwards disturbed, the Musical Society
having obtained permission to take up the bones of both
masters Schubert and Beethoven to measure them,
and phrenologists were called in to feel the bumps.
The remains were afterwards with all honour carried
through the streets of Vienna in pompous procession
that poor man who could not afford 8d. to buy a
dinner when he was alive and buried with those ot
Beethoven and quite a constellation of great masters
in the Central Cemetery.

Franz Schubert was the most lovable of men, and
made heaps of friends in his own class. To outsiders
his manner was shy and retiring, awkward almost to
clownishness. He did not invite notice, and he received
little. In reply to a lady's apology for neglect on one
occasion, he said : " It is nothing, madame, I am used
to it." However unattractive his exterior may have
been, the spiritual and hidden part of the man was
nobly and abundantly endowed. There was in him a
total absence of jealousy ; he had a sweet temper, was
high-minded, and an enthusiastic worshipper of nature
and the art which was sacred to him. He had some-
thing of the boyishness of Mozart, and indulged in
many juvenile buffooneries. For instance, he would
often "sing" the " Erl King" through a fine-toothed



iz8 MASTER MUSICIANS

comb. There is a general impression that he drank to
excess, but the world is too prone to exaggerate a
failing of that kind. That Schubert was devoted to
the beer jug there is no use denying. But he could
never be called a drunkard. The weakness was entirely
the result of his liking for genial society ; and it can-
not have been so pronounced after all, otherwise he
could never, in his short life, have produced the enor-
mous number of compositions that he did.

Assuming that he began writing when he was six-
teen or seventeen, while he died at thirty-one : during
that time he filled what now, in his complete published
works, make up forty-one folio volumes, including the
extraordinary total of 605 songs. He wrote songs by
the sheaf, as one would gather corn in harvest. But he
spread himself over the whole range of his art operas,
cantatas, masses, symphonies, quartets, chamber music
of all kinds. Verily, as Schumann said, " he has done
enough." He is, beyond all question, the most fertile
and original melodist that ever lived, and he is the
first of the great song-writers in rank as well as in
time. The German folk-song found in him its highest
and finest ennoblement ; through him, the genuine
German native singer, came the ancient folk-song into
life again, purified and transfigured by art.



ROBERT SCHUMANN:
COMPOSER, EDITOR, AND ESSAYIST

Endeavour to play easy pieces well and beautifully ; that is
better than to play difficult pieces indifferently well. When you
play, never mind who listens to you. Play always as if in the
presence of a master. SCHUMANN.

THE year 1809 has been called a wonderful birth year.
And so it was, for it gave us Tennyson and Mendels-
sohn and Darwin and Edgar Allan Poe and Oliver
Wendell Holmes and Mrs. Browning and Gladstone
and Abraham Lincoln. But the years 1810 and 1811
were not less remarkable, in the history of music at
least. During that period, Chopin, Liszt, Heller,
Thalberg, and Henselt were all born. And Robert
Alexander Schumann, with very good judgment, made
himself one of the distinguished company by coming
into the world on the 8th of June 1810.

The birthplace was Zwickau, a quaint little town
in Saxony, with tall, picturesque houses, and broad,
grass-grown streets. The father was a bookseller and
publisher there. He was, by the composer's descrip-
tion, " a very active and intelligent man, noted for his
pocket edition of foreign classics ; for many important

129 K



130 MASTER MUSICIANS

business works ; and for a translation of several of
Byron's poems, published shortly before his death."
He educated his boy, as the boy himself puts it,
" lovingly and carefully." But unfortunately he and
the mother the mother especially had set their hearts
on making a lawyer of him. Thus, though Schumann
early showed a love for music, his studies were
checked not only by lack of home sympathy, but by
actual hindrance. Music was regarded by these people
as " a precarious living." Schumann had a very tender
regard for his mother, and the knowledge that the
exercise of his musical talent to any serious purpose
was against her wish proved the reverse of inspiring.
Moreover, such law studies as he undertook bent his
mind somewhat into the groove which studies of that
kind create. He could not be wholly uninfluenced by
their narrowing effect, and much as he hated them,
they contributed to the suppression of his emotional
capabilities. This much he realised himself when he
wrote that the law turns its devotee " into gristle and
freezes him into ice, so that no follower of fancy will
any longer yearn for the springtime of the world."

It was in pursuance of bookseller Schumann's
idea that the future composer was sent in 1828 to
study law at Leipzig University. The intention was
that he should later complete his course at Heidelberg.
But before this could be fully carried out, the book-
seller died, and the embryo lawyer, who had been
scribbling music more or less from his twelfth year,
began to take to it more seriously. Like Wagner, he



ROBERT SCHUMANN 131

had shown a strong tendency towards literature, and
wrote blood and thunder plays, which were produced
by his chums under his direction. He wrote poems,
too, some of which he subsequently set to music.
Further, when only fourteen, he helped his father to
prepare a "Picture Gallery of the most Famous Men of
all Nations and Times." In all this we already see the
future editor, essayist, and letter-writer ; for Schumann
was all that, in addition to being a composer.

At any rate, he would have nothing more to do with
the law, with " chilling jurisprudence " and its " ice-cold
definitions." That was his final decision, arrived at while
he was still in Leipzig. He hated Leipzig. " Leipzig
is a horrid hole, where one cannot enjoy life," he said.
" It is far easier to make progress in the art of spending
money than in the lecture-rooms." Apparently money
was scarce with him about this time, though later on
he fell heir to a modest competency, which relieved
him from total dependence on his earnings by music.
" For two weeks I have not had a shilling," he wrote
one November day to his mother. " I owe Wieck 20
thalers, and Liihe 30, and I am actually living like a
dog." His hair was " a yard long," yet he could not
afford to have it cut. For a fortnight he had been
obliged to wear white cravats, his black ones were so
shabby. His piano is unbearably out of tune. He
cannot even shoot himself, because he has no money
to buy pistols.

The reference to Wieck is a trifle " previous."
Schumann had just abandoned the law when he fell



132 MASTER MUSICIANS

in with Heinrich Dorn and with Friedrich Wieck. The
first, who was conductor of the opera and a notable
figure in musical Leipzig, he immortalised by studying
composition with him ; and the second he honoured, as
we shall see, by marrying his daughter Clara. Wieck
was the leading piano professor in Leipzig, and
Schumann had now determined upon being a virtuoso
of the keyboard. Even when pretending to study law,
he would often practise the piano for seven hours a
day. Now he placed himself under Wieck's tuition.
Unluckily, the obstinate stiffness of that third finger
which gives trouble to all pianists, set Schumann un-
loosening and developing the sinews by a mechanical
invention of his own. The contrivance was simple
enough a cord through a pulley fastened to the ceil-
ing of his room. By this means he could draw back
his finger at will, and prevent it moving while the
other fingers played. As Ambros remarks, the device
was a good illustration of the saying that a man is
liable to break his neck if he jumps through a window
in order to get down quicker than by the stairway. It
was not only unsuccessful : it caused permanent injury
to the hand, so that in the end Schumann had to
abandon altogether the idea of being a great pianist.

The disappointment arising from this unexpected
shattering of his ambitions must have been intense.
But we, who know the after history, know that music
gained in a higher walk what it lost in a lower. The
player leaves behind him, after all, little more than a
memory amongst those who may have heard him ;



ROBERT SCHUMANN 133

the great composer is remembered not alone by the
age in which he writes but by all time. Still, one can-
not help sympathising with Schumann in his dis-
comfiture. Nor was it the only thing that seriously dis-
turbed him about this date. He had fallen passionately
in love with Clara Wieck, " one of the most glorious
girls the world has ever seen " (so, in his rapture, he
described her); but Clara's father, while willing to
retain him as a pupil, would not hear of him for a
son-in-law. He had higher ambitions for his prodigy
daughter. Imagine the prosaic fellow writing thus
to Schumann : " I don't quite know what I mean to do
with Clara, but, hearts ! what do I care about hearts ? "
Aye, but hearts have a way of asserting themselves !

Clara Wieck had already, as a child of ten, made a
sensation as a pianist, and we can readily understand
how Schumann would be drawn to her while he was
himself hopeful of posing as a player. In the Auto-
biography of Moscheles there are frequent references
to meetings with Schumann at the house of the Wiecks,
and Clara's playing is spoken of as " superb, and void
of all affectation." It was lucky for Schumann that
Clara Wieck was as much in love with him as he was
with her. In the meantime they resolved to wait,
hoping that old Wieck would relent. He did not re-
lent. At first Schumann took it philosophically, re-
marking that the delay had at least this advantage,
that they would gain a better knowledge of each other
a knowledge that to most people usually came after
marriage.



134 MASTER MUSICIANS

Two years went by, and Wieck still remained un-
yielding. Then, as a last resource, Schumann called
in the aid of the law ; for in Germany, if a father
refuses to let his daughter marry, he can be forced to
say why. The case dragged on for a whole year, but
at length the courts decided that Wieck's objections
were trivial, and the marriage took place in September
1840, when the bride was twenty-one and the bride-
groom thirty. Schumann felt perfectly justified in the
step he had taken. " We are young," he wrote ; " we
have our fingers, power, reputation. I have, moreover,
a modest property, which brings me 300 thalers a year ;
the profits of the Journal are almost as much, and my
compositions are well paid for." Happy man among
great composers, to be able to begin married life under
such rosy auspices !

Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck are not only
the ideal lovers of musical history, but their story is
worthy of a high place in the love literature of the
world. There is nothing more earnest and noble, from
Heloise and Abelard to Paul and Virginia. A more
satisfactory union has seldom been recorded. During
the courtship, Schumann told his fiancee that "we will
lead a life of poetry and blossom, and we will play
and compose together like angels, and bring gladness
to mankind." That was pretty much what they did
until the shadow fell. Schumann said to Mendels-
sohn that his wife was "a gift from heaven." And
such she proved herself. The loftiness of her character
was never more clearly shown than when she took up



ROBERT SCHUMANN 135

the burden of life after the great tragedy which sent
her husband with clouded mind into confinement, leav-
ing her with the cares of a young family. While they
were together they lived for one another, and for their
children, of whom there were eight in all. He created
and wrote for his wife and in accordance with her
temperament, while she looked upon it as her highest
privilege to give to the world the most perfect interpreta-
tion of his works for the piano. She had a long widow-
hood of forty years, and during all that time she devoted
herself to the popularising of her husband's works.

To return from this anticipation of events. Dis-
appointed in his hopes of becoming a great pianist,
Schumann took to composition as a congenial alterna-
tive. During the courtship period his imaginative mind
received many happy inspirations, which found an out-
let mostly in vocal pieces. In the year of his marriage
alone, he wrote no fewer than 1 30 songs, some of them
the finest things he ever did in that line. Larger works,
such as symphonies and concertos, he also tried at
this time ; but only the lesser works of the period for
piano have survived. It was but natural that his first
successes should be for the instrument which he knew
best. As a matter of fact, his sympathy for the piano
continued to the end, and much of his best music is
in the form of highly imaginative pieces for it. Most of
them belong to the same order as Mendelssohn's "Songs
without Words," but they are far more characteristic
and original, and more poetical and romantic. The
standard of his ideas was so high, and his treatment



136 MASTER MUSICIANS

of the instrument so rich in colour, that he raised this
branch of art to a point which it had never attained
before, and left a mass of genuine lyrics, the most
enduring and enjoyable of all the thousands of such
works which the nineteenth century produced.

Early in his career as a composer, Schumann was
drawn into literary work on behalf of music. Musicians
are seldom good writers, but Schumann, like Wagner
and Berlioz, was a brilliant exception. In fact we must
regard him always in the double character of composer
and writer. He had been much impressed with the low-
ness of public taste in music, as well as by the badness
of musical criticism ; and with the view of remedying
matters he started the New Journal of Music, which
came to be mainly instrumental in bringing into notice
Chopin, Berlioz, Weber, Brahms, Henselt, and other
rising musicians of the time. As editor of this publica-
tion, which by the way still lives, Schumann exercised
a very powerful influence, and established himself as
a keen and incisive thinker and a master of literary
style.

Editing a journal is hard work under any circum-
stances, but it is doubly hard when a man's whole soul
and most of his time are given to it. Schumann was in
this position during all the ten years of his editorship,
with the consequence that he composed very little. In-
deed he was so absorbed in his writing that Mendels-
sohn is declared to have scarcely thought of him as a
composer at all, but only as a literary man. By and
by, however, a flood of works for the piano came forth,







SCHUMANN



HANFSTAENGL COLLECTION



ROBERT SCHUMANN 137

many of them among his finest compositions such as
the great Fantasia in C, the Humoreske, Novelletten,
Fantasiestiicke^ and other pieces. Immediately after
this he took to symphony writing, and in one year
produced three of his most important works in that
department, notably the Symphony in B flat which he
wrote with a pen he had found lying on Beethoven's
grave. It was his fancy to imagine that the pen had
been accidentally dropped by Schubert. Then he took
up chamber music, and wrote the famous Quintet for
piano and strings and the Quartet for a similar com-
bination, both of which have gained an enviable popu-
larity. Afterwards he struck out in yet another line,
and tried choral composition. Taking Moore's " Lallah
Rookh " as the basis of his text, he produced a delight-
ful cantata, Paradise and the Peri, which is not so well
known as it should be.

It was about this time that his health began to give
way. He had overtaxed his strength ; for besides com-
position and literary work he had been acting as
Mendelssohn's coadjutor in the new Conservatorium
at Leipzig. His professorship here greatly worried him,
for, like most geniuses, he had no aptitude for teach-
ing, and the continual listening to music indifferently
performed worked on his nerves. The trouble began
to manifest itself rather seriously in loss of musical
memory, sleeplessness, and strange, uncanny imagin-
ings. " Everything affects and exhausts me," he said.
There was a vein of hypochondria in his family, and
a sister had died at twenty of an incurable melancholy.



138 MASTER MUSICIANS

He moved to Dresden for quiet, but the quiet only
made his habits of silence and abstraction more pro-
nounced, and his health never fully returned. He got
a little better about 1 846, and began to compose again
with something of his old ardour. The great Symphony
in C, and the famous Concerto for piano both belong
to this period, and the opera of Genoveva followed
somewhat later. The stay at Dresden (where he met
Wagner) continued until 1849, when political disturb-
ances necessitated a removal. Presently we find him
in Diisseldorf as conductor of an important orchestra.
But this post proved equally intractable with the
Leipzig professorship. Schumann was too shy, if not too
morose, to make a satisfactory conductor. At rehearsals
he often praised when he should have blamed ; and
if mistakes happened after repeated trials, he simply
got angry without explaining the cause of his temper.

Although a faithful friend, Schumann was eminently
unsociable, and his reserve became more and more
marked as the years went on. He knew this himself.
Once when an old acquaintance wrote that he meant
to call on him, Schumann answered : " I shall be
delighted to see you, but there is not much to be had
from me. I hardly speak at all in the evening more,
and most at the piano." He once asked another friend
to go with him for lunch to a restaurant in the suburbs,
and during the walk there and back, about a mile each
way, the only remark he made was about the fine
weather. Henriette Voigt, an amateur friend, tells
how, after she and the composer had been enjoying



ROBERT SCHUMANN 139

music together one lovely evening, they went out in
a boat. And there they sat, side by side, for over
an hour, without either speaking a word. When they
parted, Schumann said, with a pressure of the hand
that betokened his feelings : "To-day we have perfectly
understood one another." Still another incident in
illustration is reported by Dr. Hanslick, who writes :
"Wagner expressed himself thus to me in 1846:
Schumann is a highly gifted musician but an impossible
man. When I came from Paris I went to see him. I
related my Parisian experiences, spoke of the state
of music in France, then of that in Germany ; spoke
of literature and politics, but he remained as good
as dumb for over an hour. One cannot go on talk-
ing quite alone." It is only fair, however, to give
Schumann's version of the same interview : " I have
seldom met Wagner, but he is a man of education
and spirit ; he talks, however, unceasingly, and that
one cannot endure for very long together." In other
words, Wagner talked so incessantly as to give
Schumann no chance of speaking.

Meanwhile, there were ominous signs of returning
mental disturbance. At Diisseldorf things became so
unsatisfactory that Schumann's engagement was ter-
minated, and in a way that left a painful impression
on his mind. A concert tour in Holland, which he
undertook with his wife, brought back some of the old
pleasure in life, but hallucinations of a strange kind
continued to haunt him at intervals to such an extent
that he even wished to be taken to an asylum. He



140 MASTER MUSICIANS

was afraid to live above the ground floor, or to go to
a height in any building, in case he might suddenly be
tempted to throw himself down.

In 1853 the darkness further deepened. " He began
to attend spiritualistic stances, and imagined that
Beethoven was trying to communicate with him by
four knocks on the table. He fancied himself haunted
by Schubert, who begged him to finish the ' Unfinished
Symphony ' ; he imagined that the note ' A ' was
always sounding in his ears, and gradually whole com-
positions seemed to grow above this continual organ
point." Curiously enough, it was this same delusion
about hearing a single note that drove the Bohemian
composer Smetana mad, after making the note the
foundation of one of his compositions. Schumann
thought that spirits brought him musical themes ;
and in February 1854 he wrote down one of these
themes, which Brahms afterwards "set " as piano varia-
tions, ending with a funeral march. Then came one
of those dreadful lucid intervals, in which he realised
that he was going crazy. His malady became more
and more serious, and during a severe attack he tried
to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine.
He was rescued just in time by some passing boat-
men, but the shock was too severe, and he had to be
placed in a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn.

He made occasional improvements, and was able
to see friends and enjoy their company. Sad to say,
however, his wife was forbidden to visit him, for it
seemed to excite his emotions too greatly to see her.



ROBERT SCHUMANN 141

Yet it was in the arms of that noble, loving wife that
he breathed his last, after two mournful years of seclu-
sion, on the 29th of July 1856. He was buried at Bonn,
the birthplace of Beethoven, and over his grave stands
a superb monument, subscribed for by a wide circle of
friends and admirers. His old intimate, Ferdinand
Hiller, inconsolable for his loss, wrote a panegyric
which may fittingly be transcribed :

Thou didst rule with a golden sceptre over a splendid
world of tones, and thou didst work therein with power and
freedom. And many of the best gathered round thee, in-
trusted themselves to thee, inspired thee with their inspiration,
and rewarded thee with their deep affection. And what a
love adorned thy life ! A wife, gifted with a radiant crown of
genius, stood at thy side, and thou wert to her as the father
to daughter, as bridegroom to bride, and as master to
disciple, and as saint to the elect. And when she could not
be with thee and remove every stone from before thy feet,
then didst thou feel, in the midst of dreams and sorrows,
her protecting hand from the distance ; and when the Angel
of Death had pity on thee, and drew nigh to thy anguished
soul, in order to help it again toward light and freedom, in
thy last hours thy glance met hers ; and reading the love in
her eyes, thy weary spirit fled.

It is said that Schumann's mental disease was
chiefly attributable to the formation of bony masses in
the brain. There is an affecting story of Brahms going
to see him at Endenich, when he heard him ask for a
Bible. The physicians refused his request, choosing to
read it as a convincing evidence of brain trouble !
" Those fellows," said Brahms, " did not know that
we North Germans want the Bible every day, and
never let a day pass without it."


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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 9 of 17)