In 1854 Schumann suffered a mental breakdown and made an apparent suicide attempt. Although his life was saved, his career as composer had reached its end. Already, however, his formidable creative energies had produced a remarkable body of music revealing a natural and lyrical sense of melody coupled with a keen and original handling of both harmony and composition.
Two of the greatest artists of the 19th century, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Clara Wieck (1819-1896), were married on September 21, 1840, just one day before Clara's 21s birthday. Their marriage was unique in musical history - they were drawn together and remained together not only because of common musical experience, mutual emotional dependency, and physical attraction, but because their mutual and creative needs complemented each other.
Many of Schumann’s most original ideas came from his desire to mix his musical and literary inspirations. Famous examples can be found in the song cycle Dichterliebe (which has a long piano postlude that elaborates the meaning of the last song), in the dramatic works, and even in the character pieces for piano.
Schumann's music neither accords neatly with his time nor withdraws decisively from it, but rather hovers between the no-longer and the not-yet, between the youthful bloom of Weber and the autumnal reflection of Brahms.
Schumann's style is romantic, gentle and - in the good sense - intellectual. Big inspiration and clear-cut technique are existing in most of his works. Schumann was trying to be genuine and not to succumb to any kind of compromise. Schumann's songs are revealing the joy of life and love. The music for the piano is speaking for his exceptional talents. In his music for larger ensembles Schumann displays all aspects of his gift using - himself too - part of the classical tradition.
Over 130 songs were composed in 1840 alone and has since come to be known as Schumann's "Year of Song." He quickly then expanded into chamber music, as well as orchestral music effectively taking on the mantle of leading German symphonist left unclaimed after Beethoven.
His main focus was the piano, an instrument for which he composed numerous masterworks, despite his lack of virtuosity. [...] Around 1840 Schumann began to venture beyond the piano and write more diversely instrumented works. He composed 4 symphonies, several concerti, hundreds of songs, as well as notable chamber music, including 3 string quartets and a piano Quintet.
[Schumann] had aspirations to becoming a concert pianist but an injury his right hand ended that possibility. One theory is that the damage to his hand was caused by a device for strengthening his fingers, but a more recent theory is that it was caused by mercury poisoning from treatment of syphilis.
He pursued a career as a concert pianist after leaving law school, but, when his career failed to take wing, he focused on composing. Largely self-taught, Schumann was a formal innovator, imbuing his greatest works with tremendous imagination and atmosphere.
Schumann was one of the greatest composers for piano, enriching its literature with a series of poetic works in which classical structure and Romantic expression are combined. His vocal and chamber music is of comparable quality, with the freshness, vitality, and lyricism which also characterize the orchestra works. His orchestration is sometimes criticized for its thickness and lack of fluency, and various attempts have been made to 'improve' the scoring, e.g. by Mahler, but the present-day tendency is to prefer the spontaneity of Schumann's own. His songs, particularly his song-cycles, are among the glories of Lieder. His works contain many musical quotations and allusions and a number of his themes have been shown to be musical cryptograms.
A quirky, problematic genius, [Schumann] wrote some of the greatest music of the Romantic era, and also some of the weakest. Severely affected by what was most likely bipolar disorder, he achieved almost superhuman productivity during his manic periods.