Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann

They were two pillars of the Romantic Generation, born three months and 400 miles apart. One was a Polish exile who made his fortune in Paris; the other, a German, eventually betrayed by his own imagination.

As a young music critic, Robert Schumann introduced the 21-year-old Chopin to Europe with the famous words, “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!” Schumann was also the one who wrote, “The works of Chopin are cannons concealed amongst flowers.“ And this: “He plays just like he composes, in other words in his own unique way.”

That’s not to say Schumann was unfailingly positive about his Polish contemporary. He noted “blemishes” in Chopin’s Op. 25 Etudes, and famously wrote that in his Piano Sonata No. 2 Chopin had “yoked together his four maddest children.”

Chopin seems to have had far less to say about Schumann. For one thing, he was not a critic. For another, he did not admire Schumann (or many other composers, for that matter). Typical was his reaction to Schumann’s “Carnaval.” According to a second-hand account, Chopin told his publisher it was not music at all.

On the other hand, Chopin did dedicate his Ballade No. 2 to Schumann. And different though their music and their opinions of each other may have been, posterity has yoked Chopin and Schumann together. As critic Harold Schonberg put it, their innovations demonstrated that “a small but perfect form, one that captured and exploited a single idea, could be its own aesthetic justification.” [x]

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