ON AIR: The New Classical FM

June 8 composer birthday: the achingly romantic music of Robert Schumann

Station Blog2018-6-7By: Classical Staff

This painting depicts to me a “scene from childhood”…


Robert Schumann was a German composer of the Romantic era, and a well-known music critic. Like so many other composers, he studied law, said “to hell with it”, and focussed on his piano playing, with a view of becoming a concert pianist. When a hand injury ruined these plans, he turned to composing. He wrote for piano and orchestra, songs for voice and piano, symphonies, an opera, and chamber music. His piano music is what’s he’s best known for, not to mention his uncanny ability to capture a quiet, intimate sense of childlike wonder in some of his smaller pieces.

Much of Schumann’s heart-tugging longing in his music was due to his falling in love with Clara Wieck, the daughter of his piano teacher. She was a child prodigy on the piano, and when she was old enough, agreed to marry Robert despite her father freaking out over the idea (after a court battle, they were eventually permitted to marry). As Robert descended into mental illness and a suicide attempt, a young Johannes Brahms (another romantic composer that makes you contemplate life, etc.) was there to support Clara, and also fell in love with her (of course).

Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15, is a popular suite of smaller pieces that is often performed by advanced piano students and veterans of the concert stage alike (meaning, they were not composed as children’s pieces for kids to play). It was composed when Robert was soon to marry Clara. The work depicts life through a child’s eyes. The list of pieces are as follows:
1. Of Foreign Lands and People
2. A Curious Story
3. Blind Man’s Bluff
4. Pleading Child
5. Happy Enough
6. An Important Event
7. Dreaming
8. At the Fireside
9. Knight of the Hobbyhorse
10. Almost Too Serious
11. Frightening
12. Child Falling Asleep
13. The Poet Speaks
The most famous of these is the seventh, “Traumerei” (“Dreaming”). I can hardly think of a piece that captures the nostalgia of a happy moment from childhood: cosy and safe, falling asleep as as a father reads his little one a bedtime story and later tiptoes back into the bedroom to turn out the light.

While Vladimir Horowitz is famous for his thunderous octaves and sheer power, it’s every bit as exciting to hear his calm, delicate touch on these gems in this live recording. Click “Watch on YouTube” if a black box with text comes up. “Dreaming” is at 5:33.

Robert Schumann was born June 8, 1810 in Zwickau, Kingdom of Saxony, and died July 29, 1856 in Bonn, Rhine Province, Prussia.


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