Part 3 out of 4
remarkable for their poor style and their worse grammar. To a man of
the exquisite sensibility of Schumann, and one who took literature so
earnestly, this must have been a constant torture. It humiliated his
own love, and greatly undermined the romance, which crumpled absolutely
when he learned that she was not the baron's own daughter, but only an
adopted child, and of an illegitimate birth at that. He had not learned
these facts from her; indeed she had practised elaborate deceptions
upon him. But the breaking of the engagement--a step almost as serious
as divorce in the Germany of that day--he seems to have conducted with
his characteristic gentleness and tact; for Ernestine did not cease to
be his friend and Clara's. Later, when he was accused of having severed
the ties with Ernestine, he wrote:
"You say something harsh, when you say that I broke the engagement with
Ernestine. That is not true; it was ended in proper form with both
sides agreeing. But concerning this whole black page of my life, I
might tell you a deep secret of a heavy psychic disturbance that had
befallen me earlier. It would take a long time, however, and it
includes the years from the summer of 1833 on. But you shall learn of
it sometime, and you will have the key to all my actions and my
That explanation, however, does not seem to be extant; all we can know
is that Ernestine and he parted as friends, and that six years later he
dedicated to her a volume of songs (Opus 13). Three years after the
separation she married, to become Frau von Zedtwitz; but her husband
did not live long, nor did she survive him many years.
Aside from the disillusionment that had taken the glamour from
Ernestine, Schumann had been slowly coming more and more under the
spell of Clara Wieck. The affair with Ernestine seemed to have been
only a transient modulation, and his heart like a sonata returned to
its home in the original key of "carissima Clara, Clara carissima."
Clara, who had found small satisfaction in her fame out-of-doors, since
she was defeated in her love in her home, had the joy of seeing the
gradual growth in Schumann's heart of a tenderness that kept increasing
almost to idolatry. Her increasing beauty was partly to blame for it,
but chiefly it was the nobility yet exuberant joy of her soul, and her
absolute sympathy with his ideals in music, criticism, literature, and
To both of them, art was always a religion; there was no philistinism
or charlatanism in the soul or the career of either. At this time, when
Schumann found it difficult to get any attention paid to his
compositions, Clara, from childhood, was able both to conquer their
difficulties and to express their deep meanings. While Schumann was
earning his living and a wide reputation by publishing the praises of
other composers, by burrowing in all the obscure meaning of new
geniuses, and revealing their messages to the world, his own great
works were lying ignored and uncomprehended and seemingly forgotten. At
this time he found a young girl of brilliant fame, honoured by Chopin,
Liszt, by Goethe, by the king, by the public; and yet devoted to the
soul and the art of the fellow pupil of her father. Even before he
broke his engagement with Ernestine, he found Clara's charms
Chopin came to Leipzig in 1834, and in Schumann's diary after his name
stands the entry: "Clara's eyes and her love." And later, "The first
kiss in November."
It was on the 25th. He had been calling on Clara, and when it came time
to go home, she carried a lamp to light him down the steps. He could
keep his secret no longer from himself or from her; he declared his
love then and there. But she reminded him of Ernestine, and, with that
trivial perjury to which lovers are always apt, he informed her that
Ernestine was already engaged to some one else. There was no further
resistance, but nearly a serious accident. The kiss that set their
hearts afire came near working the same effect upon the house. As Clara
"When you gave me that first kiss, then I felt myself near swooning.
Before my eyes it grew black!... The lamp I brought to light you, I
could hardly hold."
Schumann writes a few days later in his diary: "Mit Ernestine
gebrochen." Schumann consoled himself later by saying that he did
Ernestine no wrong, for it would have been a greater and more terrible
misery had they married. "Earlier or later my old love and attachment
for you would have awakened again, and then what misery!... Ernestine
knew right well that she had first driven you out of my heart, that I
loved you before I knew Ernestine."
Ernestine herself wrote him often.
"I always believed that you could love Clara alone, and still believe
In January, 1836, the engagement with Ernestine was formally broken.
Shortly after this, Robert's mother died. He was compelled to leave
Leipzig in dismal gloom. He said to Clara simply, "Bleib mir treu," and
she nodded her head a little, very sadly. How she kept her word! Two
nights later he wrote:
"While waiting for the coach at Zwickau,
"10 P.M., Feb. 13, 1836.
"Sleep has been weighing on my eyes. I have been waiting two hours for
the express coach. The roads are so bad that perhaps we shall not get
away till two o'clock. How you stand before me, my beloved Clara; ah,
so near you seem to me that I could almost seize you. Once I could put
everything daintily in words, telling how strongly I liked any one, but
now I cannot any more. And if you do not know, I cannot tell you. But
love me well; do you hear? ... I demand much since I give much. To-day
I have been excited by various feelings; the opening of mother's will;
hearing all about her death, etc. But your radiant image gleams through
all the darkness and helps me to bear everything better.... All I can
tell you now is, that the future is much more assured. Still I cannot
fold my hands in my lap. I must accomplish much to obtain that which
you see when by chance you walk past the mirror. In the meantime you
also remain an artist and not a Countess Rossi. You will help me; work
with me; and endure joy and sorrow with me.
"At Leipzig my first care shall be to put my worldly affairs in order.
I am quite clear about my heart. Perhaps your father will not refuse if
I ask him for his blessing. Of course there is much to be thought of
and arranged. But I put great trust in our guardian angel. Fate always
intended us for one another. I have known that a long time, but my
hopes were never strong enough to tell you and get your answer before.
"What I write to-day briefly and incompletely, I will later explain to
you, for probably you cannot read me at all. But simply realise, that I
love you quite unspeakably. The room is getting dark. Passengers near
me are going to sleep. It is sleeting and snowing outside. But I will
squeeze myself right into a corner, bury my face in the cushions, and
think only of you. Farewell, my Clara.
Close upon this letter, which must have been answered with no
hesitation and no inferiority of passion, came the summons to battle
for the prize. Wieck, who had been a cordial father, declined with
undue enthusiasm the role of father-in-law. He had viewed with hope
Robert's entrance into the career of music, had advised the mother to
let him make it his life; then the youth ruined his chances of earning
large moneys as a concert performer by practising until his right hand
was permanently injured and the third finger useless. As early as 1831
Wieck is quoted as objecting to Schumann's habits, and saying that, if
he had no money at all, he might turn out well; for Schumann, while
never rich, never knew poverty. But their friendship continued cordial
and intimate, and Wieck went into partnership with him in the _Neue
Zeitschrift fuer Musik_; he was a member of the famous Davids-buendler,
that mystical brotherhood of art, wherein Clara is alluded to as
"Chiara," perhaps also as "Zilia." None the less, or perhaps all the
more, Wieck objected to seeing his famous and all-conquering child
marry herself away to the dreamer and eccentric.
Wieck's own domestic affairs had not flowed too smoothly; he had
married the daughter of Cantor Tromlitz, who was the mother of Clara
and four other children, but the marriage, though begun in love, was
unhappy, and after six years was ended in divorce. Clara remained with
her father, while her mother married a music-teacher named Bargiel, and
bore him a son, Waldemar, well known as a composer and a good friend
and disciple of Robert Schumann. Wieck had married again, in 1828,
Clementine Fechner, by whom he had a daughter, Marie, who also attained
some prominence as pianist and teacher.
On February 13, 1836, we have seen Schumann write his love to Clara.
The number of the day, the stormy night, and the remembrance of his
mother's death were all appropriate omens. Wieck stormed about Clara's
head with rebuke and accusations, and threatened like another Capulet,
till he scared the seventeen-year-old girl into giving him Schumann's
letters. Then he threatened to shoot Schumann if she did not promise
never to speak to him again. She made the promise, and the manner in
which she did not keep it adds the necessary human touch to this most
beautiful of true love stories. Schumann was never underhanded by
choice, or at all, except a little on occasion in this love affair; so
now he called at once upon his old teacher, friend and colleague.
The interview must have been brief and stormy, for, on the 1st of
March, 1836, Schumann writes to August Kahlert, a stranger but a fellow
musical journalist, at Breslau, where Clara had gone:
"I am not going to give you anything musical to spell out today, and,
without beating about the bush, will come to the point at once. I have
a particular favour to ask you. It is this: Will you not devote a few
moments of your life to acting as messenger between two parted souls?
At any rate, do not betray them. Give me your word that you will not!
"Clara Wieck loves, and is loved in return. You will soon find that out
from her gentle, almost supernatural ways and doings. For the present
don't ask me the name of the other one. The happy ones, however, acted,
met, talked, and exchanged their vows, without the father's knowledge.
He has found them out, wants to take violent measures, and forbids any
sort of intercourse on pain of death. Well, it has all happened before,
thousands of times. But the worst of it is that she has gone away. The
latest news came from Dresden. But we know nothing for certain, though
I suspect, indeed I am nearly convinced, that they are at Breslau.
Wieck is sure to call upon you at once, and will invite you to come and
hear Clara play. Now, this is my ardent request, that you should let me
know all about Clara as quickly as possible,--I mean as to the state of
mind, the life she leads, in fact any news you can obtain. All that I
have told you is a sacred trust, and don't mention this letter to
either the old man or anybody else.
"If Wieck speaks of me, it will probably not be in very flattering
terms. Don't let that put you out. You will learn to know him. He is a
man of honour, but a rattle-brain (_Er ist ein Ehrenmann, aber ein
Rappelkopf_). I may further remark that it will be an easy thing for
you to obtain Clara's confidence and favour, as I (who am more than
partial to the lovers), have often told her that I correspond with you.
She will be happy to see you, and to give you a look. Give me your
hand, unknown one; I believe your disposition to be so noble that it
will not disappoint me. Write soon. A heart, a life depends upon it--my
own--. For it is I, myself, for whom I have been pleading."
Kahlert met Clara, but she was embarrassed and mistrustful of the
stranger's discretion. The next day Schumann wrote to his sister-in-law
Theresa still with a little hope: "Clara is at Breslau. My stars are
curiously placed. God grant it may all end happily."
In April, Clara and her father returned to Leipzig, but the lovers, now
reunited in the same town, were further removed than ever. Clara's
promise compelled her to treat Schumann as a stranger on the casual
meetings that happened to the torment rather than the liking of both.
The nagging uncertainty, the simulating of indifference, a stolen
glance, or a hasty clasp of the hand, in which one or the other seemed
not to express warmth enough, caused a certain impatience which Wieck
and his wife were eager enough to turn into mistrust.
Schumann's compositions no longer frequented Clara's programmes. He was
driven elsewhere for society, and when the taverns and the boisterous
humour of his friends wearied him, he turned again to Frau Voigt. In
March he had written to his sister:
"I am in a critical position; to extricate myself I must be calm and
clear-sighted; it has come to this, either I can never speak to her
again, or she must be mine."
By November such an estrangement had come between the lovers that he
could write his sister-in-law:
"Clara loves me as dearly as ever, but I am resigned. I am often at the
Since February of the year 1836, they had not spoken or exchanged any
letters. He never heard her beloved music, except at two concerts, or
when at night he would stand outside of her house and listen in secret
loneliness. In May he dedicated to her his Sonata in F Sharp Minor. It
was, as he expressed it: "One long cry of my heart for you, in which a
theme of yours appears in all possible forms." His Opus 6, dated the
same year, was his wonderfully emotional group, "The Davidsbuendlertaenze."
The opening number is based upon a theme by Clara Wieck, and in certain
of the chords written in syncopation, I always feel that I hear him
calling aloud, "Clara! Clara!"
His hope that this musical appeal might bring her to him was in vain,
and he began to doubt her faith. He passed through one of those
terrific crises of melancholia which at long intervals threatened his
reason. On the eve of the New Year, he wrote to his sister-in-law:
"Oh, continue to love me--sometimes I am seized with mortal anguish,
and then I have no one but you who really seem to hold me in your arms
and to protect me. Farewell."
To Clara, at a later time, he described this trial of his hope:
"I had given up and then the old anguish broke out anew--then I wrung
my hands--then I often prayed at night to God: 'Only let me live
through this one torment without going mad.' I thought once to find
your engagement announced in the paper--that bowed my neck to the dust
till I cried aloud. Then I wished to heal myself by forcing myself to
love a woman who already had me half in her net."
Love by act of Parliament, or by individual resolve, has never been
accomplished; and Schumann's efforts were foredoomed. In the meanwhile,
the Wiecks tried the same treatment upon Clara, whose singing-teacher,
Carl Banck, had been deceived by her friendship into thinking that he
could persuade her to love him. His ambition suited eminently the
family politics of Father Wieck. He made his first mistake by
slandering Schumann, not knowing the A B C of a woman's heart. For a
lover slandered is twice recommended. As Clara wrote later: "I was
astounded at his black heart. He wanted to betray you, and he only
One of the attempts to undermine Schumann was the effort to poison
Clara's mind against him; because when a piano Concerto of hers was
played (Opus 7), Schumann did not review it in his paper, but left it
to a friend of his named Becker. In the next number Schumann wrote an
enthusiastic criticism upon a Concerto by Sterndale Bennett. The
attempt failed, however, and Schumann's letter is in existence in which
he had asked Becker to review the Concerto, because, in view of the
publicity given to the estrangement with the Wiecks, praise from him
would be in poor taste.
Soon Clara at a public concert in Leipzig dared to put upon the
programme the F Sharp Minor Sonata, in which Schumann had given voice
to his heart's cry ("_Herzensschrei nach der Geliebten_"). Schumann's
name did not appear on the programme, but it was credited to two of his
pen-names, Eusebius and Florestan. Now, as Litzman notes, the answer to
that outcry came back to him over the head of the audience. Clara knew
he would be there, and that he would understand. Her fingers seemed to
be giving expression not only to his own yearning, but to her answer
and her like desire. It was a bold effort to declare her love before
the world, and, as she wrote him later: "Do you not realise that I
played it since I knew no other way to express my innermost feelings at
all. Secretly, I did not dare express them, though I did it openly. Do
you imagine that my heart did not tremble?"
The musical message renewed in Schumann's heart a hope and
determination that had been dying slowly for two years. His friend
Becker came to Leipzig, and took up the cause of the lovers with great
enthusiasm. He carried letters to and fro with equal diplomacy and
delight. He appeared in time to play a leading role in a drama Schumann
was preparing. Wieck's enmity to Schumann had been somewhat mitigated
after two years of meeting no opposition. Schumann was encouraged to
hope that, if he wrote a letter to Wieck on Clara's birthday, September
13, 1837, it might find the old bear in a congenial mood. He had
written to Clara the very morning after the concert at daybreak,
saying: "I write this in the very light of Aurora. Would it be that
only one more daybreak should separate us." He tells her of his plan,
asking only one word of approval. Clara, overcome with emotion when
Becker brought her the first letter she had received in so long a time
from Schumann, was so delighted at the inspiration that she wrote:
"Only a simple 'Ja' do you ask. Such a tiny little word ... so weighty
though ... could a heart, as full of unspeakable love as mine not speak
this tiny little word with the whole soul? I do it and my soul whispers
it for ever. The grief of my heart, the many tears, could I but
describe them ... oh, no! Your plan seems to me risky, but a loving
heart fears no obstacles. Therefore once more I say _yes_! Could God
turn my eighteenth birthday into a day of mourning? Oh, no! that were
far too gruesome. Ah, I have long felt 'it must be,' and nothing in the
world shall make me waver, and I will convince my father that a
youthful heart can also be steadfast. Very hastily,
And now, letters began to fly as thickly as swallows at evening. She
found a better messenger than Becker, in her faithful maid, "Nanny,"
whom she recommended to complete confidence: "So Nanny can serve as a
pen to me." At last the lovers met clandestinely by appointment, as
Clara returned from a visit to Emily List. Both were so agitated that
Clara almost fainted, and Schumann was formal and cold. She wrote
"The moon shone so beautifully on your face when you lifted your hat
and passed your hand across your forehead; I had the sweetest feeling
that I ever had; I had found my love again."
It was in this time of frenzied enthusiasm, of alternate hope and
despondency, that Schumann wrote the seventh of his "Davidsbuendlertaenze."
The birthday came, and with it the letter went to Wieck:
"It is so simple what I have to say to you--and yet the right words
fail me constantly. A trembling hand will not let the pen run
quietly.... To-day is Clara's birthday,--the day when the dearest being
in the world, for you as for me, first saw the light of the world."
He tells how through all the obstacles that had met their way he had
deeply loved her and she him.
"Ask her eyes whether I have told the truth. Eighteen months long have
you tested me. If you have found me worthy, true and manly, then seal
this union of souls; it lacks nothing of the highest bliss, except the
parental blessing. An awful moment it is until I learn your decision,
awful as the pause between lightning and thunder in the tempest, where
man does not know whether it will give destruction or benediction. Be
again a friend to one of your oldest friends, and to the best of
children be the best of fathers."
With this letter he enclosed one to Wieck's wife: "In your hands, dear
lady, I lay our future happiness, and in your heart--no stepmotherly
heart, I am sure."
The letter made a sensation in the Wieck home. Clara's father spoke no
word to her about it. He and his wife locked themselves up in a room to
answer it. Clara wept alone all the long birthday. Her father asked her
why she was so unhappy, and when she told him the truth, he showed her
Schumann's letter, and said: "I did not want you to read it, but, since
you are so unreasonable, read." Clara was too proud, and would not.
Schumann wrote to Becker concerning Wieck's answer, saying:
"Wieck's answer was so confused, and he declined and accepted so
vaguely, that now I really don't know what to do. Not at all. He was
not able to make any valid objections; but as I said before, one could
make nothing of his letter. I have not spoken to C. yet; her strength
is my only hope."
To Clara he wrote that an interview he had with her father was
frightful. "This iciness, ill-will, such confusion, such
contradictions. He has a new way to wound; he drives his knife to the
hilt into my heart. What next then, my dear Clara, what next? Your
father himself said to me the fearful words: 'Nothing shall shake me.'
Fear everything from him, he will compel you by force if he cannot by
trickery. _Fuerchten Sie Alles_!" Wieck consented to permit them to meet
publicly and with a third person, but not alone, and to correspond only
when Clara was travelling. His reasons were his ambition for her, her
youth. But Schumann knew better:
"There is nothing in this, believe me; he will throw you to the first
comer who has gold and title enough. His highest ambition then is
concert giving and travelling. Further than that he lets your heart
bleed, destroys my strength in the midst of my ambition to do beautiful
things in the world. Besides he laughs at all your tears.... Ah! how my
head swims. I could laugh at death's own agony!"
His only hope was now her steadfastness. Her message promised him that,
and warned him also to be true, or else "you will have broken a heart
that loves but once."
It is only now, strange to say, that they began to use the "Du," that
second person singular of intimacy which all languages keep except the
English, which has banished its "thee and thou" to cold and formal
It was typical of Clara's attitude throughout this whole long struggle
that she was always as true to her father's wishes as could humanly be
expected. She obeyed him always, until he became unreasonable and a
tyrant beyond even the endurance of a German daughter. So now, though
Robert begged her to write him secretly, she refused with tears. But,
fortunately for them both, she did not long remain in the town where
they were separated like prisoners in neighbouring cells. She could
soon write him from other cities. As for Schumann, he determined to
make the most of the new hope, and to establish himself socially and
financially in a position which Wieck could not assail.
Gradually, with that same justice which made him able to criticise
appreciatively the music of men who wrote in another style than his, he
was able to feel an understanding for the position of even his
"Now we have only to obtain the affection and confidence of your
father, to whom I should so love to give that name, to whom I owe so
many of the joys of my life, so much good advice, and some sorrow as
well--and whom I should like to make so happy in his old days, that he
might say: 'What good children!' If he understood me better he would
have saved me many worries and would never have written me a letter
which made me two years older. Well, it is all over and forgiven now;
he is your father, and has brought you up to be everything that is
noble; he would like to weigh your future happiness as in a pair of
scales, and wishes to see you just as happy and well-protected as you
have always been under his fatherly care. I cannot argue with him."
Schumann works with new fury at his compositions, and plans ever larger
and larger works; but through all his music there reigns the influence
of Clara in a way unequalled, or at least never equally confessed by
any other musician. He writes her that the Davidsbuendlertaenze were
written in happiness and are full of "bridal thoughts, suggested by the
most delicious excitement that I have ever remembered." Of his "Ende
vom Lied" he says:
"When I was composing it, I must confess that I thought: 'Well, the end
of it all will be a jolly wedding,' but towards the end, my sorrow
about you came over me again, so that wedding and funeral bells are
He plans how they shall write music together when they are married, and
"When you are standing by me as I sit at the piano, then we shall both
cry like children--I know I shall be quite overcome. Then you must not
watch me too closely when I am composing; that would drive me to
desperation; and for my part, I promise you, too, only very seldom to
listen at your door. Well, we shall lead a life of poetry and blossoms,
and we shall play and compose together like angels, and bring gladness
He would have "a pretty cottage not far from town--you at my side--to
work--to live with me blissful and calm" (_selig und still_). And when
she wishes to tour: "We'll pack our diamonds together and go live in
He writes her, complaining that her father called him phlegmatic, and
said that he had written nothing in the _Zeitschrift_ for six weeks. He
insists that he is leading a very serious life:
"I am a young man of twenty-eight with a very active mind, and an
artist, to boot; yet for eight years I have not been out of Saxony, and
have been sitting still, saving my money without a thought of spending
it on amusement or horses, and quietly going my own way as usual. And
do you mean to say that all my industry and simplicity, and all that I
have done are quite lost upon your father?"
Sometimes the strain under which the two lovers lived caused a little
rift within the lute. Poor Clara, forced to defend Robert against her
father's contempt, and her father against Robert's indignation,
preserved her double and contradictory dignity with remarkable skill,
with a fidelity to both that makes her in the last degree both
admirable and lovable. When she advised patience or postponement, the
impatient Robert saw her father's hand moving the pen, and complained;
but in his next letter he was sure to return to his attitude of
tenderness for her in her difficulties, and determination to yield
everything to circumstances except the final possession of the woman of
Musicians seem to be naturally good writers of letters. In the first
place, those whose fingers grow tired of playing notes or writing them,
seem to find recreation in the reeling off of letters. They have
acquired an instinctive sense of form, and an instinct for smoothing
over its rough edges, and modulating from one mood into another.
Besides, music is so thoroughly an expression of mood, and a good
letter has so necessarily a unity of mood, that musicians, _ex
officio_, tend to write correspondence that is literary without trying
to be so, sincere without stupidity. But in the volumes and volumes of
musicians' letters, which it has been my fortune to read, I have never
found any others which were so ardent and yet so earnest, so throbbing
with longing and yet so full of honesty, so eloquent and so dramatic
with the very highest forms of eloquence and romance as those of Robert
Schumann and Clara Wieck.
The woes of the two lovers were as different as possible, though
equally balanced; and the honourableness of their undertaking was
Clara was torn betwixt filial piety toward a father who could be ursine
to a miserable degree, and a lover who was not only eating his heart
out in loneliness, but who needed her personality to complete his
creative powers in music. While Schumann had no such problem to meet,
he lacked Clara's elastic and buoyant nature, and it must never be
forgotten that when he was sad, he was dismal to the point of absolute
madness. He would sit for hours in the company of hilarious
tavern-friends, and speak never a word.
Clara at length gave up her attempt to keep from writing to Schumann,
in the face of her father's actions; for in spite of the promises he
had given them, he could break out in such speeches as this: "If Clara
marries Schumann, I will say it even on my death-bed, she is not worthy
of being my daughter."
Now began that clandestine correspondence which seems to have
implicated and inculpated half the musicians of Europe. There were
almost numberless go-betweens who carried letters for the lovers, or
received them in different towns. There were zealous messengers ranging
from the Russian Prince Reuss-Koestriz, through all grades of society,
down to the devoted housemaid "Nanny." Chopin, and Mendelssohn, and
many another musician, were touched by the fidelity of the lovers, and
Liszt in one of his letters describes how he had broken off
acquaintance with his old friend Wieck, because of indignation at his
treatment of Schumann and Clara.
Schumann's works were now beginning to attract a little attention,
though not much, and even Clara was impelled to beg him to write her
something more in the concert style that the public would understand.
But while the musician Schumann was not arriving at understanding, the
critic Schumann was already famous for the swiftness of his discoveries
and the bravery of his proclamations of genius. As for Clara, though
already in her eighteenth year, she was one of the most famous pianists
in the world, and favourably compared, in many respects, especially in
point of poetical interpretation, with Liszt, Thalberg, Chopin, and
Europe's brilliantest virtuosos. But Schumann had delighted her heart
by writing: "I love you not because you are a great artist; no, I love
you because you are so good." That praise, she wrote him, had rejoiced
her infinitely, and that praise any one who knows her life can echo
Such fame the love-affair of the Schumanns had gained that to the
musical world it was like following a serial romance in instalments.
Doctor Weber in Trieste offered to give Schumann ten thousand
thalers--an offer which could not of course be accepted. At Easter,
1838, Schumann received one thousand thalers (about $760) from his
brothers Eduard and Carl.
But the lovers had agreed to wait two years--until Easter, 1840, before
they should marry--and the two years were long and wearisome in the
prospect and in the endurance. As Clara wrote:
"My sole wish is--I wish it every morning--that I could sleep two
years; could over-sleep all the thousand tears that shall yet flow.
Foolish wish! I am sometimes such a silly child. Do you remember that
two years ago on Christmas Eve you gave me white pearls and mother said
then: 'Pearls mean tears'? She was right, they followed only too soon."
Schumann busied himself in so many ways that again for a little while
he somewhat melted Wieck's wrath, and Clara hoped that some day he
could again be received at home as a friend. She was made the court
pianist at this time, and it was a quaint whimsy of fate that, in
connection with the award, Schumann was asked to give her father a
"character." It need hardly be said that he gave him extra measure of
Clara's new dignity stirred Schumann to hunt some honour for himself.
Robert decided, that while he was content "to die an artist, it would
please a certain girl to see 'Dr.' before his name." He was willing to
become either a doctor of philosophy or of music. He began at once to
set both of these schemes to work.
Now old Wieck returned to his congenial state of wrath. He declared
that Clara was far too extravagant ever to live on Schumann's earnings,
though she insisted that Schumann was assured of one thousand thalers a
year, and she could earn an equal sum with one concert a winter in
Dresden, where prices were so high. But just then the prosperity of
Schumann's paper began to slough off. It occurred to the lovers that
they would prefer to live in Vienna, and that the _Zeitschrift_ could
prosper there. There were endless difficulties, a censorship to pacify,
and many commercial schemes to arrange, but nothing must be left
untried. The scheme was put under way. Meanwhile, as usual, the Wiecks
were trying on their part; to separate the lovers. Schumann was accused
of infidelity to her, and he admitted that a Mrs. Laidlaw seemed to be
in love with him, but not he with her. They attacked his character, and
accused him of being too fond of Bavarian beer. On this charge, he
answered with dignity:
"Pooh!--I should not be worth being spoken to, if a man trusted by so
good and noble a girl as you, should not be a respectable man and not
control himself in everything. Let this simple word put you at ease for
Failing here, Wieck presented another candidate for Clara's heart, a
Doctor D----, who met the same fate as Banck. There were further hopes
that she would find some one in Paris or London, whither she was bound;
but she wrote Schumann that if the whole aristocracy of both places
fell at her feet, she would let them lie there and turn to the simple
artist, the dear, noble man, and lay her heart at his feet. ("Alle
Lords von London und alle Cavaliere von Paris, koennten mir zu Fuessen
liegen," etc.) Clara was also tormented by the persistent suit of Louis
Rackerman, of Bremen, who could not see how vain was his quest.
One rainy night, Schumann stood a half-hour before her house and heard
her play. And he wrote her: "Did you not feel that I was there?" He
could even see his ring glitter on her finger. Another day Clara saw
him taking his coffee with his sister-in-law, and she repeated his
query: "Did you not feel that I was there?"
Old Wieck stooped to everything, and even told Clara that he had
written to Ernestine to demand a statement that she fully released
Schumann from his former engagement to her--it being remembered that
among Germans a betrothal always used to be almost as difficult a bond
to sever as a marriage tie. This drove Clara to resolve a great
resolve, and she wrote Schumann:
"Twice has my father in his letters underlined the words: 'Never will I
give my consent.' What I had feared has come true. I must act without
my father's consent and without my father's blessing."
An elopement was seriously considered. It was planned that Clara was to
go to Schumann's sister-in-law. At this time also another friend
offered Schumann one thousand thalers (about $760) and he said: "Ask of
me what you will, I will do everything for you and Clara." But this
crisis did not arrive, though the two were kept under espionage. Even
now in November, 1838, a new and merely nagging attempt was made to
postpone the marriage till the latter part of 1840, but Clara wrote
that she would be with Robert on Easter, 1840, without fail. Then he
went to Vienna to establish his journal there, and from there he sent a
bundle of thirty short poems written in her praise. While he was in
Vienna, her father shipped her off to Paris, so sure now of cleaving
their hearts asunder that he sent her alone without even an elderly
woman for a companion. He little knew that he was putting her to the
test she had never yet undergone: that of living far from him and
depending solely upon herself. It is a curious coincidence that one of
her best friends in Paris was the same American girl, Emily List, who
had once been Ernestine's rival for Robert's heart.
The French people did not please Clara and she feared to go on to
London alone. She dreamed only of hurrying back to Leipzig and Schumann
and a home with him; in her letters the famous pianist seriously
discusses learning to cook.
Unhappy as she was in Paris, Robert was unhappier in Vienna, for the
_Zeitschrift_ made no success, and he was driven to the bitter
humiliation of taking it back to Leipzig in 1839. His brother died at
this time also, and their sympathies had been so close that the shock
was very heavy. Everything seemed to be going wrong. He could not even
find consolation in his music. At this gloomy moment Clara hoped to win
over her father by a last concession. She wrote from Paris that it
would be well to postpone the marriage a few months longer than they
had first intended, and Emily List wrote a long letter advocating the
same and explaining how much it grieved Clara to ask this. She advised
Robert to take up the book business of his brother, who had succeeded
his father's prosperous trade. Even while Clara's tear-stained appeal
was going to him, another letter of his crossed hers. It was full of
joy and told her how well they would get along on their united
resources. He gave them in detail and it is interesting to pry into the
personal affairs of so great a musician. He wrote: "Am I not an expert
accountant? and can't we once in a while drink champagne?"
Clara's letter provoked in Schumann a wild outcry of disappointment,
that after all these years he should accept as his dole only further
procrastination. He wrote her that his family were beginning to say
that if she loved him she would ask no further delay. Clara's letter
seems to have been only her last tribute to her father, for, at
Schumann's first protest, she hastened to write that she could endure
anything, except his doubt; that she would be with him on Easter, 1840,
come what would. This cheered him mightily, and he wrote that, while he
was still unable to compose, owing to his loneliness, a beautiful
future was awaiting him. He described his dreams of the life of art and
love they should lead, composing and making all manner of beautiful
"Once I call you mine, you shall hear plenty of new things, for I think
you will encourage me; and hearing more of my compositions will be
enough to cheer me up. And we will publish some things under our two
names, so that posterity may regard us as one heart and one soul, and
may not know which is yours and which is mine. How happy I am! From
your Romanze I again see plainly that we are to be man and wife. Every
one of your thoughts comes out of my soul, just as I owe all my music
Now he sent for her decision a formidable document, an appeal to the
court, to compel the father's consent. Clara wrote her father an
ultimatum on the subject, and received a long letter in reply, in which
he consented to the marriage under such terms that they were better off
before. For his consent was to be made on the following six
stipulations: 1. That Robert and Clara, so long as Wieck lived, should
not make their residence in Saxony; but that Schumann must none the
less make as much money in the new home as his _Zeitschrift_ brought
him in Leipzig. 2. That Wieck should control Clara's property for five
years, paying her, during that time, five per cent. 3. That Schumann
should make out a sworn statement of his income which he had given
Wieck in Leipzig in September, 1837, and turn it over to Wieck's
lawyer. 4. That Schumann should not communicate with him verbally or by
letter, until he himself expressed the wish. 5. That Clara should
renounce all claims as to her inheritance. 6. That the marriage should
take place September 29, 1839.
This insolent and mercenary protocol drove Clara to bay. She wrote her
father from the depths of grief, and declared to him finally that she
would wed Schumann on the 24th of June. Schumann wrote a short note to
the old man, telling him that if he did not hear in eight days, silence
would be taken as the last refusal. The answer was simply a letter from
Frau Wieck, acknowledging Schumann's "impertinent letter," and saying
that Wieck would not hold any communication with him.
Then the lawsuit began. On the 16th of July he made his appeal and
wrote to Clara that she must be personally present in six or seven
weeks. She had written him a letter of great cheer and sent him from
Paris a portrait she had had painted and a cigar case she had made with
her own hands.
On her way home Clara stopped at Berlin, where her own mother lived as
the wife of Bargiel.
Clara's life under her father's guardianship had gradually drifted
almost out of the ken of her own mother. Her stepmother had done
everything possible to make her life miserable, spying upon her and
making it impossible to be alone long enough to write Schumann a
letter. Now, in her loneliness, Clara turned to the woman whose flesh
she was; and she found there an immediate and passionate support.
From Wieck and the Wieck family, Clara had received while in Paris not
one penny of money and not a single trinket. They always wrote her:
"You have your own money." This grieved her deeply, and her father's
sending her to Paris without a chaperon of any kind and writing her
never a word of tenderness but only and always reproaches, had orphaned
her indeed. Her heart was doubly ripe for a little mothering, and Frau
Bargiel seized the moment. She wrote letters of greatest warmth and
sweetness to her child in Paris, and to Schumann she wrote an
invitation to come to Berlin. He accepted and spent several pleasant
days. Frau Bargiel wrote Clara how she had delighted in the talent and
person of Schumann, and Robert wrote her how fine a mother she had. On
the 14th of August, Clara and her friend Henrietta Reissman left Paris.
Meanwhile Schumann had sunk into another awesome abyss of melancholia.
The humiliation of having to go to law for his wife, and airing the
family scandal in public, crushed him to the dust. He wrote his friend
Becker: "I hardly think I shall live to hear the decision of the
court." As soon as Clara left Paris he hastened toward her and met her
at Altenburg. It was a blissful reunion after a year of separation, and
they went together to Berlin, where they knew the bliss of sitting once
more at the piano together, playing Bach fugues. She found his genius
still what it was,--"_er fantasiert himmlisch_"--but his health was in
such serious condition that she was greatly frightened.
Now her father proceeded to destroy every claim he may ever have had on
her sympathy by his ferocity toward a daughter who had been so patient
and so gentle toward him. He not only neglected her in Paris, except to
write her merciless letters, but when she returned and he saw himself
confronted with the lawsuit for her liberty, he offered a revision of
his terms, which was in itself worse than the original. Clara describes
the new offer:
"I must surrender the 2,000 thalers (about $1,500) which I have saved
from seven years' concerts, and give it to my brothers.
"He would give back my effects and instruments, but I must later pay
1,000 thalers and give this also to my brothers.
"Robert must transfer to me 8,000 thalers of his capital, the interest
of which shall come to me, also the capital, in case of a
separation--What a hideous thought! Robert has 12,000 thalers, and
shall he give his wife two-thirds?"
Robert had already given her four hundred thalers in bonds. The new
terms being rejected, Wieck put everything possible in the way of a
speedy termination of the lawsuit. He made it impossible for Clara to
get back to Paris, as she wished, to earn more money before the
marriage. He demanded that she should postpone her wedding and take a
concert tour for three months with him for a consideration of six
thousand thalers. Clara declined the arrangement.
One day she sent her maid to the house of her father, and asked him for
her winter cloak. He gave this answer to the maid: "Who then is this
Mam'selle Wieck? I know two Fraeulein Wieck only; they are my two little
daughters here. I know no other!" As Litzmann says: "With so shrill a
dissonance ended Clara's stay at Leipzig." He compares this exile of
the daughter by the father to the story of King Lear and Cordelia. But
it was the blind and tyrannical old Lear of the first act, driving from
his home his most loving child. On October 3d, Clara went back to
Berlin to her mother. Her father moved heaven and earth to make Clara
suspect Schumann's fidelity, and he gave the love affair as unpleasant
a notoriety as possible. For an instance of senile spite: Clara had
always been given a Behrens piano for her concerts in Berlin. Wieck
wrote to a friend to go to Behrens, and warn him that he must not lend
Clara his pianos, because she was used to the hard English action, and
would ruin any others! He wrote that he hoped the honour of the King of
Prussia would prevent his disobedient daughter from appearing in public
concerts in Berlin. It need hardly be said that Clara was neither
forbidden her piano nor her concerts; indeed, the king appeared in
person at her concert and applauded the runaway vigorously. By a
curious chance at the end of her _piece de resistance_, a string broke
on the piano; but as a correspondent of Schumann's paper wrote, it came
"just at the end, like a cry of victory." After this, Wieck wrote to
Behrens protesting against his lending a hand to "a demoralised girl
without shame." Clara learned that such of her letters as had gone
through the Wieck home were opened, and she received an anonymous
letter which she knew must have been dictated by her father. Her
suspicions were later proved. The worst of the affair was the
diabolical malice that led Wieck to have the letter put into her hand
just before her chief Berlin concert.
Next, he announced that his reason for not granting his consent was
that Schumann was a drunkard. Robert found witnesses enough to be
sponsors for his high respectability, but the accusation was a
staggering blow in the midst of the deep melancholia into which the
endless struggle and the recent death of Henrietta Voigt had plunged
him. Clara had the rare agony of seeing him weep. It was now the turn
of the strong Clara to break down, and only with the doctor's aid she
continued her concerts. Her father's effort to undermine her good name
extended to the publication of a lithographed account of his side of
the story. But while certain old friends snubbed her, the lies that
were told against her met their truest answer in the integrity of her
whole career, and in the purity and honour of her life. This her own
father was the first and the last ever to slander.
It is noteworthy, in view of the lightness of so many of the love
affairs of the musicians, such as the case of Liszt, who twice eloped
with married women and discussed the formality of divorce afterward,
that through the long and ardent and greatly tormented love story of
the Schumanns there never appears a line in any of their multitudinous
letters which shows or hints the faintest dream of any procedure but
the most upright. Always they encouraged each other with ringing
beautiful changes on the one theme of their lives: Be true to me as I
am true to you. Despair not.
The lawsuit dragged on and on. Wieck exhausted all the devices of
postponement in which the law is so fertile. Schumann found himself the
victim of a pamphlet of direct assault and downright libel, but all
these things were only obstacles to exercise fidelity. The lovers felt
that no power on earth could cut them apart. They began to dream of
their marriage as more certain than the dawn. Schumann writes to
Clara--"_Mein Herzensbrautmaedchen_"--that he wishes her to study and
prepare for his exclusive hearing a whole concert of music, the bride's
concert. She responds that he too must prepare for her music of his
own, for a bridegroom's concert. He writes and begs her to compose some
music and dedicate it to him; he implores her not to ignore her genius.
She writes that she cannot find inspiration; that he is the family's
genius for original work. Always they mingled music with love.
The composer Hiller gave a notable dinner to Liszt, who, after toasting
Mendelssohn, toasted Schumann, "and spoke of me in such beautiful
French and such tender words, that I turned blood-red." January 31,
1840, Schumann had taken up his plan to gain himself a doctor's degree
to match Clara's titles. He had asked a friend to appeal to the
University of Jena to give him an honorary degree, or set him an
examination to pass; for his qualifications he mentioned modestly:
"My sphere of action as editor on a high-class paper, which has now
existed for seven years; my position as composer and the fact of my
having really worked hard, both as editor and musician."
He began an essay on Shakespeare's relation to music, but without
waiting for this the University of Jena granted him his doctorate on
February 24, 1840, a bit of speed which must have been marvellously
refreshing to this poor victim of so much delay.
The very day the degree was granted, he had decided to take legal steps
for libel against the attack of Wieck's, which had been printed in
pamphlet form and distributed. Toward Wieck he is still pitiful, "The
wretched man is torturing himself; let it be his punishment." The libel
suit was not prosecuted and his anger vanished in the rapture of being
made a doctor of philosophy in flattering terms. As he confesses:
"Of course the first I did was to send a copy to the north for my
betrothed; who is exactly like a child and will dance at being engaged
to a doctor."
In May he went to Berlin and visited Clara's mother for a fortnight;
here he had two weeks' bliss listening to Mendelssohn's singing to
Clara's accompaniment some of the manifold songs that were suddenly
beginning to bubble up from Schumann's heart. It was to his happiness
that he credited this lyric outburst, for he had hitherto written only
"While I was composing them I was quite lost in thoughts of you. If I
were not engaged to such a girl, I could not write such music."
Songs came with a rush from his soul, and he exclaims:
"I have been composing so much that it really seems quite uncanny at
times. I cannot help it, and should like to sing myself to death like a
He begged Clara to come to him and drag him away from his music. Yet
all he wished was to be "where I can have a piano and be near you."
On July 4, 1840, he made her a present of a grand piano as a surprise,
taking her out for a long walk until the piano could be placed in her
rooms and hers taken to his.
It will not be possible to tell here in detail the story of the process
of law, or its many postponements or disappointments. Long ago they had
set their hearts upon marrying on Easter Day, 1840; they had determined
not to permit their father to drive them past this date. But they went
meekly enough under the yoke of the law and passed many a month until
it seemed to the litigants that the condition of waiting for a decision
was to be their permanent manner of life. But suddenly, as Litzmann
says, "there stood Happiness, long besought, on the stoop, and knocked
with tender fingers on the door."
On the 7th of July, 1840, Clara was told the good news that the father
had withdrawn the evidence upon which he based his opposition. The case
was not ended, but the lovers immediately began to hunt for a place to
live. On the sixteenth of July they found a little, but cosy, lodging
on the Insel Strasse. Grief had not yet finally done with them,
however, for Clara must write in her journal:
"I have not for my wedding what the simplest girl in town has, a
On the 1st of August the case reached a stage where the father had but
ten days more to make his final appeal. Worn out and lacking in further
weapons of any kind, he let the occasion pass, and rested on the
decision of the court. Clara went for one last concert tour as Clara
On the 12th of August, the super-deliberate court handed down its
awesome verdict. It was a verdict of reward for the lovers. Since Wieck
had withdrawn his evidence, the verdict was strongly worded in favour
of the lovers. Schumann wrote Clara, "On this day, Clara, three years
ago, I proposed for your hand."
There was no delay in crying the banns, and the lovers went about as in
a dream of rapture.
On September the 12th, between ten and eleven o'clock of a Saturday, at
Schoenefeld, a village near Leipzig, they were married by an old school
friend of Schumann's. On the 13th, a Sunday, and Clara's birthday--her
twenty-first--she was the wife of the man who had for four years made
her possession his chief ambition, and who had loved her better than he
knew, long years before that.
Thus the lovers gained only one day by their lawsuit, for Clara was now
of age. But who could estimate the value of the struggle in
strengthening and deepening their love for each other and their
worthiness for each other? It is the struggle for existence and the
battle with resistance that bring about the evolution of strength in
the physical world, and in the mental. Can we not say the same of the
Would it not be a great pity if there were never such a gymnasium as
parental resistance for lovers to exercise their hearts in? Shall we
not, then, thank old Wieck for his fine lessons in psychical
culture? His daughter Marie, by the way, Clara's half-sister, has only
this year (1903) published a defence of the old man in answer to the
first volume of Litzmann's new biography.
On Clara's marriage-day she wrote in her diary a little triumph song of
joy. The wedding had been very simple and--
"There was a little dancing. Though no hilarity reigned, still in every
face there was an inner content; it was a beautiful day, and the sun
himself, who had been hidden for many days, poured his mild beams upon
us in the morning as we went to the wedding, as if he would bless our
union. There was nothing disturbing on this day, and so let it be
inscribed in this book as the most beautiful and the most important day
of my life. A period in my existence has now closed. I have endured
very many sorrows in my young years, but also many joys which I shall
never forget. Now begins a new life, a beautiful life, that life which
one loves more than anything, even than self; but heavy
responsibilities also rest upon me, and Heaven grant me strength to
fulfil them truly and as a good wife. Heaven has always stood by me and
will not cease now. I have always had a great belief in God, and shall
always keep it."
As for the old Wieck, his bitterness must have been almost suicidal. He
did not forgive his daughter even after the birth of her first child,
on September 1, 1841, the year also of Schumann's first symphony. It
was only after a second child was born, in April, 1843, that Schumann
could write to a friend:
"There has been a reconciliation between Clara and old Wieck, which I
am glad of for Clara's sake. He has been trying to make it up with me
too, but the man can have no feelings or he could not attempt such a
thing. So you can see the sky is clearing. I am glad for Clara's sake."
But the cherishing of such a grudge even with such foundation was not
like Schumann, and a year later, from Petersburg, where he had
accompanied Clara on a triumphal tour and where they had the most
cordial recognition from the Czar and Czarina, he addressed old Wieck
as "Dear Father," and described to him with contagious pride the
immense success of his wife. A little later he reminded him that "It is
the tenth birthday Of our _Zeitschrift_, I dare say you remember." And
yet again he writes to him as "Dear Papa," adding "best love to your
wife and children, till we all meet again happily." And so ended the
feud between the two men.
The romance of Robert and Clara did not end at the little village
church, but rather they seemed to issue thence into a very Eden of love
and art commingled. The gush of song from his heart continued, he
dedicated to her his "Myrthen" and collaborated with her in the twelve
songs called "Love's Springtime." As Spitta, his biographer, writes:
"As far as anything human can be imagined, the marriage was perfectly
happy. Besides their genius both husband and wife had simple domestic
tastes and were strong enough to bear the admiration of the world,
without becoming egotistical. They lived for one another and for their
children. He created and wrote for his wife, and in accordance with
their temperament; while she looked upon it as her highest privilege to
give to the world the most perfect interpretation of his works, or at
least to stand as mediatrix between him and his audience, and to ward
off all disturbing or injurious impressions from his sensitive soul,
which day by day became more irritable. Now that he found perfect
contentment in his domestic relations, he withdrew from his intercourse
with others and devoted himself exclusively to his family and work. The
deep joy of his married life, produced the direct result of a mighty
advance in his artistic progress. Schumann's most beautiful works in
the larger forms date almost entirely from the years 1841-5."
He went with her on many of her tours. They even planned an American
trip. Once they were received with a public banquet; these two whom
Reissman calls "the marvellous couple." In his letters there are
always loving allusions to "my Clara," and though he could not himself
play because of his lame finger, she was to him his "right hand." Once
in referring to a prospective concert he even wrote, "We shall play"
such and such numbers.
In 1853 he and Clara went to the Netherlands, where he found his music
well known and himself highly honoured, though they say that the King
of Holland, after praising Clara's playing, turned to Robert and said:
"Are you also musical?" But then one does not expect much from a king.
The musicians knew Schumann's work, and he rejoiced at finding friends
of his art in a far-away country. "But," says Reissman, "this was
destined to be his last happiness."
For the dread affliction which throws a spell of horror across his life
and his wife's devotion, did not long delay in seizing upon him after
his marriage. As early as 1833, the ferocious onslaughts of melancholia
had affected him at long intervals. In 1845, on the doctor's advice, he
moved to Dresden. His trouble seems to have been "an abnormal formation
of irregular masses of bone in the brain." He was afraid to live above
the ground floor, or to go high in any building, lest he throw himself
from the window in a sudden attack. He was subject to moods of long,
and one might almost say violent, silence. In 1845 he described it as
"a mysterious complaint which, when the doctor tries to take hold of
it, disappears. I dare say better times are coming, and when I look
upon my wife and children, I have joy enough."
Later he wrote to Mendelssohn, that he preferred staying at home, even
when his wife went out.
"Wherever there is fun and enjoyment, I must still keep out of the way;
the only thing to be done is hope ... hope ... and I will!"
His wife was still "a gift from above," and his allusions to her were
affectionate to the utmost. In 1846, and again in the summer of 1847,
he suffered a violent melancholia. In these periods he experienced an
inability to remember his own music long enough to write it down. He
saw but few friends, among them the charming widow of Von Weber,
Ferdinand Hiller, Mendelssohn, Joachim, and a few others. Wagner wrote
some articles for Schumann's journal and was highly thought of at
first, but Schumann soon lost sympathy with him; the final sign of the
break-up of his wonderful appreciation of other men's music.
His life was more and more his home, and that more and more a voluntary
prison. In 1853 he presented his wife on her birthday with a grand
piano, and several new compositions. He took great delight in his
family, and could even compose amid the hilarity and noise of his
children. Concerning children he had written in 1845 to Mendelssohn,
whose wife had presented him with a second child, "We are looking
forward to a similar event, and I always tell my wife, 'one cannot have
enough.' It is the greatest blessing we have on earth."
Clara bore him eight children, and at her concerts there was usually a
nurse with a babe in arms waiting for her in the wings. Schumann wrote
three sonatas for his three daughters, and other compositions for them.
His famous "Kinderscenen" were, however, composed before his marriage.
It was in 1853 that his old enthusiasm for new composers broke forth in
his ardent welcome to Brahms (who was then twenty years old), who
became a devoted friend and was of much comfort to Frau Schumann after
Schumann's death. This was not far off, but before life went, he must
suffer a death in life.
Worst of all in that final disintegration of his great soul was the
interest he took in the atrocious frauds of spiritualism. He was even
duped into believing in the cheap swindle of table-tipping. The bliss
of Robert Browning's home was broken up in this same form, of
all-encompassing credulity, only it was Mrs. Browning who was the
spiritualist in this case and resisted Browning's sanity in the matter.
Schumann fancied that he heard spirit voices rebuking and praising him,
and he rose once in the night to write down a theme given him by the
ghosts of Schubert and Mendelssohn, on which he afterward wrote
variations which were never finished and were the last pathetic
exercise of his magnificent mind.
He was also distracted by hearing one eternal note ringing in his
ears--the same horror that drove the composer Smetana mad, after he had
embodied the nightmare in one of his compositions. Clara herself in
later life was long distressed by hearing a continual pattern of
"sequences" in her head, and Bizet's early death was a release from two
notes that dinned his ears interminably.
Schumann's eccentricities became a proverb. Alice Mangold Diehl tells
of meeting Robert and Clara, and finding him peevish and her a model of
meekness and patience. Poor Schumann realised his failings and his own
danger, and often suggested retirement to an asylum. But the idea was
too ghastly to endure.
On February 27, 1854, after an especial attack of the bewilderment and
helpless terror that thrilled him, he stole away unobserved, and leaped
from a bridge into the Rhine. He was saved by boatmen and taken home.
He recovered, but it was now thought best that he should be placed
under restraint, and he passed his last two years in a private asylum,
near Bonn. Periods of complete sanity, when he received his friends and
wrote to them, alternated with periods of absolute despair. Under the
weight of his affliction, his soul, like Giles Corey's body in the
Salem witchcraft times, was gradually crushed to death, and at the age
of forty-six he died. Clara, who had been away on a concert tour to
earn much-needed funds, hastened back from London just in time to give
him her own arms as his resting-place in his last agony.
After his funeral she and her children went to Berlin to live with
her mother. She found it necessary to travel as a performer and
to teach until 1882, when her health forbade her touring longer.
She had shown herself a woman worth fighting for, even as
Schumann fought for her, and she had given him not only the greatest
ambition and the greatest solace his life had known, but she had been
also the perfect helpmeet to his art.
Schumann's music was not an easy music for the world to learn, and it
is to Clara Wieck's eternal honour, that she not only inspired Schumann
to write this music, and gave him her support under the long
discouragement of its neglect and the temptations to be untrue to his
best ideals; but that she travelled through Europe and promulgated his
art, until with her own power of intellect and persuasion she had
coaxed and compelled the world to understand its right value, and his
She never married again, but devoted her long widowhood to his memory
personally as well as artistically. She edited his works and published
his letters in 1885, with a preface, saying that her desire was to make
him known for himself as well as he was loved and honoured in his
artistic importance. As she had written in 1871, "the purity of his
life, his noble aspirations, the excellence of his heart, can never be
fully known except through the communication of his family and
In return for her devotion he never made genius an excuse for
infidelity or selfishness. It seems actually and beautifully true, as
Reissman says, that "Schumann's devotions were as chaste and devout as
those of the soul of a pure woman."
Such a love, such a courtship, and such a wedlock as that of Robert and
Clara Schumann ennoble not only the art and history of music, but those
as well of humanity.
MUSICIANS AS LOVERS
"Et le cortege chantait quelque chose de triste des oh! et des
And now at the end of all this gossip, to see if it has served any
purpose, and if the multitude of experiences totals up into any
Of course, as you were just going to say, he said, "If music be the
food of love." But then you must not fail to remember that in another
play he hedged by saying, "Much virtue in an 'if.'" For music is not
the food of love, any more than oatmeal or watermelons. And yet in a
sense, music is a love-food--in the sense I mean, that there is
love-nourishment in tubes of paint, which can perpetuate your beauty,
my fair readeress; or in ink-bottles all ebon with Portuguese sonnets
and erotic rondeaux; or in tubs of plaster of Paris, or in
bargain-counterfuls of dress goods to add the last word to a woman's
beauty. In such a sense, indeed, there is _materia amorofica_ in music,
for with music one can--or at least one did--show forth the very rhythm
of Tristanic desire, and another portrayed in unexpurgated harmonies
the garden-mood of Faust and Marguerite.
But as there are in those same tubes of oozy paint horrific visions
like Franz Stuck's "War," or portraits of plutocrats by Bonnat, and as
there are in ink-bottles sad potencies of tailors' bills and scathing
reviews of this very book, so it is possible under the name of music to
write fugues and five-finger exercises, and yet more settings of
"Hiawatha," or "_Du bist wie eine Blume_"
Now, there is only one thing easier than a generalisation, and that is
a generalisation in the opposite direction. You can prove anything by
statistics, if you can only choose your statistics and stop when you
want to. But statistics are like automobiles. Sometimes if you hitch
yourself up with a statistic, you meet the fate of the farmer who put
his fool head in the yoke with a skittish steer.
There was a time when I could have written you an essay on the moral
effect of music, and been convinced, if not convincing. A little later,
I could have done no worse with a thesis to the effect that music is an
immoral influence. But that time is gone now, after a time spent in
gathering material from everywhichway for this book on musicians' love
affairs. For, to repeat, with a few statistics you can prove anything;
with a complete array you can usually prove nothing, or its next-door
The way to test any food is to observe its effects on those addicted to
it. To study the true workings of music, then, you would not count the
pulse of one of those "Oh-I'm-passionately-fond-of-music" maidens who
talk all through even dance-music. Nor would you take for your test one
of those laymen who are fond of this tune or that, because it reminds
them of the first time they heard it--"that night when Sally Perkins
sang it while I was out in the moonlit piazza hugging Kitty Gray, now
Mrs. van Van,--or was it Bessie Brown? who buried her husband two years
ago next Sunday."
These are people to whom music is as much a rarity as Nesselrode to a
The true place, surely, to test the effect of music is in the souls of
the people who live in it, breathe it, steep themselves in it, play
it,--and what is worse,--work it.
To the great musicians themselves, then, we have turned. What could
have been better for the purpose than to have made them parade before
us in historic mardi-gras? wearing their hearts on their sleeves, or in
their letters, their music, their lives, as they trooped forth
endlessly from the tomes of Burney, Hawkins, Fetis, Grove, Riemann, and
from their biographies and memoirs innumerable?
A motley crew they have formed, and you perhaps have been able to find
a unity, if not of purpose, at least of result, in the music they have
made, and the music that has made them. Let them pass again, only this
time as soldiers go by at a review--the second time at the
double-quick. Here they come--watch them well.
Leading the rout are those stately or capering figures, who, from being
the great virtuosi of their time, were finally idolised into gods in
the Golden Age, when musical critics had no columns to perpetuate their
Mark him with the stately stride--Apollo, smiting his lyre with a
majesty hardly supported by the seven small notes he could get out of
it. The gossips said he loved Daphne, and madly withal, but she took to
a tree.--No, let the gods pass as they will. It is with men we deal,
Note especially the cluster of those wonderful musickers, who, at the
end of the Middle Age, went from Flanders and thereabouts, into Italy
and all around Europe, weaving their Flemish counterpoint like a net
all over the world of music. They seem all to have been marrying men,
some of them super-romantical, others as stodgily domestic and workaday
as any village blacksmith. There is Marc Houtermann, called the Prince
of Musicians. He lived at Brussels, and died there aged forty, and the
same year he was followed to his grave by his musically named Joanna
Gavadia, who knew music well, and who, let us still hope, died of a
broken heart. Cipriano de Rore, De Croes, and Jacques Buus were all
married men, and begot hostages to fortune. Philippe de Monte may or
may not have married; we only know that a pupil of his wrote him a
Latin poem forty-six lines long, and we can only trust that he did not
Orlando di Lasso, "one of the morning stars of modern times," whose
music was so beautiful that once at Munich a thunder-storm was
miraculously hushed at the first note of one of his motets, lived a
love-life much like Schumann's, save that he seems to have had no
hard-hearted parents to strengthen and purify his resolve. The only
court he went to, to win her, was the court at Munich, where his Regina
was a maid of honour. She bore him six children, and they lived
ideally, it seems. But his health gave way now and then before his hard
work, and finally, when he had reached his threescore and ten, his wife
came home to find him gone mad, and unable even to recognise her, who
had been at his side for thirty years. She guarded him tenderly, and
strove hard to cheer his last days, but melancholy surrendered him only
Adrien Willaert had a wife, and loved her long and well, and wrote many
wills, in which he grew more and more affectionate toward his helpmeet,
yet strangely he never mentioned his daughter, who was herself a
composer, and had perhaps a romance of her own, down there in Juliet's
country where her Flemish father took her.
How otherwise is the domestic life of Jacques de Wert, whose wife
conspired against him heinously, and put his very life in danger! When
he was well rid of this baggage, he fell into an intrigue with a lady
of the court of Ferrara. Her name was Tarquinia Molza, and she was a
poetess, but her relatives frowned upon the alliance of her poetry and
his music, and forced her to go back to her mother at Mantua, where she
outlived De Wert some twenty-seven years.
His is such a life as one would take to prove the unsettling effects of
music; yet what shall we say then of Josse Boutmy, who lived
ninety-nine years and raised twelve children, spending the greater part
of his life with his faithful spouse in one long struggle against
poverty, one eternal drudgery for the pence necessary to educate his
family? Shall we not say that he was as truly influenced by music as
Jacques de Wert?
De Wert had gone to Italy as a boy, and you might be after blaming
those soft Italian skies for his amorous troubles. But then you'll
encounter such a life as that of Palestrina spent altogether in Italy.
He married young. Her name was Lucrezia, and their life seems to have
been one of ideal devotion. She bore him four sons, and stood by him in
all his troubles, brightening the twilight of poverty, adorning that
high noon of his glory, when the Pope himself turned to Palestrina, and
implored him to reform and rescue the whole music of the Church from
its corruptions. It was well that Lucrezia could offer him solace, for
unwittingly she had once brought him his direst distress. When he was
recovered and well, a better post was offered him, and things ran
smoothly till, twenty-five years later, Lucrezia died, leaving him
broken-hearted with only one worthless son to embitter the last
fourteen years of his widowed life. His most poignantly impressive
motets seem to have been written under the anguish of Lucrezia's death.
The finest of them is his setting of the words:
"By the River of Babylon we have set us down and wept,
Remembering Thee, oh, Zion;
Upon the willows we have hung our harps,"
which, as E.H. Pember says, "may well have represented to himself, the
heart-broken composer, mourning by the banks of the Tiber, for the lost
wife whom he had loved so long."
Close upon so noble a life, artistic and personal, comes the career of
Georges de la Hele, who, being a priest, gave up his lucrative benefice
to wed the woman he wished.
And yet again with disconcerting effect comes the story of Ambrosio de
Cotes, who was a gambler and a drunkard, who kept a mistress, and was
rebuked publicly for howling indecent refrains to the tunes in church.
Which of these is fairly typical as a musician?
Then comes the most notable man in all English music, Harry Purcell,
who wrote the best love-songs that ever melted the reserve of his race.
He must have been a good husband, and his married life a happy one,
seeing how ardent his wife was for his memory, and how she celebrated
him in a memorial volume, as the Orpheus of Great Britain, and how
eager she was that the two sons that survived out of their six
children, should be trained to music.
And speaking of types, what shall we say of this cloud of witnesses,
bearing the most honoured name in music, the name of Bach?
There were more than twenty-five Bachs, who made themselves names as
makers of harmony, and they earned themselves almost as great names as
family makers; all except Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, who was as lacking
in virtue as he was abundant in virtuosity. He was notoriously immoral,
and yet the greatest organist of his time, as his father had been
before him; and it was this father, Johann Sebastian Bach, who by his
life and preeminence in music, offers the biggest obstacle to any
theory about the immoral influences of the art. For surely, if he, who
is generally called the greatest of musicians, led a life of hardly
equalled domesticity, it will not be easy to claim that music has an
unsettling effect upon society. And yet there are his great rivals,
Handel and Beethoven, whose careers are in the remotest possible
It is neither here nor there, that "Father" Bach left little money and
many children when he died, and that the sons seized upon his MSS. and
drifted away to other cities, leaving the mother and three daughters to
live upon the charity of the town. It is unfortunate to have to include
among the ungrateful children the stepson, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach,
who seems otherwise to have been a pleasant enough fellow, a fair
family man, and a great composer. He first too much eclipsed his
father's fame, and has since been too much eclipsed thereby. He had
family troubles, too, and left a wife and children to mourn him. So
much for the Bachs.
A family of almost equal fame was the group of violin makers of
Cremona, the Stradivari. The founder of the house, Antonio, began his
life romantically enough. When he was a youngster of seventeen or
eighteen, he fell in love with Francesca Capra, a widow of a man who
had been assassinated. She was nine or ten years older than Stradivari,
and they were married on July 4, 1667. In the following December the first
of their six children was born. Two of his sons took up their father's
trade. Both of them died bachelors, and the third son became a priest.
At the age of fifty-eight Francesca died. After a year of widowerhood,
he wedded again; this time, a woman fourteen or fifteen years younger
than he. She bore him five children, and he outlived her less than a
year. His descendants dwelt for generations, flourishing on his fame,
The Amati were also a numerous family of luthiers, as were the
Guarnieri, but I have not been able to poke into their private affairs,
though he who called himself "Jesus," was addicted to imprisonment, and
is said to have made violins out of bits of wood brought him by the
jailer's daughter. She sold the fiddles to buy him luxuries.
But now, lest we should too firmly believe that music exerts an amorous
and domestic effect, we are confronted with the ponderous majesty of
one of the proudest spirits that ever strode the creaking earth, Georg
Friedrich Haendel, who was born the very same year as the much-married
Bach, but led a life as opposite as North Pole from South. The first
snub he dealt to Cupid, was when he was eighteen, and sought the post
of organist held by the famous old Buxtehude, who had married years
before the daughter of an organist to whose post he aspired, and had
left behind him a daughter thirty-four years old as an incumbrance upon
his successor. Haendel could have got the job, if he would have had the
girl. But she was almost twice his age, and he left her for another
musician to marry in. Then he went to Italy, and was pursued in vain
under those bewitching skies by no belated German spinster, but by a
beautiful and attractive Italienne. Her, he also spurned. When he was
in England, he seems to have come very near falling in love with two
different women. The mother of the first objected to him as a mere
fiddler. After she died, the father invited him into the family, only
to be told that the invitation was too late. The other woman, a lady of
high degree, offered herself as a substitute for his career, only to be
declined with thanks and possibly with a formal statement that
"rejection implied no lack of merit." Seeing that these things happened
in the eighteenth century, I need not add that both women were romantic
enough to go into a decline, and die beautifully.
Whatever food music may have been to Haendel's greatness, there was
another food that rivalled it in his esteem; and that food was the
symphonic poetry of the cook. For Haendel was almost equally famous both
as a composer and a digester. In this he was rivalled by the father of
French opera, Lully, who was a gourmand, in spite of the fact that he
spent his early life as a kitchen boy. He led his wife a miserable
existence on account of his hot temper, his brutality, and his excesses
in solid and liquid food. After him came Rameau, who, like Stradivari,
fell in love with a widow while he was still in his teens and she well
out of hers. He did not wed, however, until he was forty-three, and
then he wed an eighteen-year-old girl, who was, they say, a very good
woman, and who did her best to make her husband very happy. But he was
taciturn, and rarely spoke even to his own family, and spent on them
almost less money than words. Another opera composer of the time was
Reinhard Keiser. He married a woman who, with her wealth and her voice,
rescued his operatic ventures from bankruptcy. These make a rather
sordid and unromantic group.
But again there stalks forth, to confound all our theories, the superb
figure of Gluck, who fell in love but once, and then for all time, with
Maria Anna Pergin, who loved him, and whose mother approved of him, but
whose purse-proud father despised him for a musician. The lovers
accepted the rebuff as a temporary sorrow only, and Providence, like a
playright, removed the stern parent in the next act. Gluck flew back
from Italy to Vienna to his betrothed, "with whom to his death he dwelt
in happiest wedlock." She went with him on his triumphal tours, and
spent her wealth in charities. They had no children of their own, but
adopted a niece. The devoted wife used to play his accompaniment as he
sang his own music, and when he died he took especial pains that she
should be his sole and exclusive heir, even leaving it to her pleasure
whether or not his brothers and sisters should have anything at all.
Plainly we should be thinking that music has a purifying, ennobling,
and substantial effect upon society, if only Gluck's friend and
partisan, the successful composer and immortal writer, Jean Jacques
Rousseau, would not intrude upon the picture with his faun-like
paganisms and magnificently shameless "Confessions."
Jostling elbows with him comes Gluck's chiefest rival, Piccinni, one of
the most beautiful characters in history, a man who could wage a mortal
combat in art, without bitterness toward his bitter rivals. He could,
when Gluck died, strive to organise a memorial festival in his honour,
and when his other rival, Sacchini, was taken from the arena by death,
he could deliver the funeral eulogy. This Sacchini, by the bye, was a
reckless voluptuary, who seems never to have married.
Piccinni was the very beau ideal of a father and a husband. He and his
wife, who was a singer of exquisite skill and a teacher of ability,
gave little home concerts, which were events. They and their many
children went through more vicissitudes than have fallen to the lot of
many musicians; but always they loved one another and their art, and
there always remains that picture which the Prince of Brunswick
stumbled upon, when he knocked at Piccinni's door, and found him
rocking the cradle of one of his children, while another tugged at his
coat in boisterous fun, and the mother beamed her enjoyment.
Hardly less ideal, though far more picturesque and dramatic, was the
romance of Mozart.
This goldenhearted genius was a composer at an age when many children
have not commenced to learn their ABC's; he was a virtuoso before the
time when most boys can be trusted with a blunt knife. Kissed and
fondled by great beauties, from the age of five, it is small wonder
that Mozart began to improvise upon the oldest theme in the world
precociously. His first recorded love affair is found in his letters at
the age of thirteen. He loved with the same radiant enthusiasm that he
gave to his music, and while some of his flirtations were of the utmost
frivolity, such as his hilarious courtship of his pretty cousin, the
"Baesle," he was capable of the completest altruism, and could turn
aside from the aristocracy to lavish his idolatry upon the
fifteen-year-old daughter of a poor music copyist, whose wife took in
boarders. For this girl, Aloysia Weber, he wanted to give up his own
career as a concert pianist; he wanted to give up the conquest he had
planned of Paris, and devote himself to the training of her voice, to
writing operas for her exploitation, and to journeying in Italy for the
production of these operas and the promulgation of her talents. Yet
after breaking his heart, as he supposed, for the gifted and fickle
woman who became a successful prima donna,--after losing her, he did
that most impossible thing which could never happen in real fiction,
and sought his consolation in the arms and in the heart of Aloysia's
younger sister, who was not especially pretty, and was only modestly
musical. But her name was Constanze, and she lived up to it.
Constanze could always read to him, and tell him stories as he liked to
have her do while he composed, and she could cut up his meat for him
lest in his absent-mindedness he carve off one of his valuable fingers.
And when she was ill, as she frequently was, there could be no gentler
nurse than he. Besides, when winter was upon them, it was no winter of
discontent, for if the fire gave out and the fuel could not be
afforded, could they not always waltz together?
Twice Mozart must make concert tours for money, and twice he came home
poorer than he went, but at least he left the world some of the
gentlest and most hearty love-letters in its literature. When he was at
home, Vienna was busy with anecdotes of his devotion. He was indeed so
good a husband that Constanze could not even withhold forgiveness for
certain occasions when he strayed from the narrow path of absolute
fidelity; for she knew that his heart had its home with her. When he
died, supposedly of malignant typhus, she tried to catch his disease
and die with him, and her health broke so completely that she could not
attend his funeral; and when she was recovered enough to visit the
cemetery, she could not discover, what no man has since found out, in
just what three-deep pauper's grave Mozart was buried.
All in all, in spite of certain ficklenesses in which this immortal
musician has been surpassed by lovers of all walks of life, from
blacksmiths to bishops, music has created one of tenderest, most honest
of all romances.
But then there was a man whose life encompassed Mozart's, as a long
brace encompasses a stave of music. For Joseph Haydn was born
twenty-four years before Mozart, and died eighteen years after him. And
this man's love affairs were of altogether different fabric.
While Mozart died in his poverty at thirty-five, Haydn, dying at
seventy-seven, was worried over the endowment he should leave to a
discarded mistress, whose name, strangely enough, was also Aloysia. And
Haydn, more than strangely enough, had begun his life the same way by
proposing to an older sister, and marrying a younger; but with results
Haydn also found his inamorata in the home of a poor man who had been
kind to him. His wife, however, led him a dog's life. The only interest
she seemed to have in his music was to keep him writing numbers for the
priests, who clustered around her, eating Haydn out of house and home.
Frau Haydn was a shrew, and he finally gave up trying to live at home,
seeking his consolation at court with a young and beautiful Neapolitan
singer, who was unhappily married to a poor fiddler, named Polzelli.
The two lovers made little secret of their hope that one or both of
their ill-favoured spouses would pass away. But they both declined to
"die by request," as Artemus Ward has it.
After a time the lovers drifted apart, until finally Aloysia married
again, though to the last she held Haydn to an agreement he had made
years before, to marry no other woman, and to leave her a pension.
Meanwhile, in London, Haydn was having a quaint alliance, _sub rosa_,
with a widow. Her letters to him, as doubtless his to her, were full of
gentle idolatry. She had been writing these to him while he had been
writing ardent letters of yearning to Polzelli. Altogether Haydn does
not shine as the beau ideal of single-hearted fidelity.
Was it from him that Beethoven caught his own fickleness along with so
much of his musical manner? Beethoven had one of the busiest hearts in
We cannot say that he might not have been a marrying man if disease and
deafness had not harrowed his volcanic soul, and made his life so
largely one of tempestuous tragedy, in which he wandered through the
world, and found it as homeless and as bleak as did the Wandering Jew,
whose quarrels with Fate were no more fierce, more majestic, nor more
vain than Beethoven's. Among the multitudinous agonies that throng his
letters and rave through his music, are many cries of wild longing for
a homelife in a woman's heart.
But these "diminished sevenths" of unrest and yearning are often
resolved in a cold minor of resignation or of cynicism in which he
claims to be willing, and at times even glad, to pass his life alone.
We are not justified, then, in taking Beethoven as a man of domestic
inclinations. The most confirmed bachelors have their moments of doubt,
and Beethoven had every qualification for driving a wife even madder
than he himself could be on occasions. His most intimate and unswerving
friends were the victims of spasms of suspicious hatred and
maltreatment that surely no wife worth having could ever have endured
through the honeymoon.
And yet in his love-letters there is a notable absence of jealousy or
whim, and we can only accept his life as we find it, and regard him as
a great genius who rushed from love to love, and never tarried for
wedlock. As to the quality of those love affairs,--we meet a conflict
of authority; some of his friends recording him as a wonder of
chastity, and others treating him as a never-tiring flirt.
Among the thirty or more women who accepted his attentions, he could
easily have found a wife, had he been at heart a marrying man. He has
perpetuated in his dedications all these flames, and it was in the
furnace of these flames that much of his music was forged. But how
shall we blame or praise music for its effect upon Beethoven's heart,
in the face of the antipodal life of such a fellow bachelor as Haendel?
And to these two bachelors there belongs a third great bachelor of
music, Schubert, who is said never to have loved a woman. Even the
paltry anecdote or two of his hopeless love for a very young countess
is dismissed by the cautious as a fable. Schubert was a pauper to the
_n_th degree. But he found his joy in the hilarity of the Vienna cafes
with boisterous friends, working up a maximum enthusiasm on a minimum
of food, living a life of much art and equal beer. He seems never to
have truly cared for women, nor to have been cared for by them.
There are all sorts of bachelorhoods, and there is a wide distinction
between the womanless splendour of Haendel's life at court, and the
unilluminated garret of Schubert's obscurity. There is a difference
also in the busy, promiscuous courtship of Beethoven, who dedicated
thirty-nine compositions to thirty-six women, and that of Chopin, who,
though he could conduct three flirtations of an evening, seems to have
loved but thrice, and to have planned marriage but once.
Chopin, only half-Polish, and finding his true home in Paris, had been
loved by the tiny musicienne, hardly so big as her name, Leopoldine
Blahetka, but his first true love was for the raving beauty, Constantia
Gladkovska, whom he mourned for in prose as highly coloured as his
nocturnes, wishing that after his death his ashes might be strewn under
her feet. She married elsewhere. The Polish Maria Wodzinska was his
next flame, and he wished to marry her, but he, who had the salons of
Paris at his princely behest, could not hold this nineteen-year-old
girl. Then he fell into the embrace of George Sand, that mysterious
sphinx who clasped him to her commodious heart, and held him as with
claws, though little he cared to escape; and yet, her claws drew blood,
and at length it was the sphinx herself who struggled for release from
the embrace of the fretful genius, whom consumption was claiming with
her own clammy arms. Every one knows all there is to know about the
Chopin-Sand affair, all and a great deal more, but who could draw from
it any inference as to the effect of music?
Sand was attracted to Chopin by his art. With her as nurse, his genius
accomplished much of its greatest, and it held her enthralled for a
time. To Chopin, music was both a medicine and a disease, torment and
solace. But that he would have lived his life differently in any way
had he been a painter, a poet, an architect, a man of affairs, or an
idler, with the same effeminate nature, the same elegance of manner,
the same disease, the same women about him, I can find no reason to
believe. Is it not the man and the environment rather than the music
that makes such a life what it is?
There is another brilliant consumptive, Carl Maria von Weber, a member
of a long line of musicians. At seventeen he had formed "a tender
connection with a lady of position," whom he lost sight of later and
forgot in the race with fast young noblemen, whose dissipation he
rivalled. A mad entanglement with a singer ruined him in purse, and
almost in career. His frivolities ended in an arrest and punishment
which sobered him with the abruptness of a plunge into a stream of ice.
But his gaiety was as irrepressible as Chopin's melancholy, and he gave
Germany some of its most cheerful music. His heart was restless, and
still at the age of twenty-seven he was writhing in an infatuation for
a worthless ballet-girl. Then his affection for a singer and soubrette,
Caroline Brandt, steadied him. After a long period of effort to
establish a firm position they married, and the soubrette became a
"Haus-frau." He was thirty-one, however, before this point was reached,
and the honeymoon consisted of a concert tour.
The glory of his later life fought against the gloom of his disease,
but the ferocious rake had made, as the proverb has it, an ideal
husband and father. His letters to his wife are full of ardour. It was
a tour through England that exhausted Chopin's last strength, and it
was Weber's fate to die alone in London in the midst of eager
preparations and vast hunger to reach his home. He was not quite forty
when he died, and his life had been two lives, one of unchecked
libertinism, and the other all integrity of purpose. But it was in the
latter half that he wrote his best music.
The domestic and home-establishing influences of music might be pleaded
even more strongly from the life of Mendelssohn. A more musical home
than that in which Mendelssohn grew up, could hardly exist, nor one in
which family life reached a higher level of comfort and delight. Like
Mozart, Mendelssohn was especially devoted to his sister. Her death
indeed grieved him so deeply, that he died shortly after. A man of the
utmost cheer and wholesomeness, revelling in dancing, swimming, riding,
sketching, and billiards; he was idolised in the circle around him,
though his life was not without its enmities. He had many slight
flirtations, but seems to have been even engaged but once, to Cecile
Jeanrenaud, whom he married. His home life was a repetition of that
ideal circle in his father's house. A busier life or a more pleasantly
respectable can hardly be found in the history of men, nor yet a more
A life of similar brilliance and similar musical immersion was that of
Liszt, whose domestic career was nevertheless as different as possible.
A soul of greater generosity, and more zealous altruism in many
respects, it would be hard to find, and yet his relations to women
were, in the conventional view, a colossal and multifarious scandal.
Have we any more right to blame his domestic outrages to the music that
was in him, than to the almost equally intense religious ardour that
fought for him, leading him again and again to seek to enter a
monastery, and finally actually to take orders? Abelard was a
sufficiently tempestuous and irregular lover, yet he was a priest, and
not a musician. Can we then blame harmony and melody for the
humming-bird "amours" of the Abbe Liszt,--for the many women he made
material love to from his early youth,--for the very dubious honesty of
his bearing toward the Comtesse d'Agoult and the Princess Wittgenstein,
with whom he debated the formalities of marriage without hesitating
over the actualities?
There is a strange cluster of domestic infelicities centring about
Liszt. The Comtesse d'Agoult loved him so ardently that she braved the
world for him, driving even her complacent husband to divorce her; but
even then, though they lived together, Liszt did not marry her. He even
brought George Sand, the ex-mistress of so many men, including Liszt
himself, to live at the house with the comtesse, who had borne him
three children out of wedlock. One of these children became the wife of
Hans von Buelow, who was driven to divorce her that she might marry his
teacher, Richard Wagner, whose first wife had endured twenty-five years
of his irregularities in everything, except poverty, and who separated
from him during the last five years of her life.
Shall we blame all this to music, and if so, shall we say that music
has atoned sufficiently in the devotion of Wagner and his second wife
to each other, and their lofty theories of art? And in any case, how
shall we explain the influence of music in the life of Wagner's rival
for supremacy, Johannes Brahms, a confirmed bachelor; or his other
contemporary, Tschaikovski, who, after a normal love affair with a
singer, Desiree Artot, who jilted him, eventually married a girl by
whom he seemed to have been deeply loved, without feeling any return?
He claimed to have explained to the enamoured girl that he would marry
her if she wished, but that he could not love her. On these terms she
accepted him, and the bridegroom endured all the agonies of heart
ordinarily ascribed to bartered brides. A burlesque honeymoon of a week
was soon followed by a separation. Tschaikovski regarded his wife with
a horror bordering on insanity, finding what little consolation life
had for him in the devotion of a widow, who furnished him liberally
with funds and admiration, with an affection which, for lack of better
information, we can only call, for lack of a better word, Platonic.
There are other musicians whose private affairs I need not repeat here,
and yet others' that I have not poked into. There is no lack of curious
entanglements, especially in the matter of the men and women who have
played upon the human voice, but we have surely collected enough
material for forming a judgment, especially when we have turned an
additional glance upon the life of one other composer.
Now, the influence of music might be modified beyond recognition by the
fact that one of the lovers might not be musical; but surely, when both
man and woman are professional musicians, there can be no doubt of the
governing power of music. In recent musical history there is one
eminent composer who married a woman also prominent in music. In fact,
Clara Wieck has been called the most eminent woman who ever took up
music as a profession. It would be hard to deny Robert Schumann a place
among the major gods of creative art. Every one knows how he began to
love Clara, and she him, when he was first leaving his teens and she
entering her fame as an eleven-year-old prodigy. Their fidelity through
the storm and stress of their courtship, their lifelong sympathy and
collaboration in conserving a humanly perfect home, and in achieving a
dual immortality, both as lovers and as musicians--these certainly
indicate music as a solidifying and enriching force in society.
And now, finally, in the procession that has filed past you, you have
seen almost every imaginable form of love and lover, of husband and
Lothario, or woman-hater. There have been cool-blooded bachelors like
Haendel, Schubert, and Brahms; there have been passionate pilgrims like
Chopin, Beethoven, and Liszt, who loved many women, and married none.
There have been the home-keeping breeders of children, and contentment,
such as Willaert, Orlando di Lasso, Palestrina, the Bachs, Gluck,
Piccinni, Weber, Mendelssohn, and Schumann; and Bizet, whose wife said
after his death, that there was not a moment of their six years'
honeymoon she could regret or would not re-live. There have been the
unhappily wed, who, through the fault of themselves, or their wives,
found and made misery at home, and sought nepenthe elsewhere, such as
Haydn, Berlioz, and Tschaikovski. There have been married lives of
mixed nature, neither failure nor success, such as the careers of
Lully, Rameau, Stradivari, and Wagner.
If any one lives who could extract from this medley a theory as to the
effect of music upon the human heart,--a theory that will satisfy
himself alone, to say nothing of the world in general,--he is welcome
to his conclusion. To me it is a chaos wherethrough I cannot pretend to
trace any thread of unity. I can only fall back upon this agnosticism:
if any man argue to the effect, that music has a moral influence on
life, I will hurl at his head some of the most brilliant rascals in
domestic chronicle; and equally, if any man will deny that music has a
moral effect, I will barricade his path with some of the most beautiful
lives that have ever bloomed upon earth. It is, after all, a matter of
time, tide, and temperament. If a man of amorous nature happens to lead
a life of much leisure, his idle mind will turn one way; and if the
tide of opportunity concur, he will be dissipated, whether he be
composer, clergyman, business man, bravo, soldier, sailor, carpenter,
king, plumber, poet, pope, or peasant.
The long and the short of it is, perhaps, that music, being a universal
art, like a universal watch-key, will set going the complicated cogs
and springs of every soul and yet not regulate or assure its rhythm.
Music stimulates and satisfies the mind in any of its whims, and you
can tune it to a softly chanted prayer, or to a dance orgy; to a hymn
of exultation, or a tinkling serenade; a kindergarten song, to the
bloodthirst of armies; to voluptuous desires that cannot or dare not be
worded, or to raptures distilled of every human dross; to cynical
raillery, or the very throb of a young lover's heart; to the hilarity
of a drinking song, or the midnight elegies of ineffable despair. How
is such an art as this to compel, or to deny anything or anybody?
Musicians, then, are only ordinary clay, who happened to make music,
instead of other things of more or less beauty or value. They are
every-day puppets of circumstance and of inner and outer environment,
who might have been happier, and might have been unhappier, with the
women they wed or did not wed, had those women died younger, or lived
longer--or with other women, or with none at all.
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* * * * *
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GRIESINGER (GEORG AUGUST).