Robert Schumann by John Worthen - review by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer

Lechery, Libel and Lieder

Robert Schumann

By

Yale University Press 384pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

This is an odd book. Not a bad one: but odd. It isn’t really about Schumann’s music, which is the first oddity, since his life without it is rather tiresome and not really the stuff of a serious biography. Odder still, it isn’t really about Schumann’s life either, though all the key facts of that short and not always glorious career are contained within its pages. It is most concerned with his decline, and his death, and concerned about them to one particular end: to prove that Schumann, long portrayed as the ultimate Romantic who died after a mental collapse brought on by melancholia, in fact died of tertiary syphilis.

Thanks to the publication, for the first time in English, of the post-mortem report on the composer and the recording of great details about his last eighteen months or so, spent in an asylum near Bonn, John Worthen more or less succeeds in proving his thesis. He exposes the Romantic

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