Robert Schumann was nothing if not passionate. As a younger man, the cigar-smoking, billiard-playing, hard-drinking composer, pianist and critic inevitably threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever came his way, be it a year of Lieder, the maelstrom of musical polemics or courting his paternally closetted child bride.
But Schumann was also a highly complex personality, increasingly withdrawn and prone to the bouts of manic depression that – in conjunction with the effects of tertiary syphilis – would silence him forever at the age of 46.
Of all the Romantics, Schumann provides the greatest fodder for the amateur psychologist. Not only did he leave clues to his mental state in copious letters and diaries, his music and compositional habits turn out to be a rich source of potential biographical material. “Art and life are perhaps more closely interwoven in Schumann’s music than that of any other composer of the 19th century,” writes John Daverio in Robert Schumann, Herald of a New Poetic Age. “Nowhere is this phenomenon better represented than in his piano music, much of it bound up with the young woman with whom he fell passionately and irrevocably in love during...