Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a book seller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature, and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrilt f�r Musik, a journal launched in 1834. Alter a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother but still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, he turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whose energies had been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by a weakness of the fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis, which he had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment. Nevertheless in the 1830s he was to write a great deal of music for the piano, much of it in the form of shorter, genre pieces, often enough with some extra-musical, literary or autobiographical association.
In health Schumann had long been subject to sudden depressions and had on one occasion attempted to take his own life. This nervous instability had shown itself in other members of his family, in his father and in his sister, and accentuated, perhaps, by venereal disease, it was to bring him finally to insanity and death in an asylum. Friedrich Wieck, an anxious father, was possibly aware of Schumann's weaknesses when he made every effort to prevent a proposed marriage between his daughter Clara and his former pupil. Clara was nine years younger than Schumann and represented for her father a considerable investment of time and hope.
At first, when he lodged in Wieck's house in Leipzig, Schumann had shown little interest in Clara, and in 1834 he became secretly engaged to Ernestine von Fricken, a pupil of Wieck and illegitimate daughter of Baron von Fricken, a Bohemian nobleman. It was for her that Schumann wrote his Fasching Schw�nke auf vier Noten, a set of pieces based on the four musical notes of his name, S C H A, which, by a lucky chance, also formed the name of the von Fricken's home-town, Asch. It was this work that was later given the title Carnava, sc�nes mignonnes sur quatre notes. By the following summer Schumann had discovered the secret of Ernestine's illegitimacy and begun to transfer his affections to the fifteen-year-old Clara Wieck.
Wieck was to do his utmost to prevent a marriage that can have brought Clara little happiness, but alter considerable litigation the marriage took place and the couple were married in the autumn of 1840, a year in which Schumann was to write an incredibly large number of songs, before turning his attention, at his wife's prompting to the larger forms of orchestral music. His subsequent career took him and his wife first to Dresden and in 1850 to D�sseldorf, where he briefly held his first official position as director of music for the city, an office in which he proved increasingly inadequate. In February, 1854, he attempted to drown himself, and was to spend the remaining years of his life in a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn He died there on 29th July, 1856.
Schumann wrote his Kinderszenen in 1838 Ashetold Clara, he had composed thirty little pieces, and from these he selected a baker's dozen, all of them designed to express an adult's reminiscence of childhood, or, as he said in a letter to Clara a reflection of her comment that he sometimes seemed to her as a child. The music is technically undemanding, of ingenuous simplicity, the titles self-explanatory, without the cryptic implications of Papillons and Carnaval, an outstanding example of what Schumann was able to achieve. In forms as limited as this. Carnaval, Kinderszenen and Papillons all have strong extra-musical associations Papillons, Opus 2, which includes music derived from some earlier pieces, was completed in 1831. Its twelve brief sections are based on the scene of a masked bail in Jean Paul's unfinished novel Flegeljahre, which Schumann later described to Calar as "like the Bible"
The plot of Flegeljahre is concerned with the odd conditions imposed in a will by which a house is left to the first of the presumptive heirs to shed a tear and the greater part of the dead man's wealth to Walt, provided that he fulfils a series of inconsequential tasks. At the bail Walt and his brother Vult, a flautist, are present, with their beloved Wina Schumann himself summarised the sequence of events Wall - Vult - the masks - Wina - vulrs dancing - they exchange masks � confessions - rage, revelations - they rush away � the final scene and Vult leaves, playing his flute. The last piece in the collection brings the bail to a close with the Grossvatertanz and the striking of the clock, and the last chord of the finale vanishes little by little.
Carnaval, Opus 9, was completed in 1835 and offers a more diverse picture than Papillons. At the heart of the work are the three Sphinxes, cryptograms based on the notes E flat (German Es), C, B (German H) and A -SCHA (= Schumann), A flat, C, B (H) -ASCH and A, E flat (Es), C, B (H) -ASCH, the second two representing the town of Asch where the von Frickens lived. Around these mysterious notes, omitted in performance, the other 21 pieces are ranged, making the most varied use of them as the source of inspiration.
Schumann claimed to have added the names to the pieces afterwards, and it is true that they are not as precisely programmatic as Papillons, but rather in the manner of vignettes, brief sketches, from a masked ball. The characters from the commedia dell'arte, Pierrot, Arlequin and Pantalon et Columbine, the old husband with a young wife, are as self-explanatory as the tribute to Paganini and the parody of Chopin. Florestan and Eusebius were pen-names used by Schumann, and represent the tempestuous and the deliberative sides of his character and of his writing. Chiarina is little Clara Wieck, and Estrella is Ernestine von Fricken. Reconnaissance is a re-union and Aveu a declaration of love, while Promenade, Schumann explained in a letter to the pianist Moscheles, was the kind of walk one might take arm in arm with one's partner at a ball. The work ends with a march of the right-minded Davidsb�ndler against the Philistines, the enemies of true art.