Schumann And Bipolar

Schumann's Mental Illness

The medical dictionary defines Bipolar disease as “ pertaining to mood disorders in which both manic and depressive episodes occur.” Schumann was born on June 8, 1810. The great s German composer had a life long history of medical problems. These medical problems influenced his life in a great many ways. In college, he was not only interested in music and literature, but also in women and drinking. As a young man he was diagonised with syphilis. The mercury based drugs that he was prescribed as treatment eventually damaged his hand and put paid  to his hopes of making a career as a concert pianist. He married Clara Wieck, herself an outstanding concert pianist. Incidentally, Schumann used to take piano lessons from her father Freidrich Wieck.

Schumann wrote works like symphonies and concertos and chamber music. He is also remembered for his work “Album for the Young” – which is very popular among the children. Sometimes he felt very happy but at other times he was very depressed. These changes of mood can be heard in a lot of his music. In Carnaval the two sides of Schumann’s personality are represented by Florestan and Eusebius. Schumann's bipolar depression i.e.the happy and the tragic moods that he had can be heard side by side in this work. Other piano works include Scenes from Childhood, Kreisleriana and the popular Album for the Young which has some quite easy pieces like Soldier’s March and the famous Träumerei (Dreaming). When Schumann was depressed, he hardly wrote anything, but 1840 was a happy year for him and he wrote lots of songs as well as orchestral music. In 1841 he wrote four symphonies. In 1842, Schumann and his wife Clara went on a concert tour together, but Schumann found it difficult because Clara was more famous than he was. His depression led to a drinking binge. He was happy again when Clara returned, and composed some chamber music. In 1844 they toured Russia. By August 1844 he had a complete nervous breakdown and could not bear to listen to his own music. It took him some time to recover.

Robert Schumann's psychotic breakdown in February 1854 had a complex background: a hypomanic state, some marital problems, and a stressful journey with musical appearances. Schumann had often thought of trying to kill himself. Later that month he threw himself into the river Rhine. He was rescued  and admittted to an asylum where he spent the last two years of his life. He died on 29 July 1856.

Schumann’s mental illness made life tough for his wife Clara. When Schumann was admitted to an asylum at Endenich, their close family friend Brahms was allowed to visit him but Clara was not. She sought comfort in Brahms, another great German composer and by then a welcome family friend. Clara and Brahms played music together and she remained a singular influence on Brahms. However Clara supported Robert in his lunatic asylum and their seven children growing up in three separate towns. After Schumann’s death, Clara kept his memory alive by playing his compositions.

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