Cover image for Longing
Landis, James David.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2000]

Physical Description:
446 pages ; 25 cm
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The Romantic era was the cradle for artists who lived life to the fullest and loved without restraint, and Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara, were the epitome of this unbounded period. Robert shocked and confused listeners with music that heralded the beginning of the modern era while he drove both his mind and his body to their limit. Clara was the most acclaimed female pianist of her time-a time that included Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and later, Brahms, whom Clara and Robert loved more than any other man. With characters of surpassing vitality, Longing delineates the most intimate details of the relationships between men and women with a surpassing precision, sympathy, and wisdom. Combining the dramatic historical narrative of The Alienist with the passionate sensitivity of Possession and the sensual intellectuality of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, it is a consummate achievement of the novelist's art.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

German composer Robert Schumann composed some of his most beautiful works for his wife, the virtuoso pianist Clara Wieck. Their story was made famous in the 1947 film Song of Love, with Katharine Hepburn as Clara, and is once again brought to life in this engaging and well-crafted novel by Landis, author of Lying in Bed (1995). Schumann was born to a line of mad geniuses, and his appointment with fate haunted him throughout his life. Clara was the daughter of his music teacher, and their eventual household became the center of the late romantic^-early modern movement. Some of his strongest sentiments to Clara come from the notes about the music he wrote for her. The story of their marriage, Schumann's madness, Clara's support and frustration, and her eventual love of Johannes Brahms, who adored Clara and Robert both, is a gripping real-life story full of love, music, madness, and intrigue. Brought to life through a fictive lens, this tale is utterly realistic in its history and wonderful in its sentiment. --Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

The tempestuous marriage of Robert and Clara Schumann has inspired many a biographer, but Landis (Lying in Bed) translates the familiar tale into glorious fiction, re-choreographing history in this finely crafted shadowbox of a novel. In the 1830s and '40s, German Romanticism is at its peak. Brilliant and obsessive, composer Robert Schumann and pianist Clara Wieck Schumann perfectly embody the age's glories and excesses. Robert, a student of Clara's father, watches Clara grow up, and marries her when she has barely turned 20; he is 29. Fourteen years and eight children later, Clara takes up with Brahms, then just 20, and Robert dies neglected in a madhouse at age 46. Landis tells this riveting tale of romantic longing and self-destructiveness in strict chronological order, heading each chapter with a place and date, moving back and forth between his two protagonists and charting their history from birth, as a biographer would. Clearly, he knows the period well, and has researched letters, memoirs and Robert Schumann's extensive music criticism; much of the dialogue is based on the actual words of the characters, and Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt make convincing appearances. But it is impossible to say where research ends and invention begins. Footnotes, some of them quite long, interrupt the action to comment on the further history of the characters or setting, or on 19th-century Austrian anti-Semitism or the repressive censorship of the Metternich regime (which made it unlawful not only to sing or perform "The Marseillaise," but even to listen to it in one's head). Such digressions might disrupt the narrative and spoil the illusion but, paradoxically, they enhance immediacy. Rather than strive for literary or stylistic effect, Landis relies on the truths of Schumann and Wieck's passion, writing with the earnestness, playfulness and fervor characteristic of the era he chronicles. Expansive and engrossing, this is historical fiction at its best, true to its subjects and steeped in the past. 3-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This historical novel chronicles the life and times of composer Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara Wieck, the most celebrated female musician of her day. At the center of the story is Robert's relationship with his teacher, Friedrich Wieck, who disapproved of Robert's romantic involvement with his daughter. After all, he was nine years older, drank too much, and was poor. Nevertheless, the two married and went on to have successful careers and several children. Then Robert's battle with depression worsened, and, after attempting suicide, he was hospitalized and eventually died in 1856. Mixing fiction with fact, Landis (Lying in Bed) relies on a generous use of footnotes, delivering a lengthy and uninvolving novel. Music buffs may enjoy the many references to other renowned musicians of the Romantic era. For large collections only.DRobin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Secret Listeners Zwickau June 8, 1810 Between end and beginning there will be chaos. Metternich On the day Robert Schumann was born in this formerly peaceful, formerly populous Saxon town on the left bank of the River Mulde, the loudest cries were not those of his mother, Christiane, being delivered of her sixth child. Her screams were eclipsed by those of her remaining neighbors, some of whom lined the streets and some of whom stood in their windows and all of whom screamed with even more passion and certainly less pain than Christiane Schumann. For who should be riding through town on his way across sweet Saxony, which hung like a plumped penis from the groin of Prussia, but the Emperor Napoleon (who could be heard gaily singing the aria "Gia il sol" from Paisiello's Nina) and his brand-new, politically correct, lobster-and-sour-cream-ravening eighteen-year-old bride, Marie Louise of Austria, his second choice as a broodmare after he had been embarrassingly rejected by ripe Russian Anna, the fifteen-year-old sister of Czar Alexander. Napoleon had occupied Marie Louise's country, as he was soon to remove his Léger-tailored suit to occupy Marie Louise herself (with--finally!--an heir, the future King of Rome), and had installed the cunning, ruthless, altogether magnificent Metternich as Chief Minister and Marriage Broker at the same time he disinstalled his own creamily Creole Empress Josephine, though he would never, nor would he want to, banish from his memory the rammish, faithless smell of her. As is the case whenever famous people pass through a town, they seem to come and go in an instant, even when their procession has been slow and stately. So it was with Napoleon and Marie Louise. Scarcely had their green carriage entered town from the west behind six Limousin horses than it seemed to disappear into the east, so that many people came to doubt by the end of the day and certainly by the end of the war that the imperial couple had been in their town at all. But what no one doubted ever was the passage of Napoleon's army. Even those who hadn't seen it remembered it. Through Zwickau that day, and for several days thereafter, marched nearly two hundred thousand men--and a mere several hundred women, all virtuous laundresses and seamstresses, absent Pauline Fourès, the no-longer-exigent mistress Napoleon had taken in revenge either for Josephine's affair with Hippolyte Charles or for her having nearly ruined him by buying five hundred and twenty-four pairs of shoes in the previous year alone. With their ten-mile column of food supplies and their thirty-one million bottles of wine and cognac and their thousand big guns and four thousand ammunition wagons and several million lances, sabers, and smooth-bore muskets, and one hundred and fifty thousand horses and nearly as many cows and their massive bridging equipment and forges, they were on their way toward Silesia and Bohemia, to conquer and thereby bring freedom and the rights of man and Chambertin to eastern Europe. The apple cores and horse manure they left behind seemed to have been left behind for good--their clean and crapulous odors were said to mingle in the air for the next century at least, only to dissipate in 1914. Robert's father, August, was one of the few townspeople who did not stand at his window. This is not to say he stood by his wife either. Her labor was a long one, and while August would now and then look in upon her, hold her hand and with the back of his other attempt to wipe the sweat from her brow on this hot day in early June, he spent most of it in his study, smoking his pipe and working. He had worked, as he recalled, during the births of all his children, though when Laura had been stillborn just the year before he had stopped working instantly and had not gone back to work that day, though he felt quite guilty for wanting to go back to work. His work was book publishing. At the time, however, he was better known as a bookseller and so allowed that designation to be entered on Robert Alexander Schumann's baptism certificate in Zwickau's Church of Mary, into which even heathens ventured to see the retable done by Michael Wohlgemuth, whose reputation was based not so much on this work as on his having been the teacher of Albrecht Dürer. As anyone who has ever been a book publisher, or lived with one, knows, there is no end to the work. For every manuscript you publish, you read, to put it modestly, a hundred; the ninety-nine unhappy authors demand an explanation for your rejection, and so you must dream up something preposterous to tell them so they will not hang themselves on the truth; then you must take that one-in-a-hundred manuscript and read it again so when its author asks you your favorite part you can name ten of them, though it's never enough; then you must correct the author's spelling if nothing else and set the book in type and read the proofs and correct the proofs and read the corrected proofs and finally print it and try to figure out a way to sell it; and no matter how you have figured out a way to sell it you discover either that you have printed too many copies or too few, so that either you or your author is guaranteed to have reason to despair. But August Schumann had invented a way out of this quagmire of expense, complaint, and time-consumingness. At the time of the birth of his fourth son and last child, he was just beginning his new venture: the publication of pocket editions of European classics, something no one had ever done before in any country in any language! Not only would he publish German writers, like Goethe and Lessing* and Schiller, and Continental writers like Cervantes and Alfieri and Calderón, but he would also publish his beloved English writers, in particular Sir Walter Scott and George Gordon Lord Byron, and he would translate them himself, for he was as proficient in English as he was, like any worthy burgher, in Latin, Greek, and French. Indeed, at the time he believed his son came yelping no differently from most babies into the world, he was sitting in his study humming some Scottish tunes by François Boïeldieu as he put the finishing touches on his translation of Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel, which he trusted would right the wrong done by Scott himself when he so mangled his English translation of Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen. Hanging in those few spaces where the thousands of books opened their teeth to the walls were several of Alexander Tibrich's bucolic Saxon landscapes and a small but uncharacteristically violent painting (some years later to be of conventional prurient interest to the young Robert Schumann) by Januarius Zick of the murder of the men of Lemnos by the wives with whom they had refused to mate because, the men said, the women smelled bad. "Herr Schumann, Herr Schumann, come!" cried the doctor's assistant. He leapt from his seat and spilled tobacco embers on his pants, which he brushed off and crushed into the Turkish rug--the same country of origin as his splendid weed--with his shoes. "What is it?" he called. "It's Napoleon!" cried the doctor's assistant. "I meant, is it a boy or a girl?" "Napoleon is male," he was informed. By the time Robert was actually born, The Lay of the Last Minstrel was completed and August Schumann had succeeded in burning a hole in the crotch of his gabardines. There had once been ten thousand people living in Zwickau. But by the end of the Thirty Years' War, which virtually coincided with the end of the thousand-year Holy Roman Empire,* there were half that number. A century later--the century that Friedrich Schiller said went out with a storm so that the air might be cleared for the new century to be opened with murder--the population was further shrunk when Napoleon (now barely whispering Leporello's lugubrious "Tra fume e foco" from Don Giovanni) and his troops returned. Defeated, diseased, and, because they had destroyed through the weight and drag of their caravan the alluvially fertile soil, famished, they subsisted, in the absence of sugar beets and alfalfa and coffee and even chicory, on roasted asparagus seed. They were on their doomed way to fight in Russia, where they'd end up sleeping in the steaming carcasses of disemboweled horses and bandaging their frightful wounds with paper ripped out of books from pillaged libraries (those urbane and foolish enough to stop to read bled to death but at least made their exits worthily occupied).** For every soldier who followed Napoleon to Russia, approximately one-sixth of a soldier returned, including the elite of the Dragoon, Chausseur, Polish Lancer, and Grenadier regiments of the Imperial Guard Cavalry. Here in Zwickau the civilians were victims of the very things that were killing the soldiers, except the townspeople were not being paid to die, and their survivors would receive no pensions, and the logic of death and therefore the meaning of life were absent: cannon balls, starvation, and typhus. Robert's mother caught the typhus, which was carried by the waters of the lakes and rivers into which corpses of men and animals had fallen or been slipped for serous burial. So Robert, the baby in the family, was sent to live with the Ruppius family. There he remained for two and a half years. He returned home in that sunny period between Napoleon's banishment to St. Helena in 1815 and the assassination in 1819 of the reactionary writer and spy for the Russians, August von Kotzebue. It was the latter that gave Metternich all the excuse he needed to begin censoring the press and oppressing all those demanding little university students who seemed to think that the only way to educate a mind was to open it first. The Emperor himself, Francis I, that veritable Justinian (whose closing of Athens's schools of philosophy in 529 was to most rulers a touchstone of inspired tyranny), offered an equal exchange of scholar for obedient subject, the latter to arise, if necessary, out of the ashes of the former. Metternich met during most of August of that year in Karlsbad with representatives from ten of the dozens of German states, and there they passed, unanimously, decrees allowing their governments to punish any teacher who "spread dangerous ideas that would undermine public order and weaken the foundation of the State." (In this, they were inspired by Louis de Saint-Just, the archangel of the French Revolution, who had succored all government when he said that even the Republic consisted in the extermination of everything that opposed it, and was himself relieved of the burden of his angelic face when it, along with the rest of his head, was guillotined from his less thoughtful parts in his twenty-seventh year.) They also created a Central Commission to coordinate and enforce censorship and through the unspeakable Untersuchungsgesetz installed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to uncover and punish "revolutionary agitation." The demanding and occasionally quite agitating little Robert Schumann himself found the coast clear enough to go back home to his parents and his mother sufficiently recovered from the typhus to have rediscovered her singing voice, which to Robert was a revelation of the first order. For all the love he had found in the Ruppius house, there had been no music. There was virtually no music in all of Zwickau. Yes, there was a great Thuringian musical tradition, and all those Bach boys, once they removed the embarrassment of their father into an unmarked grave, had gone on to no small success. But the only musician presently to be found in Zwickau was found in the Church of Mary, for most people worked as clothmakers and cloth dyers and linen weavers and tanners and, though they almost died out after their exploitation by Napoleon's army, blacksmiths. But Christiane Schumann had sung. She had sung, she pretended, secretly, just the way her husband would sit in his study and pretend to be working on his publishing business or his translations when in fact--like so many publishers who fool themselves into believing that because they know how to read a book they will know how to write one, as if someone who has sat on the back of a horse were to believe he could now run as fast as a horse--he was writing. Under the seemingly unavoidable influences of Jean Paul Richter and E. T. A. Hoffmann and Hoffmann's late mentor who died while still almost a boy, the irreplaceable Wilhelm Wackenroder, and Edward Young, whose Night Thoughts had brought August "deliriously and deliciously near madness" at the same age that Robert was when August was to confess this to him, August Schumann was turning out poems and tales of medieval knights and monks and cavaliers. And Christiane had been singing. It was not as easy to sing secretly as it was to write secretly. Besides, Christiane didn't want her singing to go unheard. She merely wanted anyone who heard it to love it. Here again the analogy can be made with her husband, the secret writer, who like any writer would happily display his work in progress to the eyes of others so long as it was understood that their criticism must consist entirely of praise. Christiane, though she had been out of her sickbed for several weeks, went back to singing the day Robert returned from the Ruppius house. She did this not because she had any hint that Robert might be musical--he had been away for two and a half years and she didn't know if he was finally trained to make his ploppers in a pot let alone if he could carry a tune--but because she was so happy to have him back and she knew of no better way to express her happiness than to sing. So that day, when Frau Ruppius brought Robert to the door of the Schumann house at the corner of the market square and, with tears in her eyes, knocked on the door, she was not answered immediately, because August Schumann, who had expected that his wife would attend first to the anticipated return of their son, was forced to come all the way out from his study. His wife was in the parlor, its door open, playing the piano and, in her disease-diminished voice, singing her heart out. She was singing an old Saxon love song, meant to express the happiness of a man whose betrothed (albeit a ghost) has returned to him after they had been separated by war. But it was just as beautiful in a woman's voice and its words just as appropriate sung by a mother to her long-lost son: Oh, now that you've returned to me My life has done the same. Without you I had lost my life, My soul, my face, my name. Without you I cannot exist. Let death come take me too. My heart is cold and empty when My arms cannot hold you. Hearing his mother sing, Robert rushed to her. He threw himself into her arms. But in fact it was the music into which he was throwing himself, because he did not know this woman, though he knew who she was. Frau Ruppius stood weeping at the front door. August Schumann at that moment fell in love with his son through her and, to supply what little comfort he could as a substitute for his beautiful little boy, took her carefully in his arms. *Gotthold Lessing was a distant relative of the Schumanns who had died some thirty years before Robert was born. What was to become Robert's favorite story about his famous ancestor concerned not his celebrated plays or the audacity of his political liberalism but an incident that occurred late one night when Lessing arrived home and found he had forgotten his key. He knocked on the door, awakening his servant, who called down from his window on the third floor, from which he did not recognize his master, "Professor Lessing is not at home." "Please tell him then," responded Lessing, "that I shall call at another time." With that, he walked off into the night. *Whose duration as the First Reich inspired the optimistic and/or pessimistic prediction that the Third would last precisely as long. **Not lost upon some of these bibliothanatic veterans of the Napoleonic wars in Germany was the coincidence of its having been a matter involving a book that had united many Germans against them. In 1806, Johann Palm, a merchant in Nuremberg, was executed by the French for selling Germany in Her Deepest Humiliation. Herr Palm went to his death shouting, "But I didn't write it!" In fact, the book's author was anonymous, which caused the French to kill as many Germans as possible in the belief that sooner or later the writer would join the bookseller in hell. Excerpted from Longing by J. D. Landis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.