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Too Good For This World

Robert Schumann achieved fame in the mid-nineteenth century--after Beethoven, and before Brahms and Wagner were recognized as musical giants. In fact, Schumann “discovered” Brahms and Chopin. He recognized their genius while both were young and helped advance their careers.

Like Beethoven, Schumann was German. Also like Beethoven, he was a Romantic, but he lacked Beethoven’s audacity and drive to scale every mountain. Schumann was a gentle man, more sensitive poet than man of the world. Who but Schumann could write “Scenes from Childhood” in which each movement captures a different childlike expression or mood?

Despite success and adulation, the world failed to live up to Schumann’s expectations. He suffered a nervous breakdown, once attempted suicide, and died in an asylum at age 46. His wife, Clara Schumann, a famous musician in her own right, stayed at his side until the end. Wrote his biographer: “He was one of those hallucinated spirits, ripe for an early death because of their rejection of an imperfect world in which the clocks could not be turned back.”

Schumann is sometimes confused with Franz Schubert because of the similarities of their last names. The two had much in common. Both wrote world-class symphonies and sophisticated chamber music, both specialized in German leider or song, and both composed for piano at a level attained by few. Schumann’s “Fantasy in C” (for solo piano) is one of the glories of this world, while his Piano Concerto in A Minor has been a favorite of concert pianists for 150 years.

Schumann is 8th on the list of 50 greatest composers.

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