The Musician’s Cramp

Detail of portrait of Robert Schumann, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber in 1839.
Detail of Robert Schumann, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber, 1839. 1

There are several conflicting theories of why Robert Schumann had persistent pain, numbness, and paralysis in his hand. The prevailing lore is that he was impatient and wanted to expedite his virtuosity, thereby creating a device using a cigar box that would enable him to strengthen his fingers.

Others suggest that it was the treatment used for syphilis at the time—either arsenic or mercury poisoning—that caused the neuropathy, and as a result he may have used some sort of contraption to help mitigate the damage.

Another report rejects all these ideas and posits it was 'the musician’s cramp,' a neurological disorder being the ultimate culprit.

We may never come to find out the real answer, but as one scientific article concludes:

Meanwhile we end with the thought that music may have been enriched by Schumann’s enforced retirement from his career as a pianist and his consequent concentration on composition. 2
End of Article

Page Sources

Meister.  "Lithograph of Robert Schumann, by Josef Kriehuber, 1839."  Scan of a Lithograph.  Commons Wikimedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 11 Jan. 2006.  Web. 2 Oct. 2015.  Public Domain.
Henson, R.A., M.D., FRCP, and H. Urich, M.D., FRCP.  "Schumann’s Hand Injury."  British Medical Journal.  1978: 1, 900 – 903: p. 903.  NCBI.NIM.NIH.GOV.  Web.  2 Oct 2015.
Additional References:
  • Altenmüller, Eckart.  "Robert Schumann’s Focal Dystonia."  Neurological Disorders in Famous Artists.  2005, Vol 19: 1-10.  IMMM.HMTM-Hannover.De.  Web.  2 Oct. 2015.
  • The Musical Times.  "Schumann’s Hand Injury – Some Further Evidence."  The Musical Times.  May 1972: 456.  Eric Sams.  Web.  2 Oct. 2015.
  • Daverio, John, and Eric Sams.  "Schumann, Robert."  Oxford Music Online.  Oxford University Press, 2007 – 2015.  Web.  2 Oct. 2015.