Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician

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This candid, intimate, and compellingly written new biography offers a fresh account of Robert Schumann’s life. It confronts the traditional perception of the doom-laden Romantic, forced by depression into a life of helpless, poignant sadness. John Worthen’s scrupulous attention to the original sources reveals Schumann to have been an astute, witty, articulate, and immensely determined individual, who—with little support from his family and friends in provincial Saxony—painstakingly taught himself his craft as a musician, overcame problem after problem in his professional life, and married the woman he loved after a tremendous battle with her father. Schumann was neither manic depressive nor schizophrenic, although he struggled with mental illness. He worked prodigiously hard to develop his range of musical styles and to earn his living, only to be struck down, at the age of forty-four, by a vile and incurable disease.

Worthen’s biography effectively de-mystifies a figure frequently regarded as a Romantic enigma. It frees Schumann from 150 years of mythmaking and unjustified psychological speculation. It reveals him, for the first time, as a brilliant, passionate, resolute musician and a thoroughly creative human being, the composer of arguably the best music of his generation.

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Editorial Reviews


"A well-documented, genial, easy-to-read biography for the general reader. . . . We learn a great deal about the young and dissolute dilettante, music journalist, hypochondriac, mediocre conductor, literate and prolific composer, and of course the ardent suitor who finally makes Clara Wieck his wife over her father's objections. . . . A very affectionate portrayal of both the man and the composer."—Symphony

"Drawing on letters, diaries, and previous biographies, Worthen relates Schumann's life in sometimes excruciating detail, dispelling myths of possible bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. One of the best biographies of a composer who had a lust for life of music, family, and friends."—Booklist
Literary Review - Simon Heffer

"...beautifully written and meticulously researched and foodtnoted." -Simon Heffer, Literary Review
The Good Book Guide

"For well over a century the reputation of the Romantic composer Robert Schumann has been obscured by the perception of him as a man beset by mental illness, a hapless figure buffeted by perpetual misfortune. John Worthen's achievement is to rehabilitate Schumann through detailed attention to contemporary sources which substantially conflict with received wisdom...what emerges here is a man of conspicuous determination, passion and creativity." - The Good Book Guide
The Guardian - Steven Isserlis

"...engaging, well written and clearly aimed at the general reader...for those wanting to read an affectionate life of one of the greatest and most loveable figures of the early 19th century, this book can be recommended." -- Steven Isserlis, The Guardian
The Sunday Times - Hugh Canning

"…alongside the tragedies, this riveting account of Schumann’s life also manages to encapsulate both the joy and elation of one of music’s greatest, still neglected geniuses, and to express a passionate enthusiasm for his works. For this, Schumannites ought to be deeply grateful."---Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times

The Independent - Susan Tomes

"We have always lacked good biographies of Schumann, and this one will become a standard reference work. The late John Daverio’s fine 1997 biography is more deeply attuned to the music, but Worthen’s is by far the most comprehensive account I have read of the facts of Schumann’s life. His central thesis is important, and he writes clearly and freshly, bringing a wise head to an intricate tangle of evidence."---Susan Tomes, The Independent

The Sunday Telegraph - John Adamson

"The tragedy of Schumann’s final years has fitted so perfectly with a certain Romantic stereotype – the demented and troubled genius – that it has exercised a captivating influence over his biographers ever since… It is this hindsight-laden interpretation of Schumann’s career that John Worthen’s fine and scholarly new biography sets out to undo."--- John Adamson, The Sunday Telegraph

BBC Music Magazine - Misha Donat

"this is a biography with attitude." - Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine
Irish Times - Arminta Wallace

"Life and Death of a Musician avoids the pitfalls which often beset large, detailed musical biographies, largely because it's so beautifully written." - Arminta Wallace, Irish Times
YBP Library Services

A 2007 Top Seller in Music as compiled by YBP Library Services

Association of American University Presses (AAUP) - Best Book of the Year Selection

Selected as a 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.

PsycCRITIQUES - Aaron Kozbelt

"An exemplary effort: beautifully written, very meticulously researched, with scrupulous reliance on original sources, balancing fine command of detail with a broader sense of Schumann's milieu. . . . This is an excellent and provocative biography that is sure to spark fierce debate among musicians and psychologists."—Aaron Kozbelt, PsycCRITIQUES
Southern Humanities Review - Stanley Hauer

"Worthen's biography takes its proper place as a book to reckon with on any shelf of studies of this brilliant, enigmatic, and tragic figure."—Stanley Hauer, Southern Humanities Review
Classic FM Magazine - Julian Haylock

“[A] detailed, insightful and above all affectionate account of Schumann’s life that reveals a man whose music defines the Romantic era.”—Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine
Library Journal

In this book's preface, Worthen (D.H. Lawrence studies, Univ. of Nottingham; The Gang: Coleridge, The Hutchinsons & the Wordsworths in 1802) states unequivocally that he is not qualified or interested in attempting to analyze the music of Robert Schumann. Instead, he's here to reexamine the enormous quantity of written material related to the mental illness and supposed insanity of the composer, with the ultimate goal of objectively piecing together the evidence related to Schumann's attempted suicide in February 1854 at the age of 43 and his subsequent death in a mental asylum in July 1856. Worthen concludes that Schumann may have suffered from depression and severe anxiety but not from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as preconceptions about his mental illness overwhelmingly seem to indicate after 1856. This interesting, well-researched examination of the life and death of one of the most important composers of the 19th-century Romantic movement is appropriate for students and researchers in higher education with some knowledge of Schumann's life and music.
—Bradford Lee Eden

Southern Humanities Review

"Worthen''s biography takes its proper place as a book to reckon with on any shelf of studies of this brilliant, enigmatic, and tragic figure."—Stanley Hauer, Southern Humanities Review

— Stanley Hauer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300163988
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/18/2010
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 951,780
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Worthen was Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham. His books include The Gang: Coleridge, the Hutchinsons and the Wordsworths in 1802 and D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. He lives in Nottingham, England, and in Germany.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Maps: Saxony xii

Travels in Europe and Russia xiii

Preface xv

Note on the Text xvi

Part I Early Years

1 Birth and upbringing: Zwickau 1810-1828 3

2 Leipzig and Wieck: 1828-1829 18

3 Decision for music: 1829-1830 35

4 A numbed finger: 1830-1832 51

5 On syphilis: 1831-1832 72

6 Other fears and tremblings: 1832-1833 77

7 Ernestine von Fricken: 1834-1835 93

Part II Clara Wieck

8 'No longer a child': 1835 109

9 Apart: 1836-1837 123

10 Engaged: 1837-1838 136

11 Enduring: 1838-1839 150

12 Fighting: 1839-1840 166

13 Success: 1840 186

Part III Marriage and Career

14 Thin walls in Inselstrasse: 1840-1841 203

15 The composer at home: 1842-1843 218

16 To Russia: 1844 233

17 Illnesses: Dresden 1844-1845 249

18 Offspring: 1846-1847 266

19 Choral, operatic and financial: 1847-1849 282

20 A new career? 1849-1850 299

21 Düsseldorf: 1850-1852 314

22 While the daylight lasts: 1852-1853 333

23 Catastrophe: 1853-1854 344

Part IV Ending

24 Diagnosis: 1854-2007 361

25 Endenich: 1854-1856 370

Epilogue 386

Appendix: Autopsy Report on the body of Robert Schumann 390

Acknowledgements 397

Cue-Titles, Abbreviations and Conventions 399

Notes 405

Index 474

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