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[Illustration]




THE HIDALGO.

My days I spend in courting,
With songs and hearts a-sporting,
Or weaponed for a fight!

(_Der Hidalgo_).

[Illustration]


A DAY WITH
ROBERT
SCHUMANN
BY MAY BYRON

[Illustration]

LONDON
HODDER & STOUGHTON


_In the same Series._
_Mozart._
_Beethoven._
_Mendelssohn._
_Schubert._
_Chopin._
_Wagner._
_Gounod._
_Tschaikovsky._




A DAY WITH SCHUMANN.


It is an April morning in 1844, in the town of Leipzig, - calm, cool, and
fraught with exquisite promise of a prolific spring, - when the Herr
Professor Doctor Robert Schumann, rising before six o'clock as is his
wont, very quietly and noiselessly in his soft felt slippers, dresses
and goes downstairs. For he does not wish to disturb or incommode his
sleeping wife, whose dark eyes are still closed, or to awaken any of his
three little children.

The tall, dignified, well-built man, with his pleasant, kindly
expression, and his air of mingled intellect and reverie, bears his
whole character written large upon him, - his transparent honesty,
unflagging industry, and generous, enthusiastic altruism. No touch of
self-seeking about him, no hint of ostentation or conceit: he is still
that same reticent and silent person, of whom it was said some years ago
by his friends,

"Herr Schumann is a right good man,
He smokes tobacco as no one can:
A man of thirty, I suppose,
And short his hair, and short his nose."

That, indeed, is the sum total of his outward appearance: as for the
inward man, it is not to be known save through his writings. Literature
and music are the only means of expression, of communication with
others, which are possessed by this modest, pensive, reserved maestro,
upon whom the sounding titles of Doctor and Professor sit so strangely.

In the unparalleled fervour and romance of his compositions, - in the
passionate heart-opening of his letters, - in the sane, wholesome, racy
colloquialism of his critiques, - the real Robert Schumann is unfolded.
Otherwise he might remain a perennial enigma to his nearest and dearest:
for even in his own family circle, tenderly and dearly as he adores his
wife and children, his lips remain sealed of all that they might say:
and the fixed, unvarying quietude of his face but rarely reveals the
least suggestion of his deeper feelings.

Yet, at the present time, were you to search the world around, you
should hardly find a happier man than this, in his own serene and
thoughtful way. For, in his own words, "I have an incomparable wife.
There is no happiness equal to that. If you could only take a peep at us
in our snug little artist home!" Clara Wieck, whom he has known from her
childhood, whom he struggled, and agonised, and fought for against fate,
for five long years of frustration and disappointment, is not only his
beloved wife and the mother of his little ones, - she is his
fellow-worker and co-artist, and literal helpmate in every department of
life. She has "filled his life with sunshine of love," - and, "as a
woman," he declares, "she is a gift from heaven.... Think of perfection,
and I will agree to it!" But, beyond that, she has poured her beautiful
soul into every hungry cranny of his artistic sense. "For Clara's
untiring zeal and energy in her art, she really deserves love and
encouragement.... I will say no more of my happiness in possessing a
girl with whom I have grown to be one through art, intellectual
affinities, the regular intercourse of years, and the deepest and
holiest affection. My whole life is one joyous activity."

The annals of art, indeed, hold no more lovely record of a union between
natural affinities. That of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning perhaps
approximates most closely to that of Robert and Clara Schumann. But
whereas in the former case both husband and wife were alike engaged upon
the same branch of literature, - poetry, - and a certain sense of sadness
was apt to embitter the success of the wife, because of the unpopularity
(in those days) of the husband, - Schumann is solely and pre-eminently a
composer, and Clara solely and absorbingly a pianist. No shadow of
artistic rivalry can fall upon their delight, nor darken their pleasure
in each other's achievements. Schumann's most impassioned and
characteristic productions have been definitely inspired by Clara, ever
since the days when, as a child of nine, she listened to his fantastic
fairy-tales, and her exquisite playing thrilled him with a desire to
think in music. And Clara, who has never made a mere show of her
marvellous executive skill, but has "consecrated it to the service of
true art alone," - is never happier than when interpreting her husband's
works.

It is, in short, necessary to deal with Schumann as a whole, - as a man
who has fulfilled the triple destiny for which Nature intended him, - as
individual, husband, and father, - before one can even approximately
understand this silent, studious dreamer, whose one ideal of happiness
is to sit at home and compose.

Schumann considers this early morning hour the most precious of his day,
from a working standpoint. He seats himself at his desk, and places his
two treasures where they shall catch his eye conspicuously; for he
regards them more or less as charms and talismans to bring out the best
that is in him. They are, a steel pen which he found lying on
Beethoven's grave at Vienna, and the MS. score of Schubert's C-major
Symphony, which he obtained by a lucky chance. He regards these with a
mixture of sentiment and humorous toleration of his own mysticism: but
he cherishes them none the less, and often casts a reassuring glance in
their direction, as he covers sheet after sheet of paper with his
shockingly illegible handwriting. "Poets and pianists," says he with
resignation, "almost always write with a dog's paw. The printers will
make it out somehow." He is engaged upon his work in connection with the
_Neue Zeitschrift für Musik_ (New Musical Times), which he originally
founded, and of which he has been some nine years Editor. During all
these years he has contributed to its pages those admirable reviews and
appreciations which are so utterly unlike anything heretofore attempted
in the realm of musical criticism. "There is no quality to be desired in
a musical critic that Schumann does not possess:" and in addition to
technical equipments of every kind, keen insight and an almost prophetic
quality in his predictions, he has the priceless gift too often denied
to the critic, - that of superabundant sympathy. His hands are ever
thrown out to welcome the young and timid genius, even as they are
clenched, so to speak, with threatening fists towards Philistinism,
charlatanism and mediocrity. He loves to praise rather than to blame,
and to detect the germs of coming greatness in some obscure, unsuspected
artist. He takes into his regard the personal equation wherever
possible, and does not separate the musician from the man: for, he says,
"the man and the musician in myself have always struggled to manifest
themselves simultaneously.... I speak with a certain diffidence of
works, of the precursors of which I know nothing. I like to know
something of the composer's school, his youthful aspirations, his
exemplars and even of the actions and circumstances of his life, and
what he has done hitherto."

As his pen travels rapidly over the pages, the reason of his cramped and
crabbed handwriting is only too evident. Schumann's right hand is
crippled. In an evil hour of his youth, while yet he was consumed with
the ambition of a would-be virtuoso, he experimented, with artificial
restrictions, upon one of his right-hand fingers, intending thus to
strengthen the rest by assiduous practice ... with the result that he
lamed his hand for ever. This disastrous attempt deprived the world of a
good pianist, but conferred upon it a great composer: for it is possible
that the executive would have superseded the creative ability within
him. Nevertheless, he confesses that, "My lame hand makes me wretched
sometimes ... it would mean so much if I were able to play. What a
relief to give utterance to all the music surging within me! As it is, I
can barely play at all, but stumble along with my fingers all mixed up
together in a terrible way. It causes me great distress."

Thus, you perceive, he is considerably debarred from expressing himself
in sounds, no less than in words: he must perforce retire more and more
within himself. The ease with which he writes is balanced by the
difficulty with which he speaks: and bitterly he has complained, "People
are often at a loss to understand me, and no wonder! I meet affectionate
advances with icy reserve, and often wound and repel those who wish to
help me.... It is not that I fail to appreciate the very smallest
attention, or to distinguish every subtle change in expression and
attitude: it is a fatal something in my words and manner which belies
me."

He is, indeed, only paralleled by the _Lotus Flower_ of his own
delicious song, - shrinking from the daylight of publicity, and softly
unfolding to the gentle rays of love.

The Lotus flower is pining
Under the sun's red light:
Slowly her head inclining,
She dreams and waits for the night.

The moon, who is her lover,
Awakes her with his rays,
And bids her softly uncover
Her veiled and gentle gaze.

Now glowing, gleaming, throbbing,
She looks all mutely above, -
She is trembling, and sighing, and sobbing,
For love and the pangs of love.

(_Heine._)

And here she enters the room, this woman who is literally his _alter
ego_, and the small prattle of children is audible in the awakening
house. Madame Schumann is, in her husband's words, a "pale, not pretty,
but attractive" young woman of twenty-six, "with black eyes that speak
volumes," - slender, vivacious, affectionate: the exact complement of
Robert in all respects. It is easy to perceive in them, at the first
glance, "two noble souls distinguished by fastidious purity of
character - two buoyant minds concentrated to the service of the same
art." The heavily-thoughtful face of the composer lights up with sudden
sunshine.

"Come and sit beside me, my dear, sweet girl!" says he. "Hold your head
a little to the right, in the charming way you have, and let me talk to
you a little. Upon my word, Clärchen, you look younger than ever this
morning. You cannot be the mother of three. You cannot be the celebrated
pianist. You are just the queer, quaint little girl you were ten years
ago, with strong views of your own, beautiful eyes, and a weakness for
cherries!" This is a very long speech for Schumann, and his wife looks
at him with a shade of anxiety - such anxiety as she is never wholly
free from. For the words which she wrote in her diary on her wedding day
were more prophetic than even she may yet recognise: "My
responsibilities are heavy - very heavy; give me strength to fulfil them
as a good wife should. God has always been and will continue to be my
helper. I have always had perfect trust in Him, which I will ever
preserve." She, and she alone, is aware of all those mysterious clouds
of melancholia, those strange sounds of inexplicable music, which brood
at times above her darling husband - friend, comrade and lover in one.
She, and she only, can banish, as David did from Saul, the terrible
phases of irrational depression, and exorcise the evil power which is
always lurking ambushed in Schumann's outwardly happy life.

[Illustration: THE LOTUS-FLOWER.

The Lotus flower is pining
Under the sun's red light:
Slowly her head inclining,
She dreams and waits for the night.

(_Die Lotos-Blume_).]

"See," says he, with modest pride, "what a vast amount of work I have
completed this morning!"

"You are a most diligent creature, Robert!" she tells him, "and yet I
cannot but wish sometimes, that this literary work were off your
mind - that you had more time to devote towards composing, which is your
true _métier_. I want all the world to understand how great a master
you are - I am jealous of every minute spent upon the _Neue
Zeitschrift_!"

"Don't be too ambitious for me, Clärchen: I desire no better place than
a seat at the piano with you close by."

"That does not satisfy me," says the impetuous little lady, "I want you
to be recognised and applauded by all men. When I am rendering your
divine compositions, I feel as though all the while I were declaring:
'Just hear this! - Just listen to that! - This is by Robert Schumann, the
greatest genius in Germany: it is an honour to me to be allowed to
perform such works.'"

"My dear, those compositions are my poor, weak way of expressing my
thoughts about you! The battles which you have cost me, the joy you have
given me, are all reflected by my music. You are almost the sole
inspiration of my best - the Concerto, the Sonata, the _Davidsbündler_
dances, the _Kreisleriana_, the _Novelletten_. Why, dearest, in the
_Novelletten_ are my thoughts of you in every possible position and
circumstance and all your irresistibleness!... No one could have written
the _Novelletten_, unless he had gazed into such eyes and touched such
lips as yours. In short, another may do better work, but nothing just
like these."

"That, indeed, I feel," replies Clara with a little sigh, "and the very
significance of their meaning, I believe, forbids my doing full justice
to their amazing difficulties. You need a pianist like Liszt, my Robert,
to interpret you to the best advantage."

"I have every admiration for Liszt's wonderful playing, with its
diapason of all the moods between the extremes of fiery frenzy, and
utmost delicacy. But his world is not mine - not ours, Clärchen. Art, as
we know it - you when you play, I when I compose - has an intimate charm
that is worth far more to us than all Liszt's splendour and tinsel."

They embrace with the warmth and sweetness of perfect mutual
comprehension: and she prevails upon him to descend from cloudy Olympian
editorial heights, so far as to refresh himself with a modest
_Frühstück_ or breakfast, and a brief gambol with the little ones - for
he has that devotion to tiny children characteristic of all great men.
Never, perhaps, has any composer so thoroughly entered into childish
griefs and fears and pleasures - the April shower and shine of
babyhood - than Schumann in his _Kinderscenen_. The consummate musician
who has surmounted every difficulty, acquainted himself with every
method of his art - the man who has mastered the forms of symphony,
chamber-music, pianoforte and vocal music to their farthest present
limits - here stands forth as the exponent of little innocent every-day
emotions. _By the Fireside_, _Bogeys_, _A Child's Petition_, _From
Foreign Lands_, _Blindman's Buff_, and so on, the simple titles run.
"They are descriptive enough, you see, and as easy as winking!" he has
told his wife. And they are the very breath of childhood, - they "dally
with the innocence of love, like the old age." Nobody could have
imagined them but a man who had eternal youth in his heart. "The
dissonances are as softly blended as if a child had actually poured
forth its pure soul."

It may readily be imagined with what looks askance the composer of the
_Kinderscenen_ is favoured by his academic and hide-bound
contemporaries. "Romanticism run mad" - "modernism gone
crazy;" - "discordant innovations;" - "new-fangled nonsense" - there are
few terms too harsh for Herr Schumann; and sometimes he is
contemptuously ignored as beyond all possibility of classification.
Already sufficiently _outré_, in the opinion of all conventional
musicians, by his adoption of the cyclical form, rather than the
orthodox classical, for his abstract pianoforte music - "the whole
becoming organic by means of the intimate connection between the various
parts;" - already sufficiently outlandish, in the estimation of the
average conservative critic, by what is condemned as his _grotesquerie_
and _bizarrerie_ of treatment: Schumann is not careful to answer his
opponents, or to defend himself from any charges of _lèse-majesté_
against the imperial art which he serves. That wide and genial tolerance
which he extends towards all new composers, he does not demand or even
expect for himself. Nevertheless, as he allows, "I used to be quite
indifferent to the amount of notice I received, but a wife and children
put a different complexion upon everything. It becomes imperative to
think of the future." And he is aware that his own personal
idiosyncrasies are the strongest obstacle in his way; for he is unable
to push or praise himself in the least, and the lordly egotism by dint
of which other composers win, or command, a hearing, has been entirely
omitted from the making of this dumb genius. He knows no professional
jealousy, he never speaks ill of a soul; - but then, one might say that
he hardly ever spoke at all. He is almost unknown in society, - partly
because he really has no interest whatever apart from music, partly
owing to his silent manner and retiring disposition. It is on record
that one day after Madame Schumann had been playing with tremendous
success at one of the smaller German courts, the Serene Highness who was
ruler there enquired of her with great affability, "whether her husband
were also musical?" And with his fellow-musicians he is so invincibly
taciturn that conversation is almost a farce. Even Wagner, whose powers
of loquacity are almost illimitable, resents being reduced to the
utterance of an absolute monologue. "When I came to see Schumann," he
grumbles, "I related to him 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 nearly an hour. Now,
one cannot go on talking _quite_ alone. An impossible man!"

[Illustration: THE KNIGHT AND THE LORELEI.

The hour is late, the night is cold, -
Who through the forest rides so bold?
The wood is wide, - thou art alone, -
O lovely maid, be thou my own!

(_Waldesgesprach_).]

The fact is, that the "impossible man" dwells apart in a world of his
own, a world peopled by the best folk he has ever encountered either in
the flesh or the spirit, and a world where the austerest canons and
noblest aspirations of his great art are upheld on a very different
plane from that of Leipzig. He has the highest possible view of his
vocation and what it should entail. "To send light into the depths of
the human heart, that is the artistic calling," he has declared.... "The
artist is to choose for his companions those who can do something beyond
playing passably on one or two instruments - those who are whole men and
can understand Shakespeare and Jean Paul.... People say, 'It pleased,'
or 'It did not please,' - as if there were nothing higher than pleasing
the public!" ... A man with such notions as these, in the first half of
the nineteenth century, must of necessity live and move to a great
extent in an ideal atmosphere of his own: and Schumann, to do so the
more literally, has created his own company in that "spiritual and
romantic league," the _Davidsbund_, which exists only in his
imagination, but exercises considerable vigour none the less.

The _Davidsbund_ is a mystical community of kindred souls, each
enlisted, with or without his knowledge, under the banner of "a resolve
to do battle in the cause of musical progress, against Philistinism in
every form." One can only vaguely compare it to the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood in England. "Mozart was as much a member of it as Berlioz
now is," so declares its founder. Chopin, Julius Knorr, Schuncke, Carl
Banck and others, without any form of enrolment, are members of the
Davidite fraternity. New names and old are added from time to time, in
the friendly columns of the _Neue Zeitschrift für Musik_, which is the
organ of the league: and especially Schumann himself appears under a
number of _noms de guerre_, representing the manifold facets of his
identity. As _Florestan_, he speaks for "the turbulent and impulsive
side of his nature, full of imaginative activity;" as _Eusebius_, he
expresses those gentle, thoughtful, sensitive qualities which sit so
lovably upon him. As _Meister Raro_, calmly logical, he stands between
both the above, and, "acting as arbitrator, sums up their opposing
criticisms," much as his father-in-law Friedrich Wieck the great
professor might do. To light-hearted, humorous, almost frivolous
critiques he signs himself _Jeanquirit_: and last, not least of the
"Davidites," he introduces Mendelssohn as _Meritis_, and embodies
varying traits of his beloved Clara as _Zilia_, _Chiarina_, and
_Cecilia_.... Call it feather-brained, fantastic, ridiculous, if you
will, the _Davidsbund_ has a very definite meaning, and fulfils a very
noble purpose. For, to use its inventor's own phrase, "In every age
there is a secret band of kindred spirits. Ye who are of this
fellowship, see that ye weld the circle firmly, that so the truth of Art
may shine ever more and more clearly, shedding joy and blessing far and
near."

That remarkable power of expressing the personalities of his friends in
music, which has been Schumann's from youth, stands him in good stead
for the depicting of various "Davidites": he could show the peculiar
characteristics of any one of them in a few moments, on the pianoforte,
whereas years would not suffice him to give a verbal explanation. This
power of portrayal is noticeable in the very construction of his
songs, - such as, for instance, _The Two Grenadiers_, or _Freedom_, or
_The Hidalgo_, with its essentially Spanish arrogance.

My days I spend in courting,
With songs and hearts a-sporting,
Or weaponed for a fight!
The fragrant darkness daring,
I gaily forth am faring,
To roam the streets by night,
For love or war preparing,
With bearing proud and light....
The moon her light is flinging,
The powers of Love are springing,
And sombre passions burn ...
Or wounds or blossoms bringing,
To-morrow I'll return!
While o'er the horizon darkling,
The first faint star is sparkling,
All prudence cold I spurn, -
Or wounds or blossoms bringing,
To-morrow I'll return!

In the course of the morning Schumann, reluctantly leaving a mass of
unfinished MSS. upon his desk and pianoforte, betakes himself to his
duties at the Conservatorium, where he has been professor for about a
year. Conscientious and painstaking in tuition as in all else, he is not
naturally a good teacher. He seems to be devoid of the priceless power
of imparting verbal instruction, or of imparting the secret of the
system whereby a desired effect shall be attained. His habitual and
increasing melancholy reserve rises up like a barrier between himself
and his pupils: his reticence chills and bewilders them. His own musical
education has been an entirely personal matter, and not wrought out upon
the accepted scholastic lines. Moreover, intercourse with musical people
has always "appealed to Schumann far more, and with greater success,
than dry lessons in thorough bass and counterpoint." Hence, whilst he
appears almost unable to assist the novice in the beginning, or tadpole
stage, he is able to afford invaluable help and stimulating criticism to
those young artists with whom he may come in contact, and who adore him
for his sympathetic kindness. The violinist Joachim never forgot how,
as a boy of thirteen, he played the _Kreutzer_ sonata with his host at
the house of Mendelssohn. Lonely and silent all the while, Schumann
remained in a corner of the room; but subsequently, while Joachim was
sitting near him, he leaned forward and pointed to the stars, shining
down into the room through the open window. He patted the lad's knee
with gentle, friendly encouragement. "Do you think they know up
there," he queried, "that a little boy has been playing down here
with Mendelssohn?" - This question was the very essence of
Schumann, - romantic, mystical, full of tender dreams.

His composition-lessons over, he conducts a part-singing class.


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Online LibraryMay Clarissa Gillington ByronA Day with Robert Schumann → online text (page 1 of 2)