By Victoria Isotti, Dramaturg (Three Romances for the Unwell and Otherwise)
Robert Schumann (June 8, 1910–July 29, 1856) is said to be one of the greatest Romantic composers of all time. His music was inspired by his own life, each piece growing out of his personal experiences and relationships. Many pieces take inspiration from his wife, Clara, and their marriage. Other pieces are affected or inspired by Robert’s mental health struggles, with him having been diagnosed with “Psychotic Melancholia,” which now could be considered Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder.
The following is a timeline of some of Robert’s music, and how it corresponds to his life:
Carnaval, written between the years 1834-1835, and officially published in 1837, is a collection of 20 pieces for the piano. It is set at a European-style ball and shows snapshot moments of the grand ball as the night goes on. When Robert wrote Carnaval, he was studying piano with Clara’s father, Mr. Wieck, and was engaged to another woman, Ernestine. The piece, while set at a fictional event, references both Clara in the piece Chiarina and Ernestine in the piece Estrella.
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor was written around the year 1835. It takes inspiration from many composers, such as Bach and Beethoven, as well as authors such as E.T.A. Hoffman. It is said that Clara’s father was attempting to keep the two apart during the time Robert was composing this piece, and Mr. Wieck sent Clara away. Robert used this piece as a way to communicate with Clara during this time, and dedicated the sonata to her from “Florestan and Eusebius,” Robert’s alter egos.
Kinderszenen, or as translated in English, Scenes from a Childhood, was written in 1838 during Robert’s courtship with Clara, a time of great happiness in his life. The piece itself is a reminiscence of Robert’s childhood, capturing moments of daydreaming, sleeping, and playing a game of tag.
Dichterliebe, or ‘A Poet’s Love‘ in English, was written in 1840, the same year he married Clara. It is based on poems by Heinrich Heine and is also representative of Robert’s marriage with Clara. The first four songs of the piece are full of joy and show the love the couple has for each other, while the last four songs of the cycle represent the couple’s struggle to get married due to Clara’s father not giving the marriage his blessing.
Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, Rhenish was written in just a month in the year 1850. The piece was started at the beginning of Robert’s tenure as music director at Dusseldorf, which is located right near the Rhine River. He nicknamed the composition Rhenish because of his closeness to the Rhine while writing this symphony. One of Robert’s more well-known pieces, Nicht Schnell, comes from this symphony.
Robert’s final composition, Ghost Variations, was written the night of February 17, 1854, shortly before Robert was placed in Endendich asylum. He had said the piece was dictated by the spirits of Mendelssohn and Schubert, and as the night went on the voices of these spirits turned into the voices of tigers and hyenas. The piece itself was dedicated to Clara, who would not let this piece be published during her lifetime. Ghost Variations was not officially released until 1939.
To listen to the full playlist from Three Romances for the Unwell and Otherwise, please CLICK HERE.
Emerson Stage’s NewFest 2022 Rod Parker Playwriting Fellowship Award Winning play Three Romances for the Unwell and Otherwise by Elena Freck and directed by Joe Antoun opens to the public on Thursday, March 24 at 8 p.m. EDT and runs through March 27 at 2 p.m. EDT. More information and tickets are available at emersonstage.org/newfest-rod-parker-2022.