Clara Schumann13 sep 1819 (Leipzig) - 20 may 1896 (Frankfurt am Main)
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Clara Schumann (née Clara Josephine Wieck; 13 September 1819 – 20 May 1896) was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. She exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was the composer Robert Schumann. She and her husband encouraged Johannes Brahms, and she was the first pianist to give public performances of some of Brahms' works, notably the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.
Clara Josephine Wieck was born in Leipzig on 13 September 1819 to Friedrich and Marianne Wieck (née Tromlitz). Her parents divorced when she was four years old; Clara was raised by her father. In March 1828, at the age of eight, the young Clara Wieck performed at the Leipzig home of Dr. Ernst Carus, director of a mental hospital at Colditz Castle, and met another gifted young pianist invited to the musical evening named Robert Schumann, nine years older than she. Schumann admired Clara's playing so much that he asked permission from his mother to discontinue his studies of the law, which had never interested him much, and take music lessons with Clara's father, Friedrich Wieck. While taking lessons, he took rooms in the Wieck household, staying about a year.
In 1830, at the age of eleven, Clara left on a concert tour to Paris via other European cities, accompanied by her father. She gave her first solo concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. In Weimar, she performed a bravura piece by Henri Herz for Goethe, who presented her with a medal with his portrait and a written note saying, "For the gifted artist Clara Wieck." During that tour, Niccolò Paganini was in Paris, and he offered to appear with her. However, her Paris recital was poorly attended as many people had fled the city due to an outbreak of cholera.
At the age of 18, Clara Wieck performed a series of recitals in Vienna from December 1837 to April 1838. Austria's leading dramatic poet, Franz Grillparzer, wrote a poem entitled "Clara Wieck and Beethoven" after hearing Wieck perform the Appassionata Sonata during one of these recitals. Wieck performed to sell-out crowds and laudatory critical reviews; Benedict Randhartinger, a friend of Franz Schubert, gave Wieck an autograph copy of Schubert's Erlkönig, inscribing it "To the celebrated artist, Clara Wieck." Frédéric Chopin described her playing to Franz Liszt, who came to hear one of Wieck's concerts and subsequently "praised her extravagantly in a letter that was published in the Parisian Revue et Gazette Musicale and later, in translation, in the Leipzig journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik." On 15 March, Wieck was named a Königliche und Kaiserliche Kammervirtuosin ("Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso"), Austria's highest musical honor.
In her early years her repertoire, selected by her father, was showy and popular, in the style common to the time, with works by Kalkbrenner, Henselt, Thalberg, Herz, Pixis, Czerny, and her own compositions. As she matured, however, becoming more established and planning her own programs, she began to play works by the new Romantic composers, such as Chopin, Mendelssohn and, of course, Robert Schumann, as well as the great, less showy, more "difficult" composers of the past, such as Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. She also frequently appeared in chamber music recitals of works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms.
Robert Schumann had been attracted to Clara since she was fifteen. By the time she was seventeen, Schumann was in love with her. The next year (1837), Schumann asked her father Friedrich for Clara's hand in marriage, but he refused.
During the next year (Clara's nineteenth), Friedrich did everything he ever could to prevent her from marrying Schumann, forcing the lovers to take him to court. During this period Schumann, inspired by his love for Wieck, wrote many of his most famous lieder. They eventually married on September 12, 1840. She continued to perform and compose after the marriage even as she raised seven children, an eighth child having died in infancy. In the various tours on which she accompanied her husband, she extended her own reputation beyond Germany, and her efforts to promote his works gradually made his work accepted throughout Europe.
In 1853, Johannes Brahms, aged twenty, met Clara and Robert in Leipzig and immediately impressed both of them with his talent. Brahms became a lifelong friend to Clara, sustaining her through the illness of Robert, asking for her advice about new compositions, even caring for her young children while she went on tour. They remained good friends up until Clara's death, however there is no historic evidence that their relationship was ever more than just friendship.
Clara Schumann's reputation brought her into contact with the leading musicians of the day, including Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt. She also met violinist Joseph Joachim who became one of her frequent performance partners.
Clara Schumann often took charge of the finances and general household affairs due to Robert's mental instability. Part of her responsibility included making money, which she did by giving concerts, although she continued to play throughout her life not only for the income, but because she was a concert artist by training and by nature. Robert, while admiring her talent, wanted a traditional wife to bear children and make a happy home, which in his eyes and the eyes of society were in direct conflict with the life of a performer. Furthermore, while she loved touring, Robert hated it.
After Robert's death (July 29, 1856), Clara devoted herself principally to the interpretation of his works. But when she first visited England in 1856 largely through the good offices of William Sterndale Bennett, the English composer and friend of her late husband, the critics received Robert's music with a chorus of disapproval. She returned to London in 1865 and continued her visits annually, with the exception of four seasons, until 1882. She also appeared there each year from 1885 to 1888.
She played a particular role in restoring Brahms's D minor concerto to the general repertory; it had fallen out of favour after its premiere, and was only rehabilitated in the 1870s, thanks mainly to the efforts of Clara Schumann and Brahms himself.
She was initially interested in the works of Liszt, but later developed an outright hostility to him. She ceased to play any of his works; she suppressed her husband's dedication to Liszt of his Fantasie in C major when she published Schumann's complete works; and she refused to attend a Beethoven centenary festival in Vienna in 1870 when she heard that Liszt and Richard Wagner would be participating.
She was particularly scathing of Wagner. Of Tannhäuser, she said that he "wears himself out in atrocities"; she described Lohengrin as "horrible"; and she wrote that Tristan und Isolde was "the most repugnant thing I have ever seen or heard in all my life".
In 1878 she was appointed teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, a post she held until 1892, and in which she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique.
She held Anton Bruckner, whose 7th Symphony she heard in 1885, in very low esteem. She wrote to Brahms, describing it as "a horrible piece". But she was more impressed with Richard Strauss's early Symphony in F minor in 1887.
She suffered a stroke on March 26, 1896, dying on May 20, at age 77. She is buried at Bonn's Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery) with her husband.
Although for many years after her death Clara Schumann was not widely recognized as a composer, as a pianist she made an impression which lasts until today. She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making that the standard for concertizing. Trained by her father to play by ear and to memorize, she gave public performances from memory as early as age thirteen, a fact noted as something exceptional by her reviewers.
She was also instrumental in changing the kind of programs expected of concert pianists. In her early career, before her marriage to Robert, she played what was then customary, mainly bravura pieces designed to showcase the artist's technique, often in the form of arrangements or variations on popular themes from operas, written by virtuosos such as Thalberg, Herz, or Henselt. And, as it was also customary to play one's own compositions, she included at least one of her own works in every program, works such as her Variations on a Theme by Bellini (Op. 8) and her popular Scherzo (Op. 10). However, after settling into married life, probably under the influence of Robert, her performances focused almost exclusively on more serious music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Schumann.
Clara Schumann's influence has reached us as well through her teaching, which emphasized a singing tone and expression, with technique entirely subordinated to the intentions of the composer. One of her students, Mathilde Verne, carried her teaching to England where she taught, among others, Solomon; while another of her students, Carl Friedberg, carried the tradition to the Juilliard School in America, where his students included Malcolm Frager and Bruce Hungerford.
And, of course, Clara was instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognized, appreciated and added to the repertoire. She promoted him tirelessly, beginning when his music was unknown or disliked, when the only other important figure in music to play Schumann occasionally was Liszt, and continuing until the end of her long career.
Clara Schumann was the main breadwinner for her family through giving concerts and teaching, and she did most of the work of organizing her own concert tours. She refused to accept charity when a group of musicians offered to put on a benefit concert for her. In addition to raising her own large family, when one of her children became incapacitated, she took on responsibility for raising her grandchildren. During the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849, she famously walked into the city through the front lines, defying a pack of armed men who confronted her, rescued her children, then walked back out of the city through the dangerous areas again.
Her family life was punctuated by tragedy. Four of her eight children and her husband predeceased her, and her husband and one of her sons ended their lives in insane asylums. Her first son Emil died in 1847, aged only one. Her husband Robert had a mental collapse, attempted suicide in 1854, and was committed to an insane asylum for the last two years of his life. In 1872 her daughter Julie died, leaving two small children. In 1879, her son Felix, aged 25, died. Her son Ludwig suffered from mental illness, like his father, and, in her words, had to be "buried alive" in an institution. Her son Ferdinand died at the age of 43 and she was required to raise his children. She herself became deaf in later life and she often needed a wheelchair.
Music of Clara Schumann
As part of the broad musical education given her by her father, Clara Wieck learned to compose, and from childhood to middle age she produced a good body of work. At age fourteen she wrote her first piano concerto, with some help from Robert Schumann, and performed it at age sixteen at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Mendelssohn conducting.
As she grew older, however, she lost confidence in herself as a composer, writing, "I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?" In fact, Wieck-Schumann composed nothing after the age of thirty-six.
Today her compositions are increasingly performed and recorded. Her works include songs, piano pieces, a piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, and three Romances for violin and piano. Inspired by her husband's birthday, the three Romances were composed in 1853 and dedicated to Joseph Joachim, who performed them for George V of Hanover. He declared them a "marvellous, heavenly pleasure."
Wieck-Schumann was the authoritative editor of her husband's works for the publishing firm of Breitkopf & Härtel.
Clara Schumann's published works are listed below by date of publication. Twenty-five additional unpublished or lost works may be found in Reich, Nancy B., Clara Schumann, The Artist and The Woman, appendix.
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Symphony No. 40 in G minor
2 Nocturnes Op. 27
Accademia di Santa Cecilia
Transfigured Night (Verklärte Nacht)
Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society
Teatro alla Scala di Milano