It’s not the travelling I mind,
he said, fingers drumming
nervously, as though even now,
in the post-recital silence, the music
wouldn’t stop, lieder ohne wortes hiding
behind every salon chink, tinkle and soft unnamed sound
of people and their lives.

It’s the people, he said, god, the people.
The endless nameless sameness
in every city, the lights and the applause and
people, more people wanting more
people wanting more.

Of course I still love it, he added,
a reminder that genius, like the last
tired cup of tea, can weaken, dilute,
boil itself down to discoloured dregs.

Maybe sounds still spin themselves into music,
drifting in a space that only he knew
and loved and hated, and to the rest of us
only his digits twitched, restless, counting and recounting,
I imagine, the price of glory.


– Robert Schumann’s dreams of being a concert pianist were ended by a hand injury. Concentrating on composition for much of his career, Schumann’s works were primarily interpreted by his wife, Clara Wieck. She was hailed as a highly musical and talented concert pianist, and Schumann frequently travelled with her on performance tours. Schumann is thought to have suffered from mental instability and bipolar disorder, and after a suicide attempt, requested to be admitted to a mental asylum where he spent his final years.