Letter to the Robert Schumann
June 5, 1839
Miscellaneous Letters and Documents File
Gilmore Music Library
Liszt and Robert Schumann would eventually find themselves in opposing factions in the disputes that divided musicians in the middle of the 19th century, but they were quite friendly in the late 1830s and early ’40s. Their relationship was at first conducted entirely by mail. It began in 1837, when Schumann sent some of his piano works to the famous virtuoso. Liszt was delighted, and he reviewed them favorably in the Revue et Gazette musicale. (This was a striking role reversal; at the time, Schumann was already a prominent critic, but not yet widely recognized as a major composer.)
In 1839, Schumann dedicated his Fantasy in C major (Op. 17) to Liszt. In the letter seen here, Liszt expresses his gratitude: “The Fantasy dedicated to me is a work of the highest class, and I am really proud of the honor you do me in linking my name with so imposing a composition. And so I intend to study it and absorb it thoroughly, to draw all possible effect from it.” Liszt also praises Schumann’s Kinderscenen (“Scenes from Childhood”) and describes how his three-year-old daughter Blandine enjoys hearing him play it. He reports that he is already performing Carnaval and some of the Davidsbündlertänze and Kinderscenen in concert, and he is interested in playing more of Schumann’s piano music. He even advises Schumann to compose chamber music, a suggestion that Schumann took up in 1842.
Liszt also offers his sympathy and discreet assistance with a personal matter, one, he says, that touched him deeply. It was apparently described even more discreetly in an earlier letter from Schumann; Liszt writes “If it is not asking you too much, tell me if it is of Clara that you speak. But should this question seem out of place, ignore it.” Liszt’s supposition was correct; at this time Schumann and the brilliant young pianist Clara Wieck were seeking to marry, over the bitter opposition of her father. Despite these attempts at discretion, the matter eventually became excruciatingly public, when Friedrich Wieck made his case in the courts and in the press. Fortunately for the young lovers, he failed, and they married in 1840.
Our excerpts and summary are based on the complete translation of this letter in Franz Liszt: Selected Letters, translated and edited by Adrian Williams (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).