Clara Schumann is an inspiration, as she is one of the first known women in classical music. Her life story reads like a Hollywood gossip column: an incredibly gifted child pianist with a controlling father, who toured all over Europe; fell in love with a music student (that would be Robert Schumann) nearly a decade older; being underage at 18, sued her father for the right to marry Robert; being barred from her childhood house, only to have the courts force her father to allow her in; bearing eight children and hiring a nanny so she could continue her career; and finally, becoming widowed in her mid-30s, and developing an emotionally close relationship with another composer (when Johannes Brahms hit the scene) fifteen years her junior … it’s quite a story!
During her heyday, Clara toured actively, and was known for her extraordinary technique. She impressed the likes of Paganini, Chopin and Liszt. She impressed the young Brahms, who was very close to the Schumanns, and especially to Clara, when Robert was confined to a mental institution in his forties, and died there.
Clara’s legacy is vast: her compositions, mainly piano music, are becoming better known. The impression she left as a pianist is still felt today, including recital programs. In her time, pianists were expected to perform only “showy” technical pieces from the past, but Clara programmed works by leading composers of the day, including her own. She was the first to play from memory, now standard practice. She was an active teacher, and some pianists today have a lineage of teachers traced directly back to her. She of course, was an advocate of her husband’s music, assuring its place in classical music history.
Please enjoy a clip of Clara Schumann’s “Walzer”, performed by musicians in period costume: Elisabeth Goell, soprano, and Lauretta Bloomer, performing on Clara’s actual piano.
Clara Wieck Schumann was born in Leipzig in 1819 and died in Frankfurt, 1896.