The book is written in 1985 by Peter Oswald about the biography of Schumann. It is published by Northeastern University Press (Boston). The book is awarded by 1986 ‘’ASCAP – Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing on the subject of music’’. Peter Oswald is a psychiatrist and a musicologist which is an obvious asset for writing the biography of Schumann who suffered psychological disorders. The book connects his creativity and genius with his mental illness...
Robert Schumann was a 19th century Romantic composer and an influential music critic. This Romantic ‘’genius’’ had suffered from mental illness that caused delusions, hallucinations, melancholia and a suicide attempt. After surviving the incident, he lived the rest of his life in asylum willingly. Schumann’s life story is interesting not for only his illness, but also his relationships. He had homoerotic tendencies, however he married his teacher’s daughter Clara, a concert pianist, after a long battle with her father. As stated by Solomon, in 20th century, it was common to include sexual orientation, daily life, behavior, psychology of composer to biography, Ostwald is pursuing the same path. He made connections with these in his Schumann biography.
The book is started at 1854 with a flashback where the suicide crisis is occurred. After creation of interest in the reader, Ostwald turns back to 1809 to the family background and early years of Schumann. There he also examined the sexual tendency of Schumann, his feelings and sexual frustrations from the diaries of Schumann. This point onwards book continues chronologically. The incidents are based on the diaries of Schumann and Clara, the letters of them and others like Brahms, Grimm etc. Ostwald doesn’t provide any speculative or imaginative information. The life of Schumann and especially Clara is very suitable for speculation; however, Ostwald only serves the facts. Even in the Brahms, Clara and Schumann relationship which is a famous subject to talk about, he only mentions the rumors and present the available letters of the subject. He doesn’t infer anything like it would have been the case if it was a film.
After the chronological events, in the last chapter Ostwald explains the problem of diagnosis in Schumann’s disease. He analysis the original doctor documentation, autopsy report etc. and give brief information about Schumann’s medical history. Events that can cause the breakdown are analyzed. Although in the end he couldn’t reach a definite result, he states that his illness was not caused by syphilis. Throughout the book, the inner voices of Schumann who convinced him to be poisoned etc. is associated with his compositions. Even that the link between his melancholia and reducing this melancholia with composing is evident in letters, he also links the genius and romantic composer to the illness and his personal life. However, it is not given as films criticized in Tibbetts’s ‘’Composers in the Movies’’ but rather supported with medical reports, compositional analysis and so on.
The book is written objectively. Author doesn’t favor any character, he just present insights. Schumann’s –or Clara’s- personal life is not centered, every trip, every journal entry and composition history and analysis. It is a good source for rethinking the cause of Schumann’s character and its effect on his music. Although Ostwald is not analyzing the pieces theoretically, he analyses the environment and the state of mind of the composer that the piece is completed. For a mysterious Romantic composer who has serious problems, it is unusual to not have much more films and biographies. In order to avoid the fictional scenes that lead us to being conditioned towards the composer, this biography is a reliable source.