Schumann, "Chopin," from Carnaval
Robert Schumann, "Chopin," from Carnaval, Op. 9, no. 12
Robert Schumann was born 206 years ago today, 8 June 1810, in Zwickau, Saxony (which became part of Germany). He died in July 1856 in a mental institution, suffering severe depression, something that had tormented him throughout his live. He was only 46 years old. He endured depression in an age without any medication for it, and at a time when there was little understanding of or sympathy for mental illness. As I see it, his life was a triumph—because despite adversity, he created a body of work humanity will always treasure.
As a young man, Schumann began to study law, but he gave that up to become a concert pianist; his piano teacher at the time assured him that he could become one of the greatest pianists. There is little doubt that this would have been the case—except that Schumann permanently damaged his right hand, it is unclear how. He was forced to give up his dreams of a concert career, and he turned to composition. Without that accident it is doubtful that we would have the music he left us—including, to my mind, two masterworks of humanity: the Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 (composed in 1836); and Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (composed in 1838), both works for the piano (Kreisleriana was published before the Fantasie, hence the earlier opus number despite being composed later).
In 1834, Schumann wrote Carnaval, Op. 9, a set of 21 piano pieces intended to evoke partygoers at a carnival—among them the composer himself, acquaintances, and friends. He envisions Chopin at this festival, and he wrote a soulful piece in the style of Chopin. I selected it as the composition with which I would begin my return to music.
Here is a link to a recording of it, as played by the American pianist Jorge Bolet (1914 - 90), recorded in 1987 and re-released digitally in 2006 in the album Schumann: Carnaval/Fantasie in C Major:
How Hearing It again Affected Me
Tears; a melancholy that will last, I suspect, until finally I can turn out the lights and escape into sleep. I used to play this piece. I could not bear to walk to my piano to try to play the Schumann again—I could not even look at the piano. It stands there like a true and beloved friend I betrayed. The plaintive melody of the Schumann repeats again and again in my head, loud in the silence of my house.
I photographed "As a Watered Garden, no. 1," the flowers above, at Brigham Young's historic Beehive House in downtown Salt Lake City (April 2006). The Sun was setting; it was too dark for the photo—but light suddenly illuminated these flowers, shining through the skyscrapers. The title is from Jeremiah 31:12 (KJV): "and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all."