Great Masters: Robert and Clara Schumann-Their Lives and Music

Course No. 759
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course Overview

In this course by Professor Robert Greenberg you meet the Schumanns—brilliant, gifted, troubled, and unique in the history of music. Robert Schumann (1810–1856) and his wife Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896) have earned a distinct place in the annals of Western music. As a couple with a two-career marriage—he as a pioneering critic and composer, she as one of the leading concert pianists of Europe—they were highly exceptional in their own time though they seem very contemporary in ours.

Great Critic, Great Composer—Coupled with a Great Pianist

Robert Schumann is unique by virtue of being the only great composer who was also a great critic. His contributions to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), the periodical he founded in 1834, made him far better known originally as a writer than composer. It also gave him a platform from which he could champion the Romantic ideas that informed his own works and recognize the geniuses of his time, including Chopin, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Franz Liszt.

The Zeitschrift would go down in history as one of the most important musical periodicals of the 19th century. Robert was its leading voice for 10 years, until depression and ill health led him to sell it in 1844. When he returned to print again nine years later it was a memorable occasion, for he broke his long silence to hail the gifts of a brilliant but thus far unknown young composer from Hamburg, Johannes Brahms.

This essay proved a mixed blessing for Brahms, but it clearly showed the quality of Robert's critical judgment. It came at the beginning of a close friendship between Brahms and the Schumann family. This friendship endured through the difficult years when Clara had to concertize continually to support her children after Robert's death—a story that Professor Greenberg details in his Great Masters lectures on the life and music of Brahms.

Clara was one of the most famous pianists and acclaimed touring musicians in Europe at a time when women of her class were rarely encouraged to pursue careers outside the home.

She was also a composer of no small talent, though her family commitments and touring schedule kept her from developing her compositional gifts as fully as she might have. The songs that she did compose with Robert's encouragement show great promise, however. During this lecture series you will hear two of Clara's songs and one of her piano works.

An Extraordinary Marriage

Clara was the only daughter of Friedrich Wieck, a tyrannical yet innovative piano teacher. His methods may have caused the crippling hand injury that ended Robert's own dreams of becoming a piano virtuoso and caused him to turn decisively toward writing and composing as his way of making an impact on the art of his time.

Clara first met her future husband when he was 18 and she was only 9. The two fell in love when Robert was 25 and she was 16—five years after her public-performance debut on the stage of the Gewandhaus in her native Leipzig.

After a dramatic, intrigue-filled courtship that included smuggled letters, secret meetings, and a lawsuit brought by Clara against her outraged father, the couple would marry when Robert was 30 and Clara was a day short of her 21st birthday.

Their alliance would result in eight children and was a loving one, though not without its tensions. Clara had been raised to be a star on the concert stage, not a wife and mother, and Robert did not always find it comfortable to be the husband of a woman whose fame and earning power exceeded his own, or to endure the slights he sometimes received while making the concert rounds with her.

And Clara was not only the main breadwinner of a growing family, but the wife of an emotionally unstable man who alternated between manic bouts of awesome creativity (he once wrote an entire symphony in four days) and terrifying fits of depression, exacerbating the worsening effects of the syphilis that would eventually kill him.

Triumph amid Adversity

Despite his illness and instability, Robert Schumann triumphed over adversity by leaving behind a magnificent legacy of compositions and insights into music that you will explore in these lectures.

He began as a writer of exquisite, often literature-inspired works for piano or piano and voice such as Papillons (1831), Carnaval (1835), Arabesque (1839), and Frauenliebe und Leben (1840). He succeeded, with Clara's indispensable encouragement, in combining his taste for "program music" (instrumental works inspired by and intended to bring literature to life) with the strict compositional technique and abstract content required to write chamber and orchestral music—the kind of "stand-alone" works that critics call "absolute music."

Thus Robert was able, in the wonderful "symphonic year" of 1841, to step out from beneath the long shadow cast by Beethoven's symphonies and make his own mark in this form with his First Symphony in B-flat Major, to be followed by three more by 1851.

In the second half of 1842, Robert turned his energies to chamber music and produced three string quartets as well as a piano quartet and piano quintet, all of which remain among the most enduring works in the chamber repertoire.

Music was, for the Romantic 19th century, truly the ultimate art form, and Robert Schumann, according to Professor Greenberg, represents its Romantic quintessence.

"Of all the early Romantic composers, it is Robert Schumann even more than Hector Berlioz whose music stands as the quintessence of the Romantic ideal—an art that combines music and literary storytelling in pursuit of the fullest possible degree of expression. It tended to strike contemporaries—including, in this case, even Schumann's wife, Clara—with its originality, its personal character, and its willingness to test aesthetic limits."

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Robert Schumann's Works:

Papillons (Butterflies), op. 2 (1831)
Carnaval, op. 9 (1835)
Symphony no. 1 in B-flat Major (Spring), op. 38 (1841)
Piano Quintet in E-flat, op. 44 (1842)
Das Paradies und die Peri (Paradise and the Peri), oratorio (1843)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 54 (1845)
Concert Piece for Four Horns and Orchestra, op. 86 (1849)
Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 97, Rhenish (1850)
"An Anna" (1828)
Symphony in G Minor, WoO 29, Zwickau (1832)
Kreisleriana, op. 16 (1838)
Arabesque, op. 18 (1839)
Frauenliebe und Leben (Woman's Love and Life), op. 42 (1840)
Symphony no. 2 in C Major, op. 61 (1846)
Theme in E-flat Major (1854)

Clara Schumann's Works:

Walzer (1834)
Soirées Musicales, op. 6 (1836)
Am Strand (Musing on the Roaring Ocean) (1840).

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8 lectures
 |  Average 47 minutes each
  • 1
    Isn't it Romantic!
    This lecture provides background on Romanticism, the dominant movement in European art in the 19th century, and on Robert Schumann's youth. He showed an early talent for piano and composing. In his teen years he wrote songs that began to reveal the duality of poet and musician in his personality and work. Before he went on to university, Schumann experienced two tragedies: the death of his sister Emilie and the sudden death of his father from a heart attack at age 53. x
  • 2
    A Pianist in Leipzig
    Schumann enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1828. He began piano lessons with Friedrich Wieck, father of Clara. In 1831, Schumann also made his debut as a professional music critic. When his hands started to go numb, Schumann knew that he would not have a career as a pianist; he turned to composition. In July 1833, illness and deaths caused him to go into a deep depression. x
  • 3
    Clara
    Schumann's teacher and Clara's father, Friedrich Wieck, was an ambitious and difficult man, determined to transform Clara into a great pianist using his teaching methods. Clara was well received wherever she and her father traveled. Robert Schumann lived with the Wiecks for almost a year. Clara played Schumann's Papillons, and by the time she was 16, they had fallen in love. x
  • 4
    Carnaval
    Schumann composed Carnaval, which is made up of 21 miniatures describing Schumann's friends and colleagues in the setting of a masked ball. When Wieck discovered Schumann's relationship with Clara, took Clara away from Leipzig and severed all ties with Schumann. Schumann was driven to episodes of mania and depression. During one of his manic periods, he composed Kreisleriana, a kind of "spiritual diary" of his emotions and personality at the time. x
  • 5
    Marriage and Songs
    After Robert and Clara won a lawsuit filed against her father, they were married. Robert was composing prodigiously, producing almost 150 songs in the year 1840, including the beautiful Frauenliebe und Leben (Woman's Love and Life). The early days of their marriage were happy, but the realities of balancing their demanding professional and personal lives soon brought conflict to the couple. x
  • 6
    The Symphonic Year
    Robert's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, op. 38, was brilliant and wonderfully received by both audiences and critics. Inspired by the symphony's triumph, Robert wrote a number of other orchestral works and chamber music. Clara returned to touring just three months after the couple's first child was born. Robert and Clara managed to strike a balance in their professional and personal lives. x
  • 7
    Illness Takes Hold
    Robert Schumann's compositional career took off, but in 1844, his mental health began to decline. They moved to Dresden to be closer to Robert's doctors. They moved to Kreischa, where Schumann experienced a period of intense creativity. In 1850, Schumann took an appointment as music director for the city of Düsseldorf. They were initially welcomed with enthusiasm, but three years later, the orchestra would demand Schumann's resignation. x
  • 8
    Madness
    In Düsseldorf Robert was inspired to write the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, along with trios, sonatas, orchestral works, and pieces for chorus and voice and piano. Robert and Clara also met Johannes Brahms there; he became a lifelong friend and source of strength for Clara. In 1854 Robert attempted to drown himself in the Rhine and was taken to an asylum. He died there two years later. Clara managed to sustain the family through her concerts but was dealt even more pain by the early deaths of several of her children. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Great Masters: Robert and Clara Schumann-Their Lives and Music is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 36.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Professor Greenburg did another outstanding lecture series. It help get to know more about, maybe, lesser known musicians, like the Schumanns
Date published: 2017-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clara and Robert Schumann-Their Lives and Music I have watched Robert Greenberg's DVD's about many composers and this illustrates his usual standard of excellence. He is brilliant, thorough, and has a great sense of humor. This is a particularly interesting set since both Clara and Robert were composers. Fascinating to hear how the career of one affects the other. I highly recommend these DVDs to anyone who enjoys music!
Date published: 2016-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining I've purchased and viewed scores of Great Courses programs (history, religion, music philosophy , etc) and this may be the most interesting and, yes, even entertaining, of them all. Professor Greenberg gets pretty worked up at times and his enthusiasm for the subject matter is highly contagious. I've read a couple biographies of Robert Schumann but still there was a lot of material new to me -- or old material presented in a new light. I didn't know that much about Clara, so that was the best part for me, and I am following up the lectures with a biography of her that I found among the useful references.
Date published: 2015-02-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Double biography Not being a musician and having only a brief exposure to classical composers in general I bought this course with fingers crossed. Professor Greenberg certainly knows his subject and appears to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to portray Roberts and Clara's lives for us listeners. Whether this added anything to my appreciation of their music I'm still not sure. However hearing about their complicated lives and the lives of the people they touched I found most interesting. The Professor's presentation was marred for me by his over-enthusiastic use of his arms but his undoubted love of his subject certainly came across. I confess that the biographical details more than the music were what interested me most and this course certainly provided that.
Date published: 2014-09-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Music, Marriage and Madness This is the seventh “Great Masters” course that I have pursued, and I have done them all in audio-only format, which has worked very well for me. As with the other courses in the series, this one plugs many biographical holes in what is usually covered in a music appreciation course. You will definitely learn the story of the Schumanns: their childhoods, their turbulent romance, and their troubled marriage. It’s a great story, but I felt that in some respects the music was short-changed . There seem to be fewer musical examples than normal, with whole areas of Robert’s output untouched (and only slim samples of Clara’s). Prof. Greenberg, as always, is enthusiastic and informative, but in this course he seemed to be taking a little too much pleasure in the sometimes lurid details of the Schumanns’ lives. However, because these Great Masters courses are often available at a reduced price, they are all worth the investment just to round out your knowledge of some of Europe’s greatest composers.
Date published: 2014-02-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Buy the CD not the DVD Although I recommend this CD, it was difficult to get through the whole course. It was very depressing to hear about Robert Schumann's life, but as another listener said, learning about Clara, did compensate slightly. Had I just been learning about Robert Schumann alone, I could not have made it through the whole course. Dr. Greenberg's propensity to get excited about tragedy in people's lives does get a little old, since most of us want more emphasis on the music.
Date published: 2013-04-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Compelling Human Interest Piece If one is only moderately aware of the music going on in television, movies, elevators and department stores, a surprising amount of the works of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Vivaldi and Mozart will have sunk into one's subconscious, even if one isn't a fan of Western art music. But Robert Schumann seems to be on the B list. As someone relatively new to classical music (I've only been studying it for 2 years), I'm not even vaguely familiar with Schumann. A number of great pianists of the last century championed his works: Horowitz, Rubenstein, Richter, Pollini, Argerich, Ashkenazy and Kempff come to mind, but I haven't gotten around to their Schumann recordings yet. So I was a bit worried that I wouldn't connect to this course. But it turns out that the Schumanns had an interesting life, full of hardships and triumphs, and ran in musical circles that included such luminaries as Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms and they even had some brief connection to Chopin. Furthermore, the Schumanns were obsessive about keeping diaries, and even kept one diary as a couple for working out marital issues, which gives a tremendous number of first-hand insights into their goings-on - insights that Greenberg judiciously and generously shares with us. In the end, it all made for great story-telling. My only constructive criticism: I'd like to see the Teaching Company put a little more effort into the display of sung texts. Professor Greenberg reads the lyrics in translation of a Lieder, but then only the title of the piece is displayed while the song is sung. It's 2012 - The Karaoke machine has been around so long it is old enough to drink now. I'd like to see the Teaching Company incorporate a karaoke-like display so that one can follow the lyrics as they are sung. Doesn't need to be as fancy as lighting up individual words or scrolling text, but something like highlighting the line being sung. They could even embrace a 16 X 9 display and do a nice job with bilingual display of English and German side-by-side. All in all, another interesting course by Greenberg. Now, on to Liszt!
Date published: 2012-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two biographies in one Prof Greenberg does a good job of covering both lives in this course, and showing how they influenced one another musically and personally. There is brief mention of Brahms, because he is fully covered in a separate course, but together they make for some of the most interesting musical biographies of the 19th century. There is interesting detail about Schumann's medical problems, from his injured finger to his mental problems and depression later in life, to the psychiatric manifestations of tertiary syphilis. When Prof Greenberg recommends you go out and get a recording of a certain piece, he is always on the mark. The ones recommended from this one are Schumann's symphony no 3 and piano quintet in Eb major, op 44.
Date published: 2012-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating Professor Greenberg's courses are my favorites because he makes the music come alive. I have listened to Schumann's pieces many times but now have a tremendously greater appreciation for his music. I enjoyed learning about Clara and her mastery of the piano. As a result, I have done much study about Clara Schumann, enjoying every minute. I also purchased the course on Brahms and look forward to completing it in view about what I know now about his relationship to the Schumanns.
Date published: 2010-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robert and Clara Schumann I found Professor Robert Greenberg to be extremely entertaining and well informed. I definitly recommend this course for anyone who is interested in music of the 1800s. In fact, any of the courses given by this Professor are on my list of "must have'.
Date published: 2010-03-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good introduction to Clara I have to admit, this was my least favorite of Greenberg's biographical courses. Robert comes across as a fairly unsavory character. However, I learned quite a bit about Clara, which filled in an important gap in my knowledge. Her close relationship with Brahms is explored in detail, and the strength and forcefulness of her personality come through clearly in the narrative.
Date published: 2009-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Companion to The Brahms "Great Masters" Cou Great Masters: Robert and Clara Schumann—Their Lives and Music 8 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture Taught by Robert Greenberg The listener of this course will be fascinated and moved by the lives of Clara and Robert Schumann. This tremendously talented couple overcame great obstacles, including mental illness, to emerge as world class performers, critics and composers, as well as the parents of eight children. One is all the more touched by the beautiful examples of Robert's compositions. It is also a treat to explore the samples of Clara Schumann's works. The listener is inspired to explore the Schumann's works in more detail. Dr. Greenberg is one of the most prolific and popular speakers in the Teaching Company Collection. He is both a renowned scholar of music history and a composer in his own right, having had his own music recorded and performed worldwide. His many music courses with TTC include "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", "Concert Masterworks", "The Concerto","The Symphony", and the "Great Masters" Series of ten courses from which this is one. The "Great Masters" Series highlights the life and music of major classical composers from Hayden to Shostakovich.
Date published: 2009-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Each of Professor Greenberg's "Great Masters" biographies is superb, but this one (along with the Brahms sequel) is my favorite. The life stories of Robert and Clara Schumann are profound, inspirational, tragic, and triumphant all at the same time. Not to mention downright amazing! This 8-lecture course ends with Robert's unfortunate death, and the last lecture moved me like no other. A highly recommened, 5-star course! For the complete story, be sure as well to get Professor Greenberg's "Great Masters" biography of Brahms. Brahms' career was intimately entwined with the Schumanns' lives and the two lecture sets make a natural couplet; also, Clara's later years are covered in the Brahms lectures. As with all of Professor Greenberg's courses the audio CDs work very well.
Date published: 2009-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Essence of Romanticism Prof. Greenberg pulls no punches in telling the tragic life stories of C19 music's quintessential romantic couple. Robert Schumann was already infected with syphilis when he met and fell and love with Clara Wieck, the 16 year old daughter of his piano teacher. Clara becomes an internationally renowned concert pianist - while Robert suffers from a disabled finger and abandons performing for composition - she supports him (and their eight children) while he suffers prolonged mental illness. A sad, moving story to which Greenberg brings a touch of pathos in contrast to his usual cheefully iirreverant style. We are treated to some beautiful piano music along the way. For the rest of Clara's life, listen to Greenberg's biography of Brahms.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Life of Music and Instability Prof. Greenberg's set of 10 Great Masters courses are required listening (I primarily do CDs.) He brings us lives of Robert and Clara Schumann in ways that illuminate both Robert's musical contribution and the Romantic notions of the times. This course is best heard after Liszt and before Brahms. The three courses offer a fascinating integration of the extremes of music and the fascinating relations among these amazing composers/performers. I had no idea Robert Schumann ended his life in a mental institution, and how his mental instabilities played into his music and life.
Date published: 2009-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Drama, tragedy & genius This is an amazing story about two highly talented musicians, who both competed with AND supported each other over the course of a lifetime. We know Robert as a composer, but in her day Clara was the famous one who charmed Europe as a concert pianist. Behind the scenes, she held the family together during Robert's physical infirmities and periodic descents into madness, from which he always resurfaced to compose heart-wrenchingly beautiful pieces of music. Professor Greenberg entertains throughout, especially in his comical tales about the difficult father-in-law who impedes Robert's pursuit at every turn, with hopes of retaining Clara's fame and concert proceeds for himself. This is an excellent mix of biography and musicology about a very extraordinary musical couple.
Date published: 2008-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comute and travel miles become wonderful memories and valuable ideas to share.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sharpened my ears
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have experienced innumerable scholars, professors and teachers in my life but none that can claim to be superior to Prof. Greenberg. In education he is an icon.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Your courses have provided us such wonderful education and entertainment through what would have been mind-numbing travel days.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These courses are some of the best investments in learning that I've ever made - Thank You!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The teaching company has exceeded my expectations in every way.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am very happy to have discovered The Teaching Company. A ver worth while way to spend time.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robert Greenberg is the quintessential professor. He knows his material, he loves his subject, he explains things in an insightful and fascinating way and he makes you want more.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly engaging story that adds meaning to the music.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent work. Far exceeded my expectation.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not a dry or boring moment. R&c Schumann are presented as real people. Thank you Dr. Greenbreg.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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