What would I not do for love of you, my own Clara!” Even though Robert Schumann (1810-1856) composed all the pieces in his Album for the Young, he could not have done so without the inspiration of his wife, Clara Wieck Schumann. Their pairing remains one of the most famous in music history, and the family they raised—they had eight children together—inspired the Album for the Young.
The two met while Robert was a piano student of Clara’s father, the renowned pedagogue Frederich Wieck. One of the elite students invited to board at the Wieck household, Schumann met his future wife when she was only nine years old. Though a master teacher, Wieck focused most of his energy on the talents of his extraordinary daughter; she blossomed into a concert pianist and toured throughout Europe. Over the years, Clara and Robert’s friendship deepened to love, but Clara’s domineering father turned cruel in his attempts to prevent a marriage between the two, even disinheriting his daughter. After years of acrimony that ended famously in a lawsuit, the couple was granted legal permission to marry and finalized their union in September, 1840.
By the time of his marriage, Schumann had already enjoyed a varied and successful musical career. Initially he had hoped to be a concert pianist—even his future father-in-law recognized his potential as a virtuoso—but his hands were injured as a result of using a mechanical finger-strengthening device. He then focused his efforts on composing, as well as editing the music journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Music Journal). These two activities brought out his gifts with language, for even as an adolescent, Schumann had fancied himself more a poet than a musician. His lieder, of course, constitute one of his great legacies, but written language also infused his daily activities, from vigilantly maintaining a house diary and writing copious letters to friends and colleagues, to creating touchingly poetic love letters to his beloved Clara.
The household they created centered almost entirely around music and their children. At a time when men often distanced themselves from the daily rigors of parenting, Schumann was an involved father who participated in his children’s play and education. Inspired by his home life, which helped provide him with a mental stability that he struggled all his life to maintain, Schumann wrote a great deal of Hausmusik: modest, everyday music to be practiced and performed in the home. In addition to the works written for the adult amateur (e.g., Op. 70, 73, 74), Schumann composed several playful sets for children. According to Clara, these sets grew from the games Schumann watched his children play. They include the evocative Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), with a mysterious world befitting a child’s storybook, and the Song Album for the Young, with poetry by Goethe and Schiller, among others. Still, his first foray into Hausmusik, the Album for the Young, Op. 68, remains his most admired, even to this day.
Upon composing the Album, Schumann recognized that the literature for beginning pianists was scant and uninspiring, so he created musically interesting pieces specifically with children’s interests, emotions, size, strength, and abilities in mind. Ultimately this remains the innovation in the Album for the Young that has been copied for more than a century since.