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"Crazy About Music"


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He died in an insane asylum, but left the world a legacy of musical greatness.

When Robert Schumann's father died in 1826, his mother insisted that he go to Leipzig to study law. He went to Leipzig, all right, but he spent most of his time composing music, reading and writing poetry, and knocking back the brews with his buddies--or whatever 19th~centry German artists did at the time for fun.

Go away, little girl

In Leipzig, Shumann met the famous music teacher Friedrich Wieck and his nine-year old daughter Clara, who was an amazing piano prodigy. Robert and Clara were to become one of the most famous couples in music history--but later, once little clara got puberty out of the way.

Alternate Lifestyle

Schumann moved in with the Wiecks (as was custom among the artists of the day), during wich he practiced the piano daily and composed some really terrific music. He'd hoped to support himself as a concert artist, but--uh, oh--he started having trouble with his hands, and in fact, the middle finger on his right hand became paralyzed, not a good thing for an aspiring concert pianist. (No one knows for sure, but the likely cause was the useof a mercury treatment for a syphilitic sore--syphilis being another custom of the day.)

Luckily, he had other talents to fall back on. His pianistic career at an end, he decided to devote himself to composing and writing about music. It turned out that he was a perceptive and brilliant music critc. He was one of the to appreciate Fredric Chopin, declaring of the great composer: "Hats off gentlemen, this is genius."

Not with my daughter!

By the time Clara was 17 (and an accomplished concert artist), she and Robert decided they were in love. Whoa, said Clara's father. He forbade the marriage and even threatened to shoot Robert if he came near Clara again. It wasnt that he didnt like Schumann; he just thought a

one-handed pianist had no future. In and episode straight out of a Harlequin romance, Robert and Clara swore undying love for each other, and settled for being a secret pen pals for the next four years. The work Schumann created during these years established his reputation as a composer. Hesaid they were love letters to Clara.

Eventually, the couple took Clara's father to court, suing for the right to marry without his consent. They won, and married. Clara continued to give concerts, Robert composed, and by all account, the two were a devoted couple.

No happy endings

But they didnt live happily ever after. Because being a genius isnt easy. Robert was given to alternating fits of depression and creative mania. When he was up, he worked at incredible speed. He composed 130 songs on the sustained high of his first year of marriage. Music historian call this "the year of song." He wrote an entire symphony in four days. But he also suffered periodic breakdowns during wich he wasnt ablr to compose at all.

Between heaven and hell

By 1852, he began to suffer from auditory hallucinations: he said he heard the voices of angels. As his condition got worse, the angels tunred into devils. One night during a rainstorm he told Clara he couldnt longer control his own mind any longer and was affraid he might hurt heror their children. He ran out of the houseand threw himself off a bridge into the Rhine River.

Pulled out of the water by some boatmen, he was taken to an insane asylum. In an action that today would be considered shockingly cruel, Shumann's doctors told Clara she shouldnt see him because it would be to upsetting for him. Clara went along with it. She supported herself and her children by giving concerts, and was greatly helped by the young composer Johannes Brahms who had befriended the family and lived in their home.

Final days

Shumann's condition steadly worsened and he began to refuse all food. When he grew dangeroulsy weak, Clara was finally--after two years--allowed to visit him. In a heartbreaking scene, she helped him take some wineand spilt some on her fingers. Schumann licked the wine from Clara's hand. He died the next day.

Clara, who is considered one of the greatest concert pianists of all time, and a talanted composer in her own right, lived on to 1896. Today, her husband's work is more popular and respected than ever; he and Chopin, who alao died very young, are considered the two great composer of the romantic era.

The Final Diagnosis?

But what, exactly, was wrong with Shumann? Some people think it was manic-depression. Others think it was the result of syphilis, whose symptoms in the later stages are similar to the disoreder. Maybe it was both. We'll never know for sure.

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