The Schumann Brothers

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Florestan Schumann (1810-1854)
Eusebius Schumann (1810-1856)

The identical twins Florestan and Eusebius Schumann are among the most famous Romantic composers of the first half of the 19th century.

They were born on June 8, 1810 in Zwickau, Saxony. Their father, August Schumann, was a publisher, and it was in the cultivation of music and literature that their boyhood was spent. Both boys showed an early musical talent, and they began to compose before their seventh year. In their teens they wrote essays on the aesthetics of music and contributed to a volume edited by their father, entitled Portraits of Famous Men. When still at school in Zwickau they displayed a vivid interest in literature, while their interest in music was stimulated by hearing the pianist Ignaz Moscheles and the works of Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. But their father, who had encouraged the boys' musical aspirations, died in 1826, and neither their mother nor their guardian approved of a musical career for them. And so, they went to study law in 1828, Florestan in Leipzig, Eusebius in Heidelberg. But instead of pursuing a career in law, they suffered from their separation, neglected the law for the philosophers, and began composing songs.

The restless spirit by which they were pursued is disclosed in their letters of the period. At Easter 1830 they heard Niccolò Paganini. In July in this year Eusebius wrote to his mother, "Our whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law," and by Christmas both brothers were in Leipzig, taking piano lessons with their old master, Friedrich Wieck. In 1831, they together wrote an essay on Chopin's Variations on a theme from Don Juan, which appeared in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1831. It was published under the author's name of "Robert Schumann", but in it, the brothers used their own names, giving their opinions in dialog form. Incidentally, a third personnage, a certain Meister Raro, presumably based on Wieck, is called upon for his opinion.

The death of their other brother Julius as well as that of their sister-in-law Rosalie in 1833 seems to have affected both brothers with a profound melancholy. But by the spring of 1834, however, they had sufficiently recovered to be able to start a new project, Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the paper in which appeared the greater part of their critical writings.

Despite the fact that they were identical twins, the Schumann brothers were very different. Florestan was a somewhat one-dimensional, uncontrolled character, who would act on primitive impulses rather than pondering, long-term planning or considering the ultimate consequences of his actions. Eusebius, on the other hand, was a more quite person; a contemplative character with a strong sense for beauty and a melancholic, nostalgic nature. But despite these differences, the two brothers always lived together (except for the two years of their studies), and the older they became, the more symbiotic their relationship.

From the very beginning onwards, Florestan and Eusebius Schumann combined their compositorial forces. All their works were published under one and the same name: Robert Schumann. In the beginning, they worked separately most of the time, each of them writing his own section of a work. That was the case in, for example, their "Carnaval op. 9", written in 1834, one of their most genial and most characteristic pianoforte works, in which each brother wrote parts about himself and about the girls he fancied. Although their musical tastes were slightly different, their styles were so similar to each other they could hardly be distinguished even by an expert. Later, they would more often than not work on one and the same piece. It happened frequently, that when one brother left his score for a walk in the park, the other simply sat down and continued his work. Sometimes they wrote notes to each other in the score: "Eusebius: how great is my suffering!", "Florestan: This is getting nowhere...", "Eusebius: I'm going to bed. Don't forget to put out the candles when you get back", "Florestan: Go buy some potatoes tomorrow, will you?"

Already in the winter of 1832, while back in Zwickau to visit some relations, the Schumann brothers had met Friedrich Wieck's daughter Clara, who was then only thirteen, for the first time. She played some of their music at a concert. In 1836, their acquaintance with this girl, now already famous as a pianist, was refreshed, and quickly ripened into love. Both brothers decided to make a pass on her, and dedicated all kinds of Fantasiestücke for her (op. 12). But when they - separately - came to her father asking for his consent with a marriage, the old man refused, afraid of all the confusion a marriage with one of two twins might cause. Unfortunately for him, his refusal actually caused even more confusion: both Eusebius and Florestan started visiting her separately, and it is not even certain that she knew with which brother she was dealing at a time.

Apparently, Florestan and Eusebius both wanted to marry Clara, but that was of course impossible. Nor did Clara have the desire to be shared. She said: "I am a decent young lady, no vénédaise around me!". Without her father's consent, she married the more vigorous of the two brothers, Florestan, in 1838 at Schönefeld near Leipzig. She had to agree with Eusebius moving in to their home, though.

Eusebius found this marriage particularly hard to stomach, and fell into an even deeper depression. One night, after Florestan had left for one or two drinks in the town café, he came to Clara, pretending that he was Florestan, and made love to her. Early next morning, when Florestan came home, he instantly realised what had happened, and spoke: "Eusebius, my brother, I hope you haven't done anything you shouldn't have." But that was precisely what Eusebius had done, and Florestan was not amused with the situation at all. Nor was Clara, for that matter. He beat his brother almost to death, and from that moment onwards, Eusebius had always been wearing a beard, and was rarely seen in public.

In spite of this incident, their collaboration continued. Until 1840 they had been writing almost solely for the pianoforte, but in this one year they wrote about a hundred and fifty songs. Biographers represent them as caught in a tempest of song, the sweetness, the doubt and the despair of which are all to be attributed to varying emotions aroused by their love for Clara. In 1841 they wrote two of their four symphonies. The year 1842 was devoted to the composition of chamber music, and includes the pianoforte quintet op. 44, now one of their best known and most admired works. In 1843 they co-wrote Paradise and the Pen, their first essay at concerted vocal music.

It was not until long afterwards that they met with adequate recognition. In their lifetime the sole tokens of honour bestowed upon the Schumanns were the degree of Doctor by the University of Jena in 1840 for Eusebius, and in 1843 a professorship in the Conservatorium of Leipzig for Florestan.

During the 1840s, shortly after a stay of half a year in Russia in 1844, Eusebius' health deteriorated. On returning to Germany, the Schumanns abandoned their editorial work, and left Leipzig for Dresden, where Eusebius suffered from persistent nervous prostration. As soon as he began to work he was seized with fits of shivering, and an apprehension of death which was exhibited in an abhorrence for high places, for all metal instruments (even keys) and for drugs. He suffered perpetually also from imagining that he had the note A sounding in his ears. Some early biographers attributed Eusebius' neurological symptoms to syphilis, but later research has shown that symptoms of mental illness showed already when he was a young man. Furthermore, his bouts of sustained, manic activity alternating with periods of deep depression, point to bipolar disorder. Also, his eternal struggle in finding his own identity in the relationship with his brother certainly played a role.

The condition of his brother notwithstanding, Florestan Schumann enjoyed one success after the other. In 1850 he succeeded Ferdinand Hiller as musical director at Düsseldorf, in which capacity he visited Helvetia and the Batavian Kingdom as well as Leipzig in the years 1851-53. In January 1854 he heard a performance of his Paradise and the Peri in Hannover.

Caught by jealousy and depression, Eusebius killed his brother on 27 February 1854. Filled with grief and remorse, he threw himself into the Rhine when he realised what he had done. He was rescued by some boatmen, but when brought to land was determined to be quite insane. He was taken to a private asylum in Endenich near Bonn, and remained there until his death on 29 July 1856.

From the time of the Schumann brothers' dramatic death, Clara devoted herself principally to the interpretation of their works. She also became the authoritative editor of their works for Breitkopf und Härtel. She developed a close friendship with Johannes Brahms, who had been a housefriend and admirer of the Schumanns; but despite his many attempts, she always kept refusing to become Mrs. Brahms. Together, they destroyed many of the Schumanns' later works that they thought to be tainted by the madness of their relationship.

Some musicologists suggest that Eusebius and Florestan Schumann were in fact one and the same person (whose real name was probably "Robert"). Fortunately, almost nobody takes this view seriously.