Today is Robert Schumann’s birthday. (Or would have been were he still alive; you know what I mean.) Robert was a bit of a loony and it shows in some of his music, most of which I don’t like all that much; this morning I listened to a sonata of his for violin and piano and I could have sworn I was listening to something by Brahms. (Though I do like Brahms’s music, including his chamber pieces, especially the late ones for clarinet and strings, the result of his meeting and befriending a very god clarinettist, but as so often I have strayed from the point.) My favourite Schumann pieces are his Lieder.
Anyway, in his efforts to improve his piano playing Robert invented and used a device involving weights and pulleys intended to strengthen, or perhaps improve the independence of movement of, the fourth finger, the one next to the little finger. (Just try placing all your fingertips on the table and then lifting the fourth finger without the other fingers moving.) This device screwed up his hands completely and it was his wife Clara who became the great pianist. (When she came to England with Robert and played for Queen Victoria, the Queen tactlessly asked her ‘Does your husband play too?')
Robert is reviled by some feminists because allegedly he impeded Clara’s efforts at composition. I don’t know how much evidence we have for this; certainly very few of her compositions have survived, but of course that is not in itself evidence against Robert.
Anyway, poor Robert became more and more doolally in later life, and threw himself into the river. (Not sure which river; perhaps the Rhine.) He was rescued and spent the rest of his life in the bin.
Here is a picture of Robert and Clara: