Thursday, April 15, 2010


Subject: Robert Schumann

Born: June 8, 1810

Died: July 29, 1856 in an asylum.

Known for: piano music. Schumann wrote in many genres, but his greatest works are written for the piano. He was a pianist of great potential until he ruined his hand with a homemade invention for strengthening his fingers. His wife, Clara, was one of the great piano virtuosos of the time.

Child prodigy? Not particularly. Schumann was self-taught as a child. He could play the piano and even began composing at age 7, but Schumann did not have his first formal music instruction until age 18.

Contribution to music: Form! Traditional musical form meant little to Schumann. He preferred the music to dictate the form rather than the other way around. This is a complete revolution from the Classical era. When Schumann did compose in traditional forms, such as in his symphonies, he felt constrained and had a hard time particularly with transitions.

Happy or neurotic?: Neurotic doesn't even begin to cover Schumann. He was clinically ill and is now widely thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder. In the last years of his life he began hallucinating. In 1852 he attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine. He was placed in an asylum at his own request.

Strange fact: Schumann was a great music critic. Writing under the alter egos Florestan and Eusebius he introduced many of the finest musicians and composers of the time, including Chopin and Brahms.

Tonight the KSO will present Schumann's 4th Symphony. The Knoxville Choral Society will join us in the second half for Mozart's Requiem. The Requiem was written at the behest of an anonymous patron. While he was composing it, Mozart fell ill and became convinced that he was writing his own requiem. I didn't know the rest of this fascinating story until I read the program notes for tonight's concert.

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