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Did you hear about Robert Schumann’s secret sex diary?

Features - Classical Music

Did you hear about Robert Schumann’s secret sex diary?

by Angus McPherson on April 18, 2017 (April 18, 2017) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
The Romantic’s housekeeping books reveal more than just the Marks and the Pfennigs.

Not only did he write music, Robert Schumann was a pedantic diarist, documenting the minutiae of his life in obsessive detail in a series of autobiographical accounts, notes, diary entries and letters. What’s more, he didn’t shy away from recording certain more ‘personal’ details.

It was here the composer recorded a relationship with a woman named Christel (sometimes Charitas in his diaries), who was most likely a member of Clara Wieck’s father’s household. Schumann’s graphic and vivid accounts of his health during this period have led some scholars to the conclusion that he had contracted syphilis. 

Robert and Clara Schumann kept a sex diaryRobert and Clara Schumann

When he married Clara, the diaries were replaced by the Ehetagebuch or marriage diary, which he give to Clara on September 13, 1840 – her 21st birthday and the day after their wedding. Schumann intended the diary to be “a record of our wishes and our hopes, and the means whereby we may convey to one another any requests we may have to make, for which words may not suffice; and to be a mediator and reconciler should we chance to misjudge or misunderstand one another.”

The “marriage diaries” – a kind of couples’ diary in which the pair wrote alternate entries – offer a unique insight into the marriage. They also offer a window into Clara and Robert’s social and professional lives, especially the tensions resulting from the stifling of Clara’s performing career. “Every time Robert composes,” Clara wrote, “my piano playing must be set aside completely. Not a single tiny hour can be found for me all day!”

Hardly steamy, perhaps, however it is the couples’ house-keeping books, of all things, that reveal their more intimate secrets. In addition to accounts of income and expenditure, in 1846 Schumann began to include certain marital details. A kind of “f” sign resembling a semi-quaver, which first appears on April 13, 1846, is believed to indicate sexual intercourse and is marked five times during that first month of record-keeping.

The Schumanns are shown to be consistently sexually active – they had eight children after all – and it has been suggested that perhaps the marks were made to determine dates of conception, or as part of a (clearly futile) attempt to evade the financial burden imposed by additional children.

As salacious as the idea of a sex diary might be, it’s come in handy for scholars. The housekeeping books put paid to a suggestion that enjoyed a brief vogue, that Schumann’s youngest son Felix was Brahms’ son – an assertion with little basis to begin with. Thanks to the couple’s assiduous documentation we know Schumann learned of his wife’s pregnancy on October 3, 1953 – four days before Brahms arrived in Düsseldorf – and the couple indulged in a celebratory tumble the same day.

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