Much of Felix Mendelssohn’s music came as a result of his travels. He toured Europe visiting a number of countries where he sketched musical fragments later to be turned into concert works, which is why a number of them bear titles suggesting these countries (the titles are not his doing, but publisher’s- he hated the idea). For example, he visited Scotland, writing the seeds for his Scottish Symphony and the Fingal's Cave overture (following a trip to visit the Isle of Staffa, near Mull) and meeting Sir Walter Scott. He sketched his Italian Symphony while visiting Rome and Naples.
Although some of Mendelssohn’s compositions were clearly inspired by external events and bear highly descriptive titles, he shied away from any programmatic interpretations voicing the opinion that music was to be interpreted by the listener.
Schumann on the other hand composed a far amount of music that was programmatic – much of it evocative of the love of his life, Clara. Schumann was not so widely travelled and his compositional life was sporadic due to health issues (he was bi-polar) and periods of separation from Clara ( her father took to all sorts of measures early on keep them apart and discourage any relationship). His early works of piano miniatures and songs in earlier years gave way, in the later years, through Clara’s inspiration and encouragement to symphonies, concertos, string quartets, and stand-alone concert overtures and more.
You can read more detail of the lives and music of both composers on the Music Appreciation Page of the U3A website. There you will find also links to Youtube for the music we listened to at both sessions.