Piano Quintet in E-flat, Op. 44
If 1840 was Robert Schumann’s “Year of Song,” then 1842 was his “Year of Chamber Music,” with the creation of his three String Quartets, and the Quartet and Quintet for Piano and Strings.
1842 was also in a sense the “Year of America” for Robert and Clara Schumann. Almost. America, specifically the United States, was increasingly becoming a haven for disaffected German (and other European) artists at the time. The New World seemed to offer unlimited possibilities, as a place of permanent residence or at least as a source of new, adventurous audiences – i.e., the place for a quick financial killing before returning to Europe, which was the direction in which the Schumanns’ thoughts were headed.
European artists of their acquaintance were well received, and very well paid, in the major Eastern U.S. cities. And 1842 had started out rather badly, what with the couple’s frequent separations and the sniping of Clara’s father (who had so violently opposed their marriage and now had to be content with spreading rumors about how poorly the marriage was going, which was a patent falsehood), and the often opposing needs of the two artists: Clara’s concerts tours, needed to keep the funds coming in, and Robert’s need to be settled, in order to compose. When the couple visited Bremen and Hamburg, the ports of embarkation for the U.S., the desire to make the crossing was intensified.
But within a matter of months, Robert wrote to a friend, “The American plans have receded into the background somewhat. The gulf that separates [America] from home is just too great.” The plan would be revived in the coming months, but ultimately came to naught.
In her biography of Clara Schumann, Nancy B. Reich writes, “Schumann was happiest when Clara could settle down for a few months, as she did on her return from Leipzig in April 1842, to the life he had envisioned before their marriage: Hausfrau, mother, hostess, student (she began together with Robert, to study the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart). Robert was working again [after one of his periods of depression] with feverish intensity...” on his chamber music, among which the acknowledged jewel is the Piano Quintet, Op. 44, a marvelous piece of Romantic effusion, and the first in the line of great Romantic quintets, which would include superb successors by Brahms, Franck, and Dvor?ák.