Schumann's first published work, the Abegg Variations was released to the world in 1831 when the composer was just 21. Stylistically along the lines of Moscheles's Alexandre Variations, the Abegg Variations even had some orchestral accompaniment at one stage in the composition process.
The theme itself is based on the notes A-Bb-E-G-G, or ABEGG in the German musical language. Although the work was dedicated to 'Mlle Pauline Comtesse d'Abegg', it's thought this character was entirely fictional and that ABEGG refers to two families of friends in Heidelberg and Mannheim, one of which was said to include a particularly attractive dancing partner of Schumann's! This musical translation of names is an early pointer to the composer's obsession with hidden messages and musical cryptography.
Short and virtuosic, the Abegg Variations are very much of their time; fashionable and stylish they nevertheless suggest a great talent easily capable of outshining his models.
One of the leading figures of musical Romanticism, the German composer Robert Schumann is best known for his piano music and songs, though he composed significant works in all the major genres. He had a sizeable influence on succeeding generations of composers and was also a skilled writer and critic.
Born into a literary family on 8 June 1810 in Saxony, Schumann began piano lessons at the age of seven and had composed his first works within a year. An early passion for literature manifested itself along with an enthusiasm for Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert.
In 1828, Schumann became a law student at Leipzig University and studied piano with Frederick Wieck, whose nine-year old daughter Clara was well on the way to becoming a great pianist. After briefly moving to Heidelberg, Schumann returned to Leipzig and prepared to devote his talents, which he considered equal as a poet and musician, to music, publishing his Opus 1, the Abegg Variations soon after.
However, his literary aspirations continued and, intrigued by the idea of Doppelgängers and the work of ETA Hoffmann, he projected two sides of his personality into his writings: the virtuosic, flamboyant Florestan, and the pensive, retiring Eusebius. In 1834 he became owner and editor of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.
By 1833, his weakened right hand, possibly damaged by a finger-stretching device, forced him to abandon his pianist ambitions and he decided to devote his musical talents to composition.
Throughout his career, Schumann seems to have concentrated on one particular genre at a time and from 1833-39, the emphasis was on piano music, giving him a certain amount of commercial success. Later genre-dominance includes: song (1840), symphonic music (1841), chamber music (1842), oratorio (1843), contrapuntal forms (1845), dramatic music (1847-8) and church music (1852).
In 1835-6 Schumann's love for Wieck's daughter, Clara blossomed into romance and though his feelings were reciprocated, Wieck strongly opposed the union, banning contact 'under pain of death'. Communicating via letter and secret messages in his music, Schumann continued the relationship, eventually going to court to obtain legal permission to marry.
Following their eventual wedding in September 1840, the Schumanns undertook a number of concert tours to showcase Clara's piano playing and Robert's composition. The results of these tours were more successful for Clara, leading to periods of depression and anxiety for Robert. After selling his journal, the Schumanns moved to Dresden, but Robert's mental and physical health continued to decline.
A period of recovery in 1849 allowed Schumann a chance to compose prolifically and increase his income, gaining a salaried position as municipal music director in Düsseldorf. However, by 1852 his health was once more in decline and after a successful concert tour of the Netherlands in late 1853 he began to suffer from 'intolerable aural disturbances’.
Fearful that he might harm his wife, he asked to be committed to an asylum, a request granted in March 1854 after a failed suicide attempt. Clara didn't see her husband for the next two and a half years, though they corresponded as they had done throughout their courtship. She finally saw Schumann just two days before his death on 29 July 1856 at an asylum in Endenich. Schumann's ill-health, it transpires, was probably due to the syphilis that he had contracted in 1832.
Although better known as a critic in his early years, Schumann's works, beginning with the Piano Quintet and 1st Symphony, gained him a great deal of public admiration and he soon established an international reputation. More impressive, though, is the huge influence he had on succeeding composers, most notably his friend of later years, Brahms.
- MIDI FILE - Träumerei, for piano (2'09'')