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Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician Paperback – 2 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (2 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300163983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300163988
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 16.3 x 3.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 331,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Worthen's is by far the most comprehensive account I have read of the facts of Schumann's life. His central thesis is important, and he writes clearly and freshly, bringing a wise head to an intricate tangle of evidence.' Susan Tomes, The Independent. '...beautifully written and meticulously researched and foodtnoted.' Simon Heffer, Literary Review. 'This is a biography with attitude.' Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine. '...engaging, well written and clearly aimed at the general reader... for those wanting to read an affectionate life of one of the greatest and most loveable figures of the early 19th century, this book can be recommended.' Steven Isserlis, The Guardian. '...alongside the tragedies, this riveting account of Schumann's life also manages to encapsulate both the joy and elation of one of music's greatest, still neglected geniuses, and to express a passionate enthusiasm for his works. For this, Schumannites ought to be deeply grateful.' Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times. '...John Worthen's fine and scholarly new biography...' John Adamson, The Sunday Telegraph. --The Independent, Literary Review, BBC Music Magazine, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

John Worthen was Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham. His books include 'The Gang: Coleridge, the Hutchinsons and the Wordsworths in 1802'.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 24 Jun 2012
Format: Paperback
I have always felt that Schumann's music just kept on getting better and better as he got older, and that he was at the peak of his powers at the point he went into the asylum.

It has been hard to reconcile this experience of the music with any of the previous accounts of his life that I have read. Those accounts tend to look for earlier tendencies towards mental disorder and depict a gradual decline of the music to fit in with this picture.

So it is very refreshing to have John Worthen's book, which tries to retell the story without the 'benefit of hindsight' accretions that have traditionally been added. As a result, the story of the life matches the development of the music.

I enjoyed particularly the account of his relationship with Clara. The way John Worthen relates the battles leading up to their eventual marriage is very moving. I also liked the way he relates the story to the backdrop of their financial situation. In real life, what we do and where we live is indeed often dictated by financial constraints, so this approach yields many insights.

The best recommendation I can give is that this book has inspired me to order quite a few new pieces of Schumann's music.

Thoroughly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mary Rose on 9 Jan 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book as a Christmas present for my husband and he was absolutely delighted!! He could hardly put it down and kept telling me what a great book it was and how the author was not only scholarly but also had the ability to write entertainingly. If you're wondering which book on Schumann, get this one.
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7 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Miketang on 10 Nov 2011
Format: Paperback
This biography has been generally well received and I would concur in the remarks on the author's meticulous research and presentation. However, I would like to comment on his treatment of the speculation that the composer suffered bipolar disorder. Much more is known now about BD - which is nowadays regarded as a spectrum encompassing other forms as well as classical manic depression -that the author seems not familiar with. This includes dysphoric BD i.e. an agitated mania not showing the euphoria usually associated with mania, bipolar 2 (characterized by longer periods of depression with fewer and less extreme episodes of mania) or cyclothymia which is a lifelong cycle of mood shifts less marked than the BD 1 or 2. In Schumann's day the concept of BD would anyway not have been known, nor would it have been treatable. After all, the first useful treatment - lithium - was only discovered about fifty years ago. It is therefore not surprising that contemporary medics may have had difficulty in understanding his condition. However, this does not mean he did not suffer from bipolar. As to possible confusion about how Schumann could function in order to compose while being insane, well, the whole point about BD is that the condition develops in cycles, between which the person is stable and certainly not insane. Indeed, one of the problems with the condition is diagnosing when stability turns into mania or depression so one can head it off with treatment. BD Type 1 (classical manic depression) shows the most extreme mood shifts with psychotic episodes. The less extreme forms noted above almost by definition do not involve episodes of psychosis or temporary insanity, although depression in BD 2 may approach this .Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Detailed Biography of Schumann the Man 17 Jan 2008
By Corn Soup - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very well written and nicely paced account of Schumann's life that draws heavily on his and Clara Schumann's diaries. Schumann's private personality emerges very nicely, and goes a long way towards dispelling the myths that were created by a tradition of biography in which the observations of those that did not know Schumann well took center stage and exaggerated the pathological elements of his personality and his eccentricities. Schumann was of course still a very unusual and unique man, but this is revealed in the context of the arc his entire life and in the context of his relationship with Clara.

This book is also a very good choice for those that are uncomfortable with the technical language of music and music notation. Schumann's music is not dealt with in these terms, but rather in the context of his life and musical development. This treatment is thorough enough, however, that those who are more familiar with music will gain much in reading it.

One quibble I have with the book is that I find Worthen's concept of manic-depressive disorder (bipolar I) very narrow, if not outright wrong at times. For example, he mentions times in which Schumann was particularly agitated and hyper-sensitive for periods of weeks or months. In doing so, he stresses that Schumann is not depressed since he is not showing the classic signs of depression that would characterize the depressive state of manic-depressive disorder, and that he was still able to work effectively through these periods. As someone who is familiar with this subject, my own thoughts are that these periods sound in fact, VERY much like dysphoric MANIC states or mixed states, which are often seen in patients with bipolar disorder and often misinterpreted by non-specialists. With this in mind, I very much doubt that this book has disproved the myth that Schumann had bipolar disorder, and in fact may make the case stronger, though I recognize the almost undeniable role that tertiary syphilis played in Schumann's final years. Worthern is very thorough in this respect, and gives very strong medical evidence to support this.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A bio which may revolutionize the way we view Schumann. 25 Oct 2007
By Steven Schwartz - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Solidly researched, splendidly argued, John Worthen's Schumann biography takes an untraditional approach. Every biography of the composer I've read stresses a schizophrenic or bipolar personality leading to madness and death in an asylum. Worthen strenuously argues for a physiological cause for Schumann's end. Even if Worthen turns out to be wrong, I find this the most nuanced account of Schumann's personality, and the prose is tremendous, besides. Worthen does not set out to give us an account of Schumann's music, but of the man. This might be frustrating for people who want to explore the music, but Schumann -- unlike many composers -- had a personality that justifies this kind of approach.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Overall, a good biography 1 Jun 2010
By Antonia Brentano - Published on
Format: Paperback
Very well written, easy to read. Rather thouroughly documented. Sufficiently illustrated. Academic in the sense that year-long accepted "truths" about Schumann's (mental) health are questioned and challenged. After reading this book I think you have a good picture of the life (and death) of Robert Schumann.

It's a tricky business to "diagnose" people deceased centuries ago, only based on diaries, doctor's comments, etc. (what was the level of medical expertise in Leipzig in the first half of the nineteenth century? Some of remarks by several doctor's seem to have been taken at face-value) Although Worthen makes well documented assumptions about Schumann's health, there remains an element of uncertainty and doubt. After all, you never saw the "patient"...
At times I find the book too apologetic towards Schumann. His social skills seem to have been under-developed(creating, on a personal level, problems with visitors, but also on a professional level with choirs and orchestras). Some of his works were not that great, especially some larger-scale works. For these, and other, aspects of Schumann (and his works) Worthen tries hard, but in my view not always very convincing, to find reason's and excuses. And why? Even if he wrote some lesser works, even if he wasn't very social, he is still a great composer of eternally beautiful music.

Also, at some points there are some odd remaks in this book, e.g. when Clara had a miscarriage it is stated that she was not too sad about it (at this point I would have appreciated supporting documentation). Also, the statement that Schumann was the first composer to compose for his children struck me as strange: J.S. Bach e.g. wrote Clavier-Büchlein for his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (among other works for his other sons).

But still, 4 stars, because when you're interested in the life of the great composer Robert Schumann I think this book is one of the best available. Despite the critical remarkts above I found it hard to put this book down.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A wonderfully insightful biography on Schumann's life and music. 14 Mar 2008
By M. Hoppe - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is an exceptional and fascinating biography of Schumann. Reading about his life brought renewed interest and enthusiasm for Schumann's glorious music. After reading such a book, and I could hardly put it down, I cannot think of a better outcome.
Hats off to you, John Worthen!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant ! 25 Dec 2010
By Paul Gelman - Published on
Format: Paperback
John Worthen's book about Robert Schumann deserves to be called one of the best biographies that has ever been written in general, certainly the best on the this Romantic composer.
Alonside the tragedies of Schumann, this book also tells about his daily joys, the elation he felt at times, his sorrows and daily life.
This book, whose main core is about the relationship between Schumann, Clara his wife, and Friedrick Wieck, who was Schumann's father-in-law, reads like a ninetheenth century novel, although its pace is not steady at all. This is the composer's life crafted by a master teller who has demystified Schumann totally by scrutinizing almost every piece written by or about him.
Personally, I think the second half of the book is much more intriguing because it contains many more angles about Schumann's life, friends, family, as well as his sad and tragic fate, including many chapters concerning his last years. Schumann was not only a great Romantic composer, who arrived at the scene of composing relatively late; he was also a great human being, who had many sides and was extremely passionate and resolute.
This is a biography which will surely be the most authoritative one for years to come .
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