Robert Schumann’s Married Life
Never was a marriage more blessed with love and music than that of Robert and Clara Schumann. It was a musical rhapsody, yet like all good rhapsodies it had its moments of dissonance, forthe combined melodies of their life together did not always run in thirds and sixths, and the shadow of Robert’s illness frequently cast it in the sombre minor mode in which it was destined to end.
“Father has always laughed at so-called domestic bliss,” wrote Clara in the diary they kept in common shortly after their marriage in 1840. “How I pity those who do not know it; they are only half alive!” And this was the key in which the rhapsody began in the little apartments at No. 5, Inselstrasse, Leipzig. There were two grand pianos, but they couldn’t both be played at the same time, and herein lay the first touch of domestic friction, ultimately smoothed over by the good sense of both. Robert was so busy composing he gave Clara, further handicapped by the housework for which she was untrained, very little time for practice. “I cannot find one little hour in the day for myself,” she wails. “If only I didn’t get so behind!”
What she lost in practice, however, she gained in musicianship. The second week of their marriage they began to study the Well-tempered Clavichord of Bach; and ever afterwards they worked together at canon and fugue and the music of the masters. Robert took Clara on a personally-conducted tour through Cherubini’s Art of Counterpoint, and she learned to compose. Under his influence she changed from a brilliant girl-virtuoso pianist into an artist of the loftiest conceptions. What the memory of those hours of loving study must have meant to her after Robert’s untimely death!
Early Married Life
They started married life on an income of approximately a thousand dollars a year – not bad in those days, and in Germany. Part of this was private income, and part Robert’s earning as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, the musical journal he founded and continued to edit for four years after their marriage. Soon, however, came additions to the family, which necessitated greater effort, and it was the practical Clara who did most of the earning by resuming her concert work. Later Robert became music director in Dusseldorf and thus aided the family budget.
Marie was their first child, born September 1, 1841. “How proud I am to have a wife who, in addition to her love and her art, gives me such a gift,” writes Robert in the diary. The 13th of the month was Clara’s birthday, and little Marie’s christening day; and Robert surprised his wife with the printed parts of his first symphony, a bound volume of their joint songs, and the score of the D minor symphony “which I had secretly finished.” (Schumann’s habit of composing in secret and remaining aloof for days at a time caused Clara a few pangs of jealousy.) Later that year he also wrote the familiar Schlummerlied as a Christmas gift. It was the charming custom of these two lovers to write music for each other’s birthdays and family festivals.
Robert was not altogether pleased to have Clara resume her concert work. He hated the loneliness when she was away, and was sensitive of what people might say, but both desire and necessity urged her on, and Robert did not openly revolt. Compensations came with the happy reunions and the home-life that followed.
They had seven children in all; Marie, Elise, Julie, Ludwig, Ferdinand, Eugenie and little Felix, named after Mendelssohn. Felix was born after Robert was in the asylum and missed the happy times enjoyed by the others when their father joked with them, rode them on his knee, taught them little songs and played or read to them. “When I look back on my life” wrote Marie, “my childhood shines as the brightest spot in it.” And again she says, “Our mother gave us piano lessons, and every Sunday morning we played to father.” He loved to tease them. “We met him once,” says Marie, “as we were coming out of school. We saw him walking with Herr v. Wasielewski on the other side of the street, and ran across to say good morning and offer our hands. He pretended not to know us, looked at us through his glasses, and said: ‘And who may you be, dear little people?’ We were very much amused.” Schumann’s love for his children found happy expression in the Kinderscenen and the Kindersonaten – “for such child-performers as never were!” commented Clara, and the name was afterward changed to Klaviersonaten fur die Jugend (Piano Sonata for the Young).
Shortly after their marriage, Robert’s health had begun to break down, and their life in Leipzig, Dresden and Dusseldorf was frequently passed under great anxiety on this account. He became nervous and irritable, and prone to melancholy aloofness. Frequently he complained of rushing sounds in his ears, and toward the last heard imaginary music with extra ordinary vividness. One night he got up from bed to write out a theme which, as he said, an angel had sung to him. He often heard angel music of this sort, but at times the angels were replaced by demons who told him in hideous music that he was a sinner and would be cast into hell.
The Happiest Year
Notwithstanding this growing shadow, possibly the happiest year Robert and Clara spent together was that before Schumann’s malady took its final form. A brilliantly successful tour in Holland, where both were received with the warmest enthusiasm, brightened their lives considerably. And Robert composed with a feverish vigor they could not recognize as the final spurt of a dying flame. The Schumanns never lacked for friends, but the year brought them in closer touch with Joachim, and gave them a new friend in Brahms, then scarcely more than a youth whose genius Robert acclaimed. They were to be a great consolation to Clara in the years that followed – Joachim and Brahms.
Of the final phase little need be said. Schumann’s increasing malady led him to attempt suicide by drowning in 1854. At his own request he was placed in a private asylum, where he died July 29, 1856, after sixteen years of a married life which forms one of the tenderest episodes in the history of music.