Scenes from Childhood

Scenes from Childhood (selections) Robert Schumann (1810-1856):
Of Foreign Lands and Places, Knight of the Rocking Horse, Dreaming, Child Falling Asleep, The Poet Speaks

“Come Down, Oh Love Divine”

“Fleeting Piece” Op. 15 No. 1 Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Pressured by his parents, Robert Schumann entered law school at age 18, but two years later left the study of law to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. He had been assured by his teacher, the eminent Friedrich Wieck, that he could become the finest pianist in Europe. Robert unfortunately suffered a crippling hand injury — possibly due to a mechanism he contrived with weights and pulleys attached by strings to his fingers to improve his technique. This put an end to any career as a concert pianist, so he focused his musical energies on composing. He also became editor of Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (“New Journal for Music”), in which he famously introduced Chopin’s music: “Hat’s off, gentlemen! A genius!”

In 1840, Robert married Clara Weick, the daughter of his former music teacher Friedrich Wieck. Clara’s father was adamantly opposed, and the marriage only took place after a long and acrimonious legal battle which ultimately turned in favor of our young couple. A child prodigy, Clara was herself a very able composer and pianist, and forged a successful 61-year career (!) of her own as a concert pianist, featuring her husband’s music as a mainstay of her repertoire. Clara was also instrumental in promoting the music of Brahms.

Robert suffered from a lifelong mental disorder, first manifesting itself age 23 as a severe melancholic depressive episode, which recurred several times alternating with phases of ‘exaltation’ as well as delusional ideas of being poisoned or threatened with metallic items. After a suicide attempt age 44, Robert admitted himself to a mental asylum. He was not to see Clara again for two years, until just two days before his death.

At the time of Robert’s death they had seven children, the youngest just two years old. So Clara became the breadwinner for her family, giving concerts and teaching, and she did most of the work of organizing her own concert tours. She refused to accept charity when a group of musicians offered to put on a benefit concert for her. In addition to raising her own large family, when one of her grown children became incapacitated, she took on the responsibility for raising her grandchildren (2 and 7). During the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849, she famously walked into the city through the front lines, defying armed men who confronted her, rescued her children, then walked back out of the city through the dangerous areas again.