Robert Alexander Schumann (June 8, 1810 – July 29, 1856) was a German composer and pianist. He was one of the most famous Romantic composers of the nineteenth century, as well as a famous music critic. An intellectual as well as an aesthete, his music reflects the deeply personal nature of Romanticism. Introspective and often whimsical, his early music was an attempt to break with the tradition of classical forms and structure which he thought too restrictive. Little understood in his lifetime, much of his music is now regarded as daringly original in harmony, rhythm and form. He stands in the front rank of German Romantics.
Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman’s mad fictional musician Kappelmeister Kreisler, Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” was one of many musical works written at the urging of the inner voices that alternatively plagued and blessed him throughout much of his life. As long as his mind remained whole enough to organize what he was “hearing,” these voices brought some of his finest work to him, sometimes fully realized and orchestrated. When his mental state began to disintegrate, however, the ghostly music brought him terrible suffering.
His wife, the pianist Clara Schumann, described a tortuous night :
The night of Friday, the 17th, we had not been long in bed when Robert got up and wrote out a theme that, he said, the angels had sung to him; after doing that, he went back to bed and hallucinated all night long, his eyes open and looking to heaven; he was firmly convinced that angels were hovering over him and disclosing the most wondrous revelations, all expressed in glorious music: they extended us their welcome, and we would both be joined with them before the year was past…Morning came and with it a dreadful change! The angel voices had turned into the voices of demons with horrible music; they told him he was a sinner and they planned to cast him into Hades, in short, his condition increased literally into one of nervous convulsions; he shrieked in pain (as he told me later, it took the form of tigers and hyenas tearing at him and trying to grab him) and the two doctors, who fortunately came in good time, were hardly able to hold him. I’ll never forget this moment, I was suffering the very agonies of torture with him. After about half an hour, he was less agitated and said friendlier voices could now be heard giving him encouragement…