The Second Stage 

With his marriage, there came no end to Schumann's mood changes, although he was extremely happy with Clara and devoted to her. It seems clear that she was the dominant partner in their relationship, and that though she maintained an attitude of wifely submission, in fact he fell more and more under her influence. His life took on an unvarying daily routine, with hours set aside for composition, for a long walk, and for society of a small and intimate kind. It was probably under her influence, too, that he tried to rise superior to his romantic, half‑literary and lyrical nature, and to model himself on the classics and attempt larger forms.

    The first years of his marriage were very good years for Robert, and a large part of his best work was done then; 1840 was one of his peak years. However, at the end of 1842 and at the beginning of 1843 he was suffering from nervous weakness, and had to give up composing for some months. This was succeeded in March 1843 by a period of elevation of mood; and Clara records that he was then working on the Peri with such enthusiasm that it made her anxious.

    In the autumn of 1843 Robert was very indecisive about the Russian journey which was then being arranged; and in February 1844 he was in a low state which is anxiously recorded by Clara. In April, however, the couple set forth for St. Petersburg and Moscow. Robert broke down on the way, and had to interrupt the journey at Dorpat, where he spent six days in bed. A deep melancholy was accompanied by anxiety symtoms and physical complaints such as giddy attacks. He was incapable at this time of any work of compo­sition; but lie wrote five melancholic poems which show, according to Litzmann, remarkable helplessness both in form and content. If this is right, it must be put down to psychic inhibition, since Robert was a professional writer of articles on music, and an enthusiastic reader of poetry.

    In May 1844, back home again, lie began to feel better; but it was only a short and incomplete intermission. In August he was suffering again from a total nervous collapse, making work impos­sible. In September he was still worse, and unable to leave his room. In October they went to Dresden to stay with the Wiecks. Clara writes: "There were now eight terrible days. Robert did not sleep a single night, seeing in his imagination the most dreadful pictures; early in the morning I would find him drenched in tears; he gave himself up for lost."

    It was at this time that he first made contact with a homoeopa­thic doctor, Dr. Helbig, who remained his physician for a number of years. In a report quoted by Möbius, Helbig describes numerous phobias, fear of death, of heights, of metal objects, etc., and physical symptoms such as tiredness, tremor, cold feet. Highly significant symptoms he mentions are insomnia and a diurnal rhythm, the patient feeling his worst in the morning hours. Ilelbig also makes the first mention of auditory symptoms ("Gehörs­tauschungen") as occurring at this time.

    In November and December there was gradual improvement. But again the following year, in May 1845, he had more of his trouble and there were again attacks of giddiness. The symptoms persisted into August, so that a proposed journey to Bonn had to be cancelled.

In May 1846, as well as more giddy attacks, there was the first definite mention of tinnitus. This was a constant singing and roaring in the ears, and a distressing effect by which noises became musical tones. He was deeply hypochondriacal, weighed down with physical fatigue, full of melancholy ideas. He could not bear the sight of the asylum from his window.

    However, from July 1846 he made steady improvement, in­deed an apparently complete remission, which lasted for over a year. In September 1847 there was a slight return of the hypochon­driacal mood; but he was in good health over Christmas 1847 and full of joy in work. Then in January 1848 there was a sudden relapse, improving somewhat during February, but leaving him in only moderate health and spirits over the summer. By the winter he had dropped again into a low state, which lasted into January 1849, when the death of his brother Karl had a shattering effect on him.

    Once again there was a complete remission; and 1849 proved to be the high point in productivity of his career, with invention and versatility at their height. His mood was so much better, that there is a suggestion of more than normal elation: unlike his wont, he ordered in large quantities of expensive wine.

    In 1850, during preparations for the performance of Genoveva in Leipzig, symptoms recurred, including the fear of heights. He had to exchange an upper‑floor bedroom in the hotel for one on the ground floor. Otherwise, in the earlier part of the year, his health was fairly good. On the first of September the family moved to Düsseldorf. They were at first disappointed in their new home. Clara wrote that Robert was in a highly nervous, irritated, excited mood. From early on, Schumann's official duties as musical director in Düsseldorf did not go well, his principal fault being that he was in­capable of maintaining discipline. He and Clara were equally blind to his deficiencies. An article in the Düsseldorf paper in May 1851, criticising the concert direction, was felt by the Schumanns as an insult. Nevertheless his mood did not suffer. In May 1851, after a successful concert, Clara wrote that Robert was unusually happy. By September, Clara's complaints in the diary of the Diisseldorfer have become bitter and persistent; in a single year, Robert's relations with the local musical society, which had begun in a mood of great friendliness, had been entirely spoilt.

    In 1852, symptoms showed which we must take as ominous: a certain apathy and dreaminess, an occasional clumsiness of speech. By the summer he had reached the point where the preparation and conducting of the first two concerts of the season had to be taken by Julius Tausch as his deputy. He took over the direction again in December, but was ill received by the public. Three of the Com­mittee of the Gcsangverein approached with a request that he should resign as unfit. Efforts by others at a compromise were regard by Clara as an infamous intrigue. Another year had to go by before, on the 9th November 1853, Schumann decided to conduct no more.

    In April 1852 there were more physical symptoms, thought to be rheumatic, and insomnia and a depressive mood. In May he was better, but worse again in June. In July he had "em nervöser Krampfanfall" (a convulsive attack?), while out walking; and after it there were hypochondriacal ideas. After this he was a good deal better for a number of months, apart from more giddiness in October.

    In 1853 melancholic and anxiety states were remarkably few, despite the fact that his official difficulties were now reaching a head. In the spring of the year he took a great interest in table­rapping seances, to the surprise and misgiving of his friends. On his birthday, the 8th June, he was well and happy. A little later, on the 30th July, he had a sudden attack of what the doctor called lumbago, which Nussbaum thinks was a cerebral vascular stroke. Nussbaum says that the physician, Dr. Kalt, actually remarked “Der ist ein verlorener Mann, hat cein unheilbares Gehirnleiden (Gehirner­weichung, in common German parlance, synonymous with general paresis.) On the 30th August speech disturbances were noted. The physical symptoms did not impair Schumann's mood. On the 10th September he was outstandingly gay. Again there is a sug­gestion of elevation of mood above the normal. On their fourteenth wedding anniversary, Robert gave Clara a piano, which certainly delighted her, but also caused her great concern on account of the expense. The 30th September is a day of moment, as it was the day on which Brahms paid his lirst visit, to become a firm friend of both of them and a devoted admirer, indeed lover in all but the physical sense, of Clara. Robert immediately conceived the greatest ad­miration for Brahms' genius, and gave it expression in the renowned article "Neue Bahnen".

    In November the Schumanns went off on a triumphal tour of Holland, Robert in gay, almost elevated mood, which was not in the least impaired by the fact that he had just had to resign his post. While on this tour, he had a temporary return of auditory sym­ptoms; and from this time all creative activity ceased. Instead, lie developed for a time a preoccupation with making an anthology of the sayings of famous authors on the subject of music.

    On the night of the 10th February, 1854, he had a sudden attack of tinnitus, the same note sounding in his head all night. On Saturday the 11th he was better during the day, but bad again all night and all through the Sunday, apart from an intermission of two hours. Again sounds came to him as musical tones. Later, a hallucinatory element entered in, for the tinnitus progressed to the point where he was hearing entire pieces, as from a full orchestra, from beginning to end.

    On the night of Friday 17th February, he was up in the night to write down a theme which he said the angels had sung to him. When he had finished he lay down, wrapped in pliantasy for the rest of the night, always with open eyes lifted to heaven. He believed that angels hovered over him and gave him glorious revelations, all in wonderful music. However, the next morning there was a dread­ful change, and the angel voices changed to the voices of devils. They told him he was a sinner and they would throw him into Hell.

    He saw them about him in the shapes of tigers and hyaenas. Later in the day lie quietened down to the point where he could get up and set himself to the correction of musical manuscript. On the next day, Sunday 19th, there was a return of hallucinations, in a state of consciousness at least partially preserved. He was firmly convinced that lie was surrounded by spirits, but recognised the presence of his wife and spoke to her.

    On Monday 20th, he was listening to the angel voices all day, his face full of happiness, and he tried to write down some of the music lie heard. From the next day, Tuesday, the hallucinatory voices were more in words than music. He spent the time writing variations on an angelic theme, and lie also wrote two business letters. He gave directions on what was to be done when he was dead, and he said farewell.

    On Sunday 26th he was rather better. He received a visitor and played to him a sonata by a young composer who interested him, ending in a state of joyful exaltation. At the evening meal, he ate a lot and in fearful haste. He suddenly stood up and said he must go to the asylum, and went and laid out all the things he would wish to take with him. The following morning he was deeply melancholic and told Clara that he was not worthy of her love. He set himself to write a fair copy of his variations, but suddenly broke off and left the room. Without the others realising it, he went out of the house into stormy rain without boots or other protection. An hour later he was brought home again, having thrown himself into the Rhine, but seen to do so and immediately rescued. He must have taken off his wedding ring and thrown it into the river first; for it was never recovered, and at a later time a note was found: “Liebe Clara, ich werfe meinen Trau­ring in den Rhein, tue du dasselbe, beide Ringe werden alsdann sich vereinigen”. So he carried out in fact his dream of November 1837.

    Clara was not allowed to see him again after this, before he was taken to hospital. He left a week later, on Saturday 4th March. She wrote: "Robert dressed in a great hurry, climbed with Hasenclever and his two male nurses into the carriage, and did not ask after me, nor after his children." Robert settled happily into the asylum, and took an immediate liking to his personal nurse. In succeeding weeks he spent part of the time quietly in bed, or taking a walk, or talking to the doctors; but lie also had spells of agitation in which lie would walk up and down his room or kneel and wring his hands. On the 31st March Clara recorded with sorrow that Robert asked for flowers, but never for news of her. When he did receive a bouquet from her, he smiled in a pleased way, nodded his head, but said nothing. At the end of April he was worse again, with auditory hallucinations and confused talk, with never a mention of Clara. At the end of May he was unusually cheerful, and on the 21st July Clara received flowers Robert had sent her.

    For the knowledge of Robert's state in the asylum, we are principally dependent on letters to Clara from friends, especially Brahms. Very little is available in medical reports. The report by Richarz, given in 1873, quoted by Wasielewski, says that spells of hallucination were repeated again and again, but that they tended to change in type from auditory hallucinations to hallucinations of taste and smell. Gradual and progressive impairment of his in­tellectual powers was very slow, and never reached an extreme degree. At the latter end of his illness he frequently refused food, and he eventually became extremely emaciated. The hospital notes themselves are not available; when Mobius enquired after them, they could not be found, and Möbius thought that they had been removed from the hospital records at Endenich by Richarz himself. We have to rely therefore on technically less competent sources.   

    On the 13th August, 1854, Brahms wrote a letter to Clara describing a visit to Endenich. He saw and heard Robert from a place where he was himself concealed. Robert was telling his doctor of a walk to the cemetery; his talk was clear and sensible, not con­fused. Brahms records that during the entire conversation, Robert held a white pocket handkerchief to his mouth. He was looking well and strong, and had put on some weight. Dr. Peters told Brahms that he was very changeable, and periods of clarity and confusion followed in quick succession. The day before, while drinking his wine, he had suddenly stopped, said there was poison in it, and had thrown the rest on the floor. He wrote much, but illegibly; once, "Robert Schumann, Ehrenmitglied des Himmels". The doctor also com­mented on his weakness of memory, and his incapacity to remember what he had done an hour ago.

    On the 15th September, 1854, Robert wrote Clara a letter. Superficially, it contains nothing grossly abnormal. Yet Litzmann is right when he comments on it, that it is like a voice from the grave, from someone who does not know that he is dead; touching, childishly tender, but wholly concerned with the past. He asks Clara whether she plays as well as ever, where the album is, whether she still has his letters written from Vienna to Paris. In fact, trivialities, thrown together in an indiscriminate way, with never a word about the vital and tragic issues that faced them both.

    There appears to have been no o consistent change during the winter of 1854-5; musical hallucinations continued to occur. On the 23rd February, 1855, Brahms wrote Clara a letter describing a second visit to Robert. He says:

    “Robert Schumann received me with the same warmth and gaiety as on the first occasion . . . . He immediately showed me your latest letter and told me what a delightful surprise it had been… I showed him your portrait ‑ you should have seen the depth of his emotion… He asked for news of the children. He complained that writing paper was not given to him to write to his wife. When he got writing paper, he sat down at his table with a charming expression on his face and started several times to write to you. Finally he gave up, saying that he was too agitated. He mentioned several times that his publisher should not wait for his corrections and I told him that he had already received them long ago. He insisted with violence that it was impossible for the publisher to have received them. We discussed the matter for some time and I was unable to convince him.”

    Brahms goes on to describe how Robert wanted to play a duet with him, and that it was not very successful.

    The things which will interest the psychiatrist in this letter are the clear signs of defects of memory, and the lack of recognition by the patient of their existence. When lie is corrected he is first pathologically obstinate, and then has a catastrophic reaction, showing a pathological increase in emotional lability. It is also important to note that general emotional responsiveness is main­tained and natural.

    On the 5th May 1855 Robert wrote his last letter to Clara, after which he descends into a perpetual silence. This is:

“Liebe Clara!

    Am 1. Mai sandte ich Dir einen Frühlingsboten; die folgen­den Tage waren aber sehr unrihige; Du erfährst aus meinem Brief, den Du bis übermorgen erhälst, mehr. Es wehet ein Schatten darin; aber was er sonst enthält, das wird Dich, meine Holde, erfreuen.

   Den Geburtstag unsres Geliebten wußt’ ich nicht; darum muß ich Flügel anlegen, daß die Sendung noch morgen mit der Partitur ankömmt.

    Die Zeichnung von Felix Mendelssohn hab' ich beigelegt, daß Du (sie) doch ins Album legtest. Em unschätzbares Andenken! 

    Leb wohl, Du Liebe,

    Dein Robert”.

    The psychiatrist notes that, while a normal affect is still pre­served, this letter is completely fragmentary and incoherent.

    Brahms made another visit in April 1856. Schumann received him with signs of pleasure, but could only express himself in single inarticulate words. At another visit on the 18th June, Brahms found that Schumann scarcely noticed him, but spent the time poring over an atlas and picking words out from it. That month Schumann was losing strength fast, and was mostly confined to bed with swollen feet. On the 27th July Clara went to see him. He smiled at her, and tried to put an arm around her, with great difficulty as he could not control his limbs. His expression was clouded but mild. His speech was practically unintelligible: he said, looking at her, "Liebe ... ich kenne. . ." ("Dear I know. . ." and Clara concluded that he wished to say, "Liebe Clara, ich kenne dich"). On the 28th his limbs were in almost continuous convulsion, and on the 29th he died.

    The results of the autopsy were published in 1873 by Richarz, the Superintendent of the asylum at Endenich; they are quoted by Wasielewski. The abnormalities in the cranial cavity consisted of: (1) growth of bone at the base of the skull, forming exostoses which in some places penetrated the dura mater; (2) thickening of the leptomeninges and adherence of the pia mater with the cerebral cortex in several places; (3) considerable atrophy of the brain; its weight was below that which would have corresponded with his age; (4) hyperaemia, especially at the base. Part of these findings have been modified by Schaafhausen's re-examination of Schumann's skull, quoted by Möbius. Schaafhausen did not find any appreciable new growth of bone and, judging the intracranial capacity, he arrived at the conclusion that the atrophy of the brain was not as considerable as assumed by Richarz.