Robert Schumann in Düsseldorf

Robert Schumann, who lived with his family already for years in Dresden (from December 1844 onwards), was offered in 1849 to become successor to his friend Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885) as new municipal music director in Düsseldorf, a position, which he agreed to after some hesitation and encouragement from Hiller. On 1 September 1850, the departure from Dresden took place and already the very next day, the Schumanns arrived in Düsseldorf (with their in Leipzig and Dresden born children Marie, Elise, Julie, Ludwig and Ferdinand). The tasks of the music director in Düsseldorf included the conduction of the Choir Association and head of the performance of ten concerts per year with the Municipal Orchestra, and four more performances of sacred music. The position as music director remained the first and only public function of Robert Schumann.

The reception of Robert Schumann in Düsseldorf was very cordial, but also associated with high expectations. The day after the arrival of the couple Schumann was doing their first official visits, among others, to the academy director, Wilhelm von Schadow and the Academy Professor Carl Ferdinand Sohn, good lingering contacts.


Despite the not very easy adapting to the “Rhenish” conditions and problems with finding accommodation or with the staff, Schumanns were impressed by the audience’s enthusiasm for music. The first concert conducted by Robert Schumann in Düsseldorf 24 October 1850 where Clara Schumann performed the piano concerto in G minor by their friend Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, found great popularity and was promising a good future for Schumann as concert director. In the same month, he finished his composing of his concerto for violoncello op. 125 and in November the by the impressions of his new environment and landscape of the Rhine influenced, the third symphony in E flat major op. 97, the so-called "Rhenish Symphony". The fourth movement was set to homage later by Peter Tchaikovsky with the words; he was "a shining monument of the grandeur of human spirit ... like the [Cologne] cathedral itself. The short, beautiful theme of this part of the symphony that likewise serves the musical imitation of the Gothic Line, permeates the whole piece, sometimes in the form of the basic motif, sometimes as small ornamental work, awarding the work with that infinite variety in the entity, which is the peculiar style of Gothic architecture." In quick succession Schumann's “Rhenish Symphony“ is presented with great success – on 6 February 1851 under the conduction of Schumann himself – and in Cologne under the conduction of Ferdinand Hiller in February 1851. But the unalloyed enthusiasm of the audience did not continue; the performance of the in December 1850 completed overture to the "Bride of Messina" was hardly popular.

Nevertheless, the following months were due to new compositions very fruitful ones, while Schumann's authority as director of music at the beginning of the concert season of winter 1851 increasingly diminished in the orchestra and choir members, which also was a result of his fragile health, which deteriorated further and further. The encounter with the barely twenty year old Johannes Brahms, gave him new energy. Brahms entered the life of the Schumanns on 30 September 1853, after following the recommendation of their mutual friend Joseph Joachim. According to Schumann "a genius", according to Clara, "as specially sent by God", the still little-known Brahms is honored barely three weeks after his arrival in Düsseldorf in an essay under the title ”Neue Bahnen” [New Paths] and receives enthusiastic appreciation by Robert Schumann in the ”Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik” (29 Volume, No. 18, 23.10.1853).

Just few weeks after Brahms’ departure from Düsseldorf (2 November 1853), Schumann was asked to give up his position as music director, a humiliation that the couple Schumann made up with a highly successful concert tour to Holland and concluded the year with a merry Christmas celebration in the family circle. But with the beginning of 1854, Schumann’s auditory hallucinations, anxiety and oppressions increased, which resulted in a suicide attempt: In the early afternoon of 27 February 1854 Robert Schumann left in slippers in an unguarded moment the apartment in the Bilkerstraße 15 and went to the nearby bridge crossing the Rhine and jumped from the middle of the bridge into the river. He struggled violently, as fishermen rescued him by pulling him in their boat. The macabre fact of that day was that it was Rose Monday, the main day of the Rhine street carnival, which is the reason, why Schumann's return to home was accompanied by an amused crowd, which of course had no knowledge of this tragic event.

On 4 March 1854, Robert Schumann, who was before taking office uncomfortably moved by the existence of a lunatic asylum in Düsseldorf that he read about in a book, was at his own request and on the advice of doctors brought to a mental hospital. The progressive establishment of the physician Dr. Richarz in Bonn was chosen which he had established in 1844 in a former country house in Endenich near Bonn. Robert Schumann reserved until his death the references as music director in Düsseldorf, but they were almost entirely used for his placement in the institution in Endenich.

(Ingrid Bodsch, translated by Katharina Ma)



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