Furthermore, Spontini in his later years, when deafness saddened his lot, deserted the halls of fame and the palaces of royalty, where he had been prominent, and retired with his wife to the little Italian village where he had been born of the peasantry. And there he spent years founding schools and doing other works for the public good. He died there in the arms of his wife, at the age of seventy-five; having had no children, he willed his property to the poor of his native village.
It is strange how much wrong we do to the geniuses of the second rate, when they happen to be rivals of those whom we have voted geniuses of the first rate; for the Piccinnis and the Salieris and the Spontinis, who chance to fight earnestly against Glucks, Mozarts, and others, often show in their lives qualities of the utmost sweetness and sincerity, equalling that of their more successful rivals in the struggle for existence.
For instance, there is Salieri, who was accused of poisoning Mozart, a monstrous slander, which Salieri bitterly regretted and answered by befriending Mozart's son and securing him his first appointment. When Salieri was young and left an orphan, he was befriended by a man, who later died, leaving his children in some distress. Salieri took care of the family and educated the two daughters as opera singers. His generosity was shown in numberless ways, and if by mishap he did not especially approve of Mozart, he was on most cordial terms with Haydn and Beethoven. He gave lessons and money to poor musicians; he loved nature piously; was exuberant; was devoted to pastry and sugar-plums, but cared nothing for wine. All I know of his married life is that when he was fifty-five he lost his son, and two years later his wife, and he was never the same thereafter. It is a shame to slander him as men do.
THE GRAND ROSSINI
One of the most remarkably successful men of his century was Rossini, son of a village inspector of slaughter-houses, and a baker's daughter. Once, while the husband was in jail on account of his political sympathies, the mother became a burlesque singer, and when the father was released, he joined the troupe as a horn-player. Rossini was left in the care of a pork-butcher, on whom he used to play practical jokes. He always took life easily, this Rossini. At the age of sixteen he was already a successful composer, and had begun that dazzling career which mingled superhuman laziness with inhuman zeal. Among his first acquaintances were the Mombelli family, of whom he said in a letter that the girls were "ferociously virtuous."
In 1815, he then being twenty-three, he first met the successful prima donna Isabella Colbran, who was then thirty years old and had been singing for fourteen years on the stage. She was still beautiful, though her voice had begun to show signs of wear. Rossini seems to have fallen in love with her art and herself, and he wrote ten roles for her. It was she who persuaded him away from comic to tragic opera. The political changes of the period soon changed her from public favourite to a public dislike, and Rossini, disgusted with his countrymen, married her and left Italy. It was said that he married her for her money, because she was his elder and was already on the wane in public favour, and yet owned a villa and $25,000 a year income. However that may be, it was a brilliant match for the son of the slaughter-house inspector, and the wedding took place in the palace of a cardinal, the Archbishop of Bologna. As one poet wrote, in stilted Latin:
"A remarkable man weds a remarkable woman. Who can doubt that their progeny will be remarkable?"
It might have been, for all we know, had there been any progeny, but there was not. It is pleasant to note that Rossini's ancient parents were at the wedding. Then the couple went to Vienna, where Carpani wrote of Colbran's voice: "The Graces seemed to have watered with nectar each of her syllables. Her acting is notable and dignified, as becomes her important and majestic beauty."
In 1824 they were called to London. Here they were on terms of great intimacy with the king. In this one season the two made $35,000. Rossini complained that the singer was paid at a far higher rate than the composer; besides, she sang excruciatingly off the key and had nothing left but her intellectual charms. From England Rossini went to equal glory to France. At the early age of forty-three, he took a solemn vow to write no more music, a vow he kept almost literally. In 1845, his wife, then being sixty years of age, died. Two years later he married Olympe Pelissier, who had been his mistress in Paris and had posed for Vernet's "Judith." Rossini was a great voluptuary, and was prouder of his art in cooking macaroni than of anything else he could do. But much should be forgiven him in return for his brilliant wit and the heroism with which he kept his vow, however regrettable the vow.
Of Bellini, that great treasurer for the hand-organists, a story has been told as his first romance. According to this, when he was a conservatory student at Naples, he called upon a fellow student and took up a pair of opera glasses, proceeding to take that interest in the neighbours that one is prone to take with a telescope. On the balcony of the opposite house he saw a beautiful girl; the opera-glasses seemed to bring her very near, but not near enough to reach. So, after much elaborate management he became her teacher of singing, and managed to teach her at least to love him. But the family growing suspicious that Bellini was instructing her in certain elective studies outside the regular musical curriculum, his school was closed.
Then a little opera of his had some success, and he asked for her hand. His proposal was received with Neapolitan ice, and the lovers were separated, to their deep gloom. When he was twenty-four, another opera of his made a great local triumph, and he applied again, only to be told that "the daughter of Judge Fumaroli will never be allowed to marry a poor cymbal player." Later his success grew beyond the bounds of Italy, and now the composer of "La Sonnambula" and "Norma" was worthy of the daughter of even a judge; so the parents, it is said, reminded him that he could now have the honour of marrying into their family. But he was by this time calm enough to reply that he was wedded to his art.
This conclusion of the romance reminds one of Handel—a thing which Bellini very rarely does. He died when he was only thirty-three years of age, and at that age Handel had not written a single one of the oratorios by which he is remembered. In fact, he did not begin until he was fifty-five with the success which made him immortal. It was the irony of fate that Bellini should have died so young, while a brother of his who was a fourth-rate church composer lived for eighty-two years.
The virtues of senescence are seen in the case of Verdi, who did some of his greatest work at the age when most musicians are ready for the old ladies' home. His first love affair has been the subject of an opera, like Stradella's. In fact it has much of the garish misery of the Punchinello story. Verdi was very poor as a child, and was educated by a charitable institution. He was greatly befriended by his teacher, Barezzi, in whose house he lived, and like Robert Schumann, he showed his gratitude by falling in love with the daughter; Margarita was her name. But Barezzi interpreted the role of father-in-law in a manner unlike that of Wieck, and to the youth to whom he had given not only instruction, but funds for his study and board and lodging while in Milan, he gave also his daughter, when the time came in 1836, Verdi being then twenty-three years old. Two years later, the composer left his home town of Busseto with one wife, two children, and three or four MSS. He settled in Milan. He was a long time getting his first opera produced, and it was not until 1839 that it made its little success, and he was engaged to write three more. He chose a comic libretto for the first, and then troubles began not to rain but to pour upon him. But let Verdi tell his own story:
"I lived at that time in a small and modest apartment in the neighbourhood of the Porta Ticinese, and I had my little family with me, that is to say my young wife and our two little children. I had hardly begun my work when I fell seriously ill of a throat complaint, which compelled me to keep my bed for a long time. I was beginning to be convalescent, when I remembered that the rent, for which I wanted fifty ecus, would become due in a few days. At that time if such a sum was of importance to me, it was no very serious matter; but my painful illness had not allowed me to provide it in time, and the state of communications with Busseto (in those days the post only went twice a week) did not leave me the opportunity of writing to my excellent father-in-law Barezzi to enable him to send the necessary funds. I wished, whatever trouble it might give to me, to pay my lodging on the day fixed, and although much annoyed at being obliged to have recourse to a third person, I nevertheless decided to beg the engineer Pasetti to ask Merelli on my behalf for the fifty ecus which I wanted, either in the form of an advance under the conditions of my contract, or by way of loan for eight or ten days, that is to say the time necessary for writing to Busseto and receiving the said sum.
"It is useless to relate here how it came about that Merelli, without any fault on his part, did not advance me the fifty ecus in question. Nevertheless, I was much distressed at letting the rent day of the lodgings go by. My wife then, seeing my annoyance, took a few articles of jewelry which she possessed, and succeeded, I know not how, in getting together the sum necessary, and brought it to me. I was deeply touched at this proof of affection, and promised myself to return them all to her, which, happily, I was able to do with little difficulty, thanks to my agreement.
"But now began for me the greatest misfortunes. My 'bambino' fell ill at the beginning of April, the doctors were unable to discover the cause of his ailment, and the poor little thing, fading away, expired in the arms of his mother, who was beside herself with despair. That was not all. A few days after my little daughter fell ill in turn, and her complaint also terminated fatally. But this even was not all. Early in June my young companion herself was attacked by acute brain fever, and on the 19th of June, 1840, a third coffin was carried from my house.
"I was alone!—alone! In the space of about two months, three loved ones had disappeared for ever. I had no longer a family. And, in the midst of this terrible anguish, to avoid breaking the engagement I had contracted, I was compelled to write and finish a comic opera!
"'Un Giorno di Regno' did not succeed. A share of the want of success certainly belongs to the music, but part must also be attributed to the performance. My soul, rent by the misfortunes which had overwhelmed me, my spirit, soured by the failure of the opera, I persuaded myself that I should no longer find consolation in art, and formed the resolution to compose no more! I even wrote to the engineer Pasetti (who since the fiasco of 'Un Giorno di Regno' had shown no signs of life) to beg him to obtain from Merelli the cancelling of my contract."
This story is sad enough, Heaven knows, without the melodramatic frills that have been put upon it. You will read in certain sketches, and even Mr. Elbert Hubbard has enambered the fable in one of his "Little Journeys," that Verdi's wife was ill during the performance of the opera, that the first act was a great success, and he ran home to tell her. The second act was also successful, and he ran home again, not noting that his wife was dying of starvation. The third act, and he was hissed off the stage, and flew home, only to find his wife dead. The chief objection to the story is the fact that his wife died on the 19th of June, 1840, and the opera was not produced until the 5th of September that same year. But it is tragic enough that he should have been compelled to write a comic opera under the anguish that he felt at the loss of his two children and his wife, and that his reward should have been even then a dismal fiasco.
He was dissuaded from his vow to write no more, and it was in a driving snow-storm that his friend Merelli decoyed him to a field, in which so much fame was awaiting him.
This Merelli had first become interested in Verdi from overhearing the singer Signora Strepponi praising Verdi's first opera. This was before the failure of the comic opera and the annihilation of Verdi's family.
When Merelli had at length decoyed Verdi back to composition, his next work, "Nabucco," was a decided success, the principal part being taken by this same Strepponi. She had made her debut seven years before, and was a singer of dramatic fire and vocal splendour, we are told. Her enthusiasm for Verdi's work not only fastened the claim of operatic art upon him, but won his interest in her charms also, and Verdi and she were soon joined in an alliance, which after some years was legalised and churched. She shortly after left the stage without waiting to "lag superfluous" there. Thenceforward she shared with Verdi that life of quiet retirement from the world in which he played the patriarch and the farmer, breeding horses and watching the harmonies of nature with almost more enthusiasm than the progress of his art.
So much for the Italian opera composers. How do the Germans compare?
The old composer Hasse, like Rossini, being himself the most popular composer of the day, married one of the most popular singers of her time, and scored a double triumph with her. This was the famous Faustina.
Mendelssohn's friend, Carl Zelter, was a busy lover, as his autobiography makes plain. One of his flirtations was with an artistic Jewess, with whom he quarrelled and from whom he parted, because they could not agree upon the art of suicide as outlined in Goethe's then new work, "The Sorrows of Werther."
Albert Lortzing was married before he was twenty, and lived busily as singer, composer, and instrumentalist, travelling here and there with a family that increased along with his debts. It was not till after his death, and then by a public subscription, that his family knew the end of worry.
Similarly the public came to the aid of Robert Franz, before his death, thanks to Liszt and others. For Franz, who had married the song composer, Marie Hinrichs, lost his hearing and drifted to the brink of despair before a series of concerts rescued him from starvation.
Heinrich Marschner was married three times, his latter two wives being vocalists. Thalberg married a daughter of the great singer Lablache; she was the widow of the painter Boucher, whose exquisite confections every one knows. They had a daughter, who was a singer of great gifts.
Meyerbeer in 1825 lost his father, whom he loved to the depth of his large heart. At the father's death-bed he renewed an old love with his cousin, Minna Mosson, and they were betrothed. Niggli says she was "as sweet as she was fair." Two years later he married her. She bore him five children, of whom three, with the wife, survived him and inherited his great fortune.
Josef Strauss, son of a saloon-keeper, married Anna Streim, daughter of an innkeeper. After she had borne him five children, they were divorced on the ground of incompatibility. How many children did they want for compatibility's sake? Their son Johann married Jetty Treffy in 1863; she was a favourite public singer, and her ambition raised him out of a mere dance-hall existence to the waltz-making for the world. When she died he paid her the exquisite compliment of choosing another singer, before the year was over, for the next waltz. Her name was Angelica Dittrich.
Joachim Raff fell in love with an actress named Doris Genast, and followed her to Wiesbaden in 1856; he married her three years later, and she bore him a daughter.
The Russian Glinka was sent travelling in search of health. He liked Italian women much and many, but it was in Berlin that he made his declarations to a Jewish contralto, for whose voice he wrote six studies. But he married Maria Petrovna Ivanof, who was young, pretty, quarrelsome, and extravagant. She brought along also a dramatic mother-in-law, and he set out again for his health. His wife married again, and the scandal of the whole affair preyed on him so that he went to Paris and sought diversion recklessly along the boulevards.
His countryman, Anton Rubinstein, married Vera Tschekonanof in 1865. She accompanied him on his first tour, but after that, not.
The Bohemian composer Smetana married his pupil, Katharine Kolar; he was another of those whose happiness deafness ruined. He was immortalised in a composition as harrowing as any of Poe's stories, or as Huneker's "The Lord's Prayer in B," the torment of one high note that rang in his head unceasingly, until it drove him mad.
Among the beautiful figures, whom the critical historian tries to drive back into that limbo, where an imaginary Homer flirts with a fabulous Pocahontas, we are asked to place the alleged one love of Schubert's life. Few composers have been so overweighted with poverty or so gifted with loneliness as Franz Schubert. His joy was spasmodic and short, but his sorrow was persistent and deep.
He, who sang so many love songs, could hardly be said to have been in any sense a lover. Once he wrote of himself as a man so wrecked in health, that he was one "to whom the happiness of proffered love and friendship is but anguish; whose enthusiasm for the beautiful threatens to vanish altogether." Of his music he wrote, that the world seemed to like only that which was the product of his sufferings, and of his songs he exclaimed: "For many years I sang my Lieder. If I would fain sing of love, it turned to pain; or if I would sing of pain, it turned to love. Thus I was torn between love and sorrow."
He had a few flirtations, and one or two strong friendships, but the thought of marriage seems to have entered his mind only to be rejected. In his diary he wrote:
"Happy is he who finds a true friend; happier still is he who finds in his wife a true friend. To the free man at this time, marriage is a frightful thought: he confounds it either with melancholy or low sensuality." One of his first affairs of the heart was with Theresa Grob, who sang in his works, and for whom he wrote various songs and other compositions. But he also wrote for her brother, and besides, she married a baker. Anna Milder, who had been a lady's maid, but became a famous singer and married a rich jeweller and quarrelled with Beethoven and with Spontini, was a sort of muse to Schubert, sang his songs in public, and gave him much advice.
Mary Pachler was a friend of Beethoven's, and after his death seems to have turned her friendship to Schubert, with great happiness to him.
But the legendary romance of Schubert's life occurred when he was twenty-one, and a music teacher to Carolina Esterhazy. He first fell in love with her maid, it is said, and based his "Divertissement a l'Hongroise" on Hungarian melodies he heard her singing at her work. There is no disguising the fact that Schubert, prince of musicians, was personally a hopeless little pleb. He wrote his friend Schober in 1818 of the Esterhazy visit: "The cook is a pleasant fellow; the housemaid is very pretty and often pays me a visit; the butler is my rival." Mozart also ate with the servants in the Archbishop's household, though it ground him deep.
But Schubert was too homely even for a housemaid, so in despair he turned to the young countess and loved her—they say, till death. Once, she jokingly demanded why he had never dedicated anything to her, and the legend says he cried: "Why should I, when everything I write is yours?"
The purveyors of this legend disagree as to the age of the young countess; some say she was seventeen, and some that she was eleven, while those who disbelieve the story altogether say that she was only seven years old. But now you have heard the story, and you may take it or leave it. There is some explanation for the belief that Schubert did not dare to love or declare his love, and some reason to believe that his reticence was wise and may have saved him worse pangs, in the fact that he was only one inch more than five feet high, and yet fat and awkward; stoop-shouldered, wild-haired, small-nosed, big-spectacled, thick-lipped, and of a complexion which has been called pasty to the point of tallowness. Haydn, however, almost as unpromising, was a great slayer of women. But Schubert either did not care, or did not dare.
He reminds one of Brahms, a genial giant, who was deeply devoted in a filial way to Clara Schumann after the death of Schumann, but who never married, and of whom I find no recorded romance.
ROBERT SCHUMANN AND CLARA WIECK
"I am not satisfied with any man who despises music. For music is a gift of God. It will drive away the devil and makes people cheerful. Occupied with it, man forgets all anger, unchastity, pride, and other vices. Next to theology, I give music the next place and highest praise."—MARTIN LUTHER.
By a little violence to chronology, I am putting last of all the story of Schumann's love-life, because it marks the highest point of musical amour.
If music have any effect at all upon character, especially upon the amorous development and activity of character, that effect ought to be discoverable—if discoverable it is—with double distinctness where two musicians have fallen in love with each other, and with each other's music. There are many instances where both the lovers were musically inclined, but in practically every case, save in one, there has been a great disparity between their abilities.
The whimsical Fates, however, decided to make one trial of the experiment of bringing two musicians of the first class into a sphere of mutual influence and affection. The result was so beautiful, so nearly ideal, that—needless to say—it has not been repeated. But while the experiment has not been duplicated, the story well merits a repetition, especially in view of the fact that the woman's side of the romance has only recently been given to the public in Litzmann's biography, only half of which has been published in German and none in English.
There can surely be no dispute that Robert Schumann was one of the most original and individual of composers, and one of the broadest and deepest-minded musicians in the history of the art. Nor can there be any doubt that Clara Wieck was one of the richest dowered musicians who ever shed glory upon her sex. Henry T. Finck was, perhaps, right, when he called her "the most gifted woman that has ever chosen music as a profession."
Robert Schumann showed his determined eccentricity before he was born, for surely no child ever selected more unconventional parents. Would you believe it? It was the mother who opposed the boy's taking up music as a career! the father who wished him to follow his natural bent! and it was the father who died while Schumann was young, leaving him to struggle for years against his mother's will!
Not that Frau Schumann was anything but a lovable and a most beloved mother. Robert's letters to her show a remarkable affection even for a son. Indeed, as Reissmann says in his biography:
"As in most cases, Robert's youthful years belonged almost wholly to his mother, and indeed her influence chiefly developed that pure fervour of feeling to which his whole life bore witness; this, however, soon estranged him from the busy world and was the prime factor in that profound melancholy which often overcame him almost to suicide."
Frau Schumann wished Robert to study law, and sent him to the University at Leipzig for that purpose and later to Heidelberg. He was not the least interested in his legal studies, but loved to play the piano, and write letters, and dream of literature, to idolise Jean Paul Richter and to indulge a most commendable passion for good cigars. He was not dilatory at love, and went through a varied apprenticeship before his heart seemed ready for the fierce test it was put to in his grand passion.
In 1827, he being then seventeen years old, we find him writing to a schoolfellow a letter of magnificent melancholy; the tone of its allusions to a certain young woman reminds one of Chopin's early love letters. How sophomoric and seventeen-year-oldish they sound!
"Oh, friend! were I but a smile, how would I flit about her eyes! ... were I but joy, how gently would I throb in all her pulses! yea, might I be but a tear, I would weep with her, and then, if she smiled again, how gladly would I die on her eyelash, and gladly, gladly, be no more."
"My past life lies before me like a vast, vast evening landscape, over which faintly quivers a rosy kiss from the setting sun."
He bewails two dissipated ideals. One, named "Liddy," "a narrow-minded soul, a simple maiden from innocent Eutopia; she cannot grasp an idea." And yet she was very beautiful, and if she were "petrified," every critic would pronounce her perfection. The boy sighs with that well-known senility of seventeen:
"I think I loved her, but I knew only the outward form in which the roseate tinted fancy of youth often embodies its inmost longings. So I have no longer a sweetheart, but am creating for myself other ideals, and have in this respect also broken with the world."
Again he looks back upon his absorbing passion for a glorious girl called "Nanni," but that blaze is now "only a quietly burning sacred flame of pure divine friendship and reverence."
A month after this serene resignation he goes to Dresden, and finds his heart full of longing for this very "Nanni." He roves the streets looking under every veil that flutters by him in the street, in the hope that he might see her features; he remembers again "all the hours which I dreamed away so joyfully, so blissfully in her arms and her love." He did not see her, but later, to his amazement, he stumbles upon the supposedly finished sweetheart "Liddy." She is bristling with "explanations upon explanations." She begs him to go up a steep mountain alone with her. He goes "from politeness, perhaps also for the sake of adventure." But they are both dumb and tremulous and they reach the peak just at sunset. Schumann describes that sunset more gaudily than ever chromo was painted. But at any rate it moved him to seize Liddy's hand and exclaim, somewhat mal-a-propos: "Liddy, such is our life."
He plucked a rose and was about to give it to her when a flash of lightning and a cloud of thunder woke him from his dreams; he tore the rose to pieces, and they returned home in silence.
In 1828, at Augsburg, he cast his affectionate eyes upon Clara von Kurer, the daughter of a chemist; but found her already engaged. It was now that he entered the University at Leipzig to study law. The wife of Professor Carus charmed him by her singing and inspired various songs. At her house he met the noted piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, and thus began an acquaintance of strange vicissitude and strange power for torment and delight.
Wieck, who was then forty-three, chiefly lived in the career of his wonder-child, a pianist, Clara Josephine Wieck. She had been born at Leipzig on September 13, 1819, and was only nine years old, and nine years younger than Schumann, when they met. She made a sensational debut in concert the same year. And, child as she was, she excited at once the keenest and most affectionate admiration in Schumann. He did not guess then how deeply she was doomed to affect him, but while she was growing up his heart seemed merely to loaf about till she was ready for it.
For a time he became Wieck's pupil, hoping secretly to be a pianist, not a lawyer. He dreamed already of storming America with his virtuosity.
In 1829, while travelling, he wrote his mother, "I found it frightfully hard to leave Leipzig at the last. A girl's soul, beautiful, happy, and pure, had enslaved mine." But this soul was not Clara's. A few months later, he made a tour through Italy, and wrote of meeting "a beautiful English girl, who seemed to have fallen in love, not so much with myself as my piano playing, for all English women love with the head—I mean they love Brutuses, or Lord Byrons, or Mozart and Raphaels." Surely one of the most remarkable statements ever made, and appropriately demolished by the very instances brought to substantiate it, for, to the best of my knowledge, Mozart, Brutus, and Raphael had affairs with other than English women; and so did, for the matter of that, Lord Byron.
A week later Schumann wrote from Venice, whither he had apparently followed the English beauty:
"Alas, my heart is heavy ... she gave me a spray of cypress when we parted.... She was an English girl, very proud, and kind, and loving, and hating ... hard but so soft when I was playing—accursed reminiscences!"
The wound was not mortal. A little later, and he was showing almost as much enthusiasm in his reference to his cigars. "Oh, those cigars!" We find him smoking one at five A.M., on July 30th, at Heidelberg. He had risen early to write, "the most important letter I have ever written," pleading ardently with his mother to let him be a musician. She decided to leave the decision concerning her son's future to Wieck, who, knowing Schumann's attainments and promise, voted for music. Schumann, wild with delight and ambition, fled from Heidelberg and the law. He went to Mainz on a steamer with many English men and women, and he writes his mother, "If ever I marry, it will be an English girl." He did not know what was awaiting him in the home of Wieck, whose house he entered as pupil and lodger, almost as a son.
Here he worked like a fiend at his theory and practice. He suffered from occasional attacks of the most violent melancholy, obsessions of inky gloom, which kept returning upon him at long intervals. But when he threw off the spell, he was himself again, and could write to his mother of still new amours:
"I have filled my cup to the brim by falling in love the day before yesterday. The gods grant that my ideal may have a fortune of 50,000."
In 1830 he flirted with the beautiful Anita Abegg; her name suggested to him a theme for his Opus I, published in 1831, and based upon the notes A-B-E-G-G. He apologised to his family for not dedicating his first work to them, but explained that it was not good enough. It is published with an inscription to "Pauline, Comtesse d'Abegg," a disguise which puzzled his family, until he explained that he himself was the "father" of the "Countess" d'Abegg.
It was two years before he confessed another flirtation. In 1833, he went to Frankfort to hear Paganini, and there it was a case of "pretty girl at the willow-bush—staring match through opera-glasses—champagne." The next year he was torn between two admirations. One, the daughter of the German-born American consul at Liepzig,—her name was Emily List; she was sixteen, and he described her "as a thoroughly English girl, with black sparkling eyes, black hair, and firm step; and full of intellect, and dignity, and life."
The other was Ernestine von Fricken, daughter—by adoption, though this he did not know—of a rich Bohemian baron. Of her he wrote:
"She has a delightfully pure, child-like mind, is delicate and thoughtful, deeply attached to me and everything artistic, and uncommonly musical—in short just such a one as I might wish to have for a wife; and I will whisper it in your ear, my good mother, if the Future were to ask me whom I should choose, I would answer unhesitatingly, 'This one,' But that is all in the dim distance; and even now I renounce the prospect of a more intimate relationship, although, I dare say, I should find it easy enough."
Ernestine, like Robert, was a pupil and boarder at the home of the Wiecks. She and Robert had acted as godparents to one of Wieck's children, possibly Clara's half-sister, Marie, also in later years a prominent pianist and teacher.
The affair with Ernestine grew more serious. In 1834 he wrote a letter of somewhat formal and timid devotion to her. A little later, with fine diplomacy, he also wrote a fatherly letter to her supposed father, praising some of the baron's compositions with certain reservations, and adding, as a coup de grace, the statement that he himself was writing some variations on a theme of the baron's own.
The same month Ernestine and Robert became engaged. He was deeply, joyously fond of her, and he poured out his soul to her friend, who was also a distinguished musician, Henrietta Voigt. To her he wrote of Ernestine:
"Ernestine has written to me in great delight. She has sounded her father by means of her mother; and he gives her to me! Henrietta, he gives her to me! do you understand that? And yet I am so wretched; it seems as though I feared to accept this jewel, lest it should be in unworthy hands. If you ask me to put a name to my grief I cannot do it. I think it is grief itself; but alas, it may be love itself, and mere longing for Ernestine. I really cannot stand it any longer, so I have written to her to arrange a meeting one of these days. If you should ever feel thoroughly happy, then think of two souls who have placed all that is most sacred to them in your keeping, and whose future happiness is inseparably bound up with your own."
This Madame Voigt, who died at the age of thirty-one, once said that on a beautiful summer evening, she and Schumann, after playing various music, had rowed out in a boat, and, shipping the oars, had sat side by side in complete silence—that deathlike silence which so often enveloped Schumann even in the circles of his friends at the taverns. When they returned after a mute hour, Schumann pressed her hand and exclaimed, "Today we have understood each other perfectly."
It was under Ernestine's inspiration, which Schumann called "a perfect godsend," that he fashioned the various jewels that make up the music of his "Carneval," using for his theme the name of Ernestine's birthplace, "Asch," which he could spell in music in two ways: A-ES-C-H, or AS-C-H, for ES is the German name for E flat, while AS is our A flat and H our B natural. He was also pleased to note that the letters S-C-H-A were in his own name.
While all this flirtation and loving and getting betrothed was going on in the home of Wieck, there was another member of the same household, another pupil of the same teacher, who was not deriving so much delight from the arrangement. Through it all, a great-eyed, great-hearted, greatly suffering little girl of fifteen was learning, for the first time, sorrow. This was Clara Wieck, who was already electrifying the most serious critics and captivating the most cultured audiences by the maturity of her art, already winning an encore with a Bach fugue,—an unheard-of miracle. As Wieck wrote in the diary, which he and his daughter kept together, "This marked a new era in piano music." At the age of twelve, she played with absolute mastery the most difficult music ever written.
But her public triumph made her only half-glad, for she was watching at home the triumph of another girl over the youth she loved. Can't you see her now in her lonely room, reeling off from under her fleet fingers the dazzling arpeggios, while the tears gather in her eyes and fall upon her hands?
Four years later she could write to Schumann:
"I must tell you what a silly child I was then. When Ernestine came to us I said, 'Just wait till you learn to know Schumann, he is my favorite of all my acquaintances,' But she did not care to know you, since she said she knew a gentleman in Asch, whom she liked much better. That made me mad; but it was not long before she began to like you better and it soon went so far that every time you came I had to call her. I was glad to do this since I was pleased that she liked you. But you talked more and more with her and cut me short; that hurt me a good deal; but I consoled myself by saying it was only natural since you were with me all the time; and, besides, Ernestine was more grown-up than I. Still queer feelings filled my heart, so young it was, and so warmly it beat even then. When we went walking you talked to Ernestine and poked fun at me. Father shipped me off to Dresden on that account, where I again grew hopeful, and I said to myself, 'How pretty it would be if he were only your husband,'"
From Dresden, Clara wrote to "Lieber Herr Schumann," a quizzical letter advising him to drink "less Bavarian beer; not to turn night into day; to let your girl friends know that you think of them; to compose industriously, and to write more in your paper, since the readers wish it."
Schumann, unconsciously to himself, had given Clara reason enough to persuade a child of her years that he loved her more than he did, or more than he thought he did. He thought he was interested only in the marvellous child-artist. He found in the musical newspaper which he edited an opportunity to promulgate his high opinion of her. It is needless to say that the praises he lavished in print, would be no more cordial than those he bestowed on her in the privacy of the home. For he and she seemed to be as son and daughter to old Wieck, who was also greatly interested in the critical ideals of Schumann, and joined him zealously in the organisation and conducting of the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik. This, Schumann made the most wonderfully catholic and prophetic critical organ that ever existed for art; and in the editing of it he approved himself to posterity as a musical critic never approached for discriminating the good from the bad; for daring to discover and to acclaim new genius without fear, or without waiting for death to close the lifelong catalogue or to serve as a guide for an estimate. For some time Wieck joined hands and pen with Schumann in this great cause, till gradually his fears for the career of the jealously guarded Clara caused a widening rift between the old man and the young.
Clara was to Schumann first a brilliant young sister, for whom he prophesied such a career as that of Schubert, Paganini, and Chopin, and for whom he cherished an affectionate concern. Yet as early as 1832, when she was only thirteen, and he twenty-two, he could write to his "Dear honoured Clara," "I often think of you, not as a brother of his sister, or merely in friendship, but rather as a pilgrim thinking of a distant shrine." He began to dedicate compositions to her, and he took her opinion seriously. His Opus 5, written in 1833, was based on a theme by Clara, and, according to Reissman, showed a feeling of "reverence for her genius rather than of love."
He began also to publish most enthusiastic criticisms of her concerts, calling her "the wonder-child," and "the first German artist," one who "already stands on the topmost peak of our time." He even printed verses upon her genius. In a letter to Wieck, in 1833, he says, "It is easy to write to you, but I do not feel equal to write to Clara." She was still, however, the child to him; the child whom he used to frighten with his gruesome ghost-stories, especially of his "Doppelgaenger," a name, Clara afterwards took to herself. Child as she was, he watched her with something of fascination, and wrote his mother:
"Clara is as fond of me as ever, and is just as she used to be of old, wild and enthusiastic, skipping and running about like a child, and saying the most intensely thoughtful things. It is a pleasure to see how her gifts of mind and heart keep developing faster and faster, and, as it were, leaf by leaf. The other day, as we were walking back from Cannovitz (we go for a two or three hours' tramp almost every day), I heard her say to herself: 'Oh, how happy I am! how happy!' Who would not love to hear that? On this same road there are a great many useless stones lying about in the middle of the footpath. Now, when I am talking, I often look more up than down, so she always walks behind me and gently pulls my coat at every stone to prevent my falling; meantime she stumbles over them herself."
What an allegory of womanly devotion is here!
Gradually Schumann let himself write to Clara a whit more like a lover than a brother, with an occasional "Longingly yours." He begged her to keep mental trysts with him, and, acknowledging a composition she had dedicated to him, he hinted:
"If you were present, I would press your hand even without your father's leave. Then I might express a hope that the union of our names on the title-page might foreshadow the union of our ideas in the future. A poor fellow like myself cannot offer you more than that.... Today a year ago we drove to Schleusig, how sorry I am that I spoiled your pleasure on that occasion."
Of this last, we can only imagine some too ardent compliment, or perhaps some subjection to one of his dense melancholies. In the very midst of his short infatuation with Ernestine von Fricken, he is still corresponding with Clara. Their tone is very cordial, and, knowing the sequel, it is hard not to read into them perhaps more than Schumann meant. The letters could hardly have seemed to him to be love letters, since he writes to Clara that he has been considering the publication of their correspondence in his "Zeitschrift," though he was probably not serious at this, seeing that he also plans to fill a balloon with his unwritten thoughts and send it to her, "properly addressed with a favourable wind."
"I long to catch butterflies to be my messengers to you. I thought of getting my letters posted in Paris, so as to arouse your curiosity and make you believe that I was there. In short a great many quaint notions came to my head and have only just been dispersed by a postilion's horn; the fact is, dear Clara, that the postilion has much the same effect upon me as the most excellent champagne."
Here is perhaps the secret of much of his correspondence; the pure delight of letting his "fingers chase the pen, and the pen chase the ink." The aroma of the ink-bottle has run away with how many brains.
He wants to send her "perfect bales of letters," he prefers to write her at the piano, especially in the chords of the ninth and the thirteenth. He paints her a pleasant portrait of herself in a letter which, he says, is written like a little sonata, "namely, a chattering part, a laughing part, and a talking part."
Clara seemed from his first sight of her to exercise over him a curious mingling of profound admiration and of teasing amusement. He portrays her vividly to herself in such words as these:
"Your letter was yourself all over. You stood before me laughing and talking; rushing from fun to earnest as usual, diplomatically playing with your veil. In short, the letter was Clara herself, her double."
All these expressions of tenderness and fascinations were ground enough for the child Clara to build Spanish hopes upon, but in the very same letter Schumann could refer to that torment of Clara's soul, Ernestine, and speak of her as "your old companion in joy and sorrow, that bright star which we can never appreciate enough."
A change, however, seems to have come over Ernestine. Clara found her taciturn and mistrustful, and when the Baron von Fricken came for her, Wieck himself wrote in the diary, "We have not missed her; for the last six weeks she has been a stranger in our house; she had lost completely her lovable and frank disposition." He compares her to a plant, which only prospers under attention, but withers and dies when left to itself. He concludes, "The sun shone too sharply upon her, i.e., Herr Schumann."
But the sun seemed to withdraw from the flower it had scorched. During her absence, Ernestine wrote to Schumann many letters, chiefly 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 peculiar manner."
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 life.
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 irresistible.
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 wrote afterward:
"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 it."
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 Voigts."
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 insulted me."
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 later:
"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 usages.
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 tormentor Wieck.
"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 ringing together."
He plans how they shall write music together when they are married, and says:
"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 to mankind."
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 Paris."
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 his heart.
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 equally high.
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 with Schumann.
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 praise.
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 ever."
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 music.
"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 to you."