By Kathrine Lois Scobey and Olive Brown Horne


"Left, face! Forward, march!" Clear rang out the words of the little commander. Quickly the straight ranks moved across the playground. Back and forth they marched, every one in step. When the drill was over, the little general dismissed his troops. Day after day the boy soldiers drilled on the playground. Each day they chose a color bearer, but the commander was always the same. Among all the boys, no other made so good a general as Robert Schumann. Although his manner was gentle, the lads knew that his orders must be obeyed.

Portrait of Robert Schumann.


Robert Schumann was born in a quaint little Saxon town in Germany. His birthday was the 8th of June, 1810. His father, a studious man, kept a bookstore in the town. His mother was a good woman, busy caring for her five children, of whom Robert was the youngest. One of Robert's grandfathers had been a surgeon and the other hadbeen a minister, so why it was that Robert cared for music no one knew. But care for it he did with all his heart.

He was the happiest boy in all Saxony when his father told him that he might study music with the organist at St. Mary's. He was seven years old when he had his first lesson. By the time he was eight, he could compose dances for his little friends. His teacher was proud of the lad and often said: "Robert, God has given you a great talent, and very precious is such a gift. Use it well."

Robert once thought of a new game, which afterward became a great favorite with his playmates. The game was once carried on in this way. Robert went to the piano and played for several minutes. Then, turning about, he said, "Whom was I describing in that music?" All the children shouted, "Franz!" That was the very person Robert had in mind, and the music had told the children very well that it was none other than the merry, laughing Franz. Then the young musician turned to the piano again. The music was no longer bright and gay, but low and sweet. When the last note had been played, the children clapped their hands and exclaimed: "Robert, you are a capital player.You have told us as plainly as can be that you were thinking of little Gretchen."

When Robert Schumann was nine years old, he attended a concert given by a young English musician. The young Englishman played remarkably well. Robert had never heard such music before. He wondered if he could ever be so skillful. "At least," he said to himself, "I can try." From that moment, the desire to become a musician never left his mind. He always kept a programme which the pianist had touched, and every time he looked at it he thought: "Each day I must do my best. I shall succeed in no other way."

Sometimes Robert forgot his good resolutions. He had much rather play pretty tunes than practice his scales. It was not so pleasant to toil over his lesson as to play the songs that he liked. When he grew older, he saw the mistake he had made and tried to make up lost time by working at his music in earnest.

Robert Schumann was interested in his studies at school and in the games on the playground, but most of all he was interested in music. He formed an orchestra which consisted of two violins, two flutes, a clarinet, and two horns. Robert was conductor of the orchestra and played the piano. Thispiano was a fine instrument, a gift to Robert from his father. When the little leader could find no music which his musicians could play, he composed some for them himself.

"Let us do our best with this concerto," Robert often said to the boys of the band, "that my father may be pleased when he comes." Then, so interested did they become in the rehearsal, that they did not notice the father as he came softly into the room. When the concerto was finished, he said: "You have done well, my lads. Here is some new music as a reward."

Once Robert's teacher gave a concert. A chorus of many voices sang a beautiful piece of music. No orchestra played while the chorus sang; their only accompaniment was a piano. The audience was amazed to see a small boy take his place at the instrument and play the accompaniment with skill. The boy was Robert Schumann.

While Robert was in the high school, he set the one hundred and fiftieth Psalm to music. He composed not only the music for the singers, but also an accompaniment for the orchestra. About this time, too, he often appeared in public concerts.

In 1825 Robert's father died. The boy felt his loss keenly, for no one else had encouraged him in hismusic as his father had done. His mother loved him dearly, but she wished that he might become a lawyer rather than a musician. She hoped that he might graduate with honors from the law school. She dreamed that her boy might one day become the finest lawyer in the empire.


At last the long course at the high school was completed. Then Robert Schumann left his native town and journeyed to Leipzig to become a student of law. He had no desire to be a lawyer, but he loved his mother too dearly to disobey her wishes. Now Robert should have spent every moment at his studies, and he knew this all too well. Instead, he spent many, many hours with his loved instrument or with friends who cared for naught but music. He did not mean to slight his work, for he had made up his mind not to disappoint his mother. He wrote her from Leipzig: "I have no taste for the law. My studies are dry and irksome; but I have resolved to become a lawyer. When a man determines to succeed, he can indeed do all things."

At the time that Schumann was attending the university, Frederick Wieck was one of the bestpiano teachers in Germany. Schumann had made rapid progress with this teacher. He spent more time than ever at the piano and grew more and more to dislike his lectures at the university.

After some twelve months spent in Leipzig, Schumann wrote to his mother, asking permission to go to Heidelberg to continue his studies. He wished to hear the lectures of one of the most famous lawyers in Germany. Now you must know that this famous man was also a musician. Perhaps Schumann knew this and cared more for the music than for the law. At any rate he was very happy when his mother granted his request, and he left Leipzig with a light heart.

Schumann had not had his piano sent to Heidelberg, and he missed it greatly. Two or three days passed, and he had not once touched an instrument. One day, while he was out walking, so the story goes, he passed a music store and saw some pianos in the window. Schumann was a timid man; but his desire to play overcame all his fears, and he walked boldly into the shop. Seating himself before one of the pianos, he played for three hours. At the sound of the sweet tones, the men in the shop put aside their work and gathered about the musician. Schumann did not see the group oflisteners, did not hear their cries of wonder, nor notice their applause. His thoughts were far away.

It was not long before Schumann found lodgings and hired a piano. He was very happy in his new home. He said to a friend, "I look from my window and see a splendid old mountain castle. The green hills covered with oaks meet my view on every side. I feel like a prince, and a real prince could not ask for anything more lovely than the view from my window."

Although Schumann had gone to a new city, he retained his old habits. It was much more pleasant to go to the open piano than to dust-covered law books. We are told that he practiced seven hours a day, and that the evenings were spent with music-loving friends. Yes, life was bright and happy for Schumann then.

Every moment that he spent among his law books was hard work for Schumann; but he would practice a sonata or a symphony for hours at a time and consider it mere play. He was often invited by his friends to take long drives. Even on these little pleasure trips, he always carried a dumb keyboard with him. On it his fingers performed the most difficult passages, as the carriage rolled over thebroad avenues of the city or by the side of some winding stream.

It was in 1828 that Schumann went to Heidelberg, and in September of the same year he took a little trip into Italy and Switzerland. He talked but little of the grand old mountains, the clear Swiss lakes, and the blue Italian skies. Though he said nothing, the beauty of it all sank deep into his soul, and every song which he wrote afterwards was the sweeter for it.

On this journey Schumann heard some of the greatest musicians of his time. One of these was a violinist famed for his skill. As Schumann listened, he thought: "I should be perfectly happy if I could play as well on the piano as that man plays upon the violin. I need try no longer to become a lawyer. It is of no use. When I return to Heidelberg, I shall ask my mother's permission to devote all my time to music."

The letter was written. Before the mother made reply, she wrote to Leipzig and asked the advice of Frederick Wieck, Robert's former teacher. In response he wrote, saying that it might be a good plan to give Robert six months to show what he could do as a pianist. So it was decided that Schumann should give up law and study music in Leipzig.


In Leipzig, Schumann found lodgings near Wieck's home and again took up his music studies. He was so anxious to excel that he was willing to begin with the simplest music, although he could read a concerto at sight. He practiced even more than his teacher thought was best. The third finger of his right hand seemed weaker than the other fingers. In order to make it strong, he fastened it in a strained position and kept it so for hours at a time.

Instead of the hand growing stronger, it became crippled. This made Schumann very sad. He knew then that he could never become a master of the piano. He did not, however, give up his music, though he could play so little. The hours formerly spent in practice were now used for composition. Had it not been for the change in Schumann's plans, perhaps he would have become famous in Germany only as a pianist, but now the world knows him as a composer.

It happened that Schumann met in Leipzig a young girl, who loved music with all her heart. She was Clara Wieck, the winsome daughter of Robert's teacher. She had a marvelous talent formusic and even when a child played the piano with remarkable skill. She appeared often in public concerts and was much petted and praised. Praise, however, did not spoil her. In fact, each day she became more gentle and lovable. She and Robert Schumann became fast friends.

Among Schumann's other friends in Leipzig were some young men. They were all interested in music and met every evening for study. When a new piece of music appeared, they discussed its good points. At that time much poor music was written, and many poor musicians were receiving praise that they had not earned. The young men knew that this was not right. They wished that the good musicians might become better known.

This circle of friends were thoughtful, earnest young men,—friends of the good, enemies of the bad. They could think of no way to make matters better. One evening Schumann said to them: "Let us publish a paper that will help things to grow better. We will boldly speak the truth, and if a man's work is poor, we will pay no heed to him. If any musician does well, he shall have our praise."

As the young men agreed, the paper was started. Robert Schumann was chosen editor. His articles for the little paper were well written and he neverspoke ill of any one. He once wrote kindly of Mendelssohn's work. When Mendelssohn saw the article, he said: "I am quite delighted. Such praise comes from a pure heart. Ten thousand thanks to the man who wrote this."

In 1832 Schumann composed his first symphony in G minor. One movement of this symphony was played at a concert, and the pianist was none other than the wonder-child, Clara Wieck. The people at the concert often heard good music, but the girl's playing amazed them. They applauded her again and again; they waved their handkerchiefs and tried in every way to show their admiration.

This symphony of Schumann's was never published. His compositions were not popular. "As surely as every gleam of sunshine found its way into Mendelssohn's music, so every shadow found its way into Schumann's." For this reason many did not care for the music which Robert Schumann wrote. Still he worked on, not caring for the praises of men. He was happy in this—that he could express in music the beautiful thoughts that filled his mind.

While Schumann had been busy with his paper and his compositions, Clara Wieck had become a beautiful young woman. Schumann saw her oftenat her father's house and grew to love her dearly. In 1840 she became his wife.

We have told you that Clara Schumann had been called a wonder-child. At the time of her marriage, she was known as the finest pianist in all Germany. She played Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven at the concerts which she gave in many large cities. In all of these places she was highly praised.

All of Robert Schumann's best music was written after his marriage. In one year alone he composed over a hundred songs, and what beautiful songs they are! In almost every country the songs of Schumann are well known. Just as Wagner is known as a writer of operas, so Schumann is known as a writer of songs. Some of his most famous songs are: The Stranger, Butterflies, and The Poet Speaks.

Robert and Clara Schumann worked together at their music in their cozy little home. They were very happy, and home was the dearest spot in the world to them. Sometimes they made long concert tours, but they always rejoiced when they could return to Leipzig once more. On one of their concert tours, they visited northern Germany, Sweden, and Russia. In all of those countries they met with the greatest success.

While they were in Russia, they spent some time in St. Petersburg, where they were invited to court. The royal family and all the nobility showed them the highest honors; and when Clara Schumann played, she received the compliments of all. Even the princess came to the Schumanns, begging them to remain in St. Petersburg.

Clara Schumann was fond of playing her husband's music. In Russia, the people liked one of Mendelssohn's compositions better than anything else that she played. It was the Spring Song, one of the beautiful Songs without Words. So delighted were the people when she played it, that they called for it again and again. The emperor demanded it three times.

Outside of his own home Robert Schumann was a very silent man. It is said that he once went to a friend's house, entered the music room with a friendly nod, went straight to the piano, and opened it, softly whistling the while. Seating himself, he played a few chords, followed by a charming melody, closed the piano, and walked out, nodding his head in a friendly way. Then off he went without a word to any one.

Although at different times Schumann lived in various cities, most of his compositions were written in Leipzig. He was a hard worker, in one yearwriting thirty pieces of music. Some of his well-known compositions are The Pilgrimage of the Rose, the music for Faust, and the music for Byron's Manfred.

In 1845 Schumann was obliged to leave Leipzig on account of failing health. He chose Dresden for his home. He heard no music, for his doctor had forbidden it. He led a very quiet life, seeing few friends. It was at that time that he made the acquaintance of Richard Wagner. At the end of the year his health was much improved. He took up his work once more and wrote his second symphony.

During the next eight years Schumann wrote many beautiful compositions. He lost much time, however, on account of ill-health.

Two years before his death, Schumann and his wife took a trip through Holland. The composer was very much pleased to find that the Dutch people knew his music and loved it well.

On his return to the Fatherland, his health failed utterly. His mind, which had not been strong for some time, grew weaker day by day. During the last months of his life he spent much time at his beloved piano. He died in 1856 and was buried in Bonn.