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date: 13 October 2019

Schumann [née Wieck], Clara (Josephine)free

  • Nancy B. Reich

(b Leipzig, Sept 13, 1819; d Frankfurt, May 20, 1896). German pianist, composer and teacher. One of the foremost European pianists of the 19th century and the wife and champion of the music of Robert Schumann, she was also a respected composer and influential teacher.

1. Life.

Clara was the daughter of Marianne and Friedrich Wieck. Her father (1785–1873) studied theology at the University of Wittenberg and settled in Leipzig in about 1814. There he taught piano and established a business selling and lending music and pianos and repairing pianos. He rapidly acquired a reputation as an expert piano teacher. Clara’s mother, Marianne Wieck (née Tromlitz) (1797–1872), was the daughter and granddaughter of musicians: her father, Georg Christian Tromlitz (1765–1825), was the town cantor in Plauen and her grandfather, Johann George Tromlitz, was a well-known flautist, flute maker and composer. She studied piano with Friedrich Wieck and married him in 1816. A gifted musician, she appeared both as a piano soloist and soprano soloist in the Leipzig Gewandhaus. She also helped out in her husband’s business, taught piano, and bore five children (two of whom died at very young ages) in the eight years she was married to Wieck. The couple separated in 1824 and a divorce was granted within a few months. Because Clara and her brothers were legally considered the property of their father – at that time – they remained in his custody. Her mother married Adolph Bargiel (1783–1841), a musician whom Wieck had known for many years, and moved to Berlin. Contact with her daughter was maintained through correspondence and occasional visits. In Berlin, both she and her husband taught piano; when he died in 1841, after several years of failing health, Marianne continued teaching to support herself and the four children of her second marriage. (Woldemar Bargiel, the composer and conductor, was Clara’s half-brother).

Although Clara’s general education was meagre, her musical education was superb: she studied piano with Wieck, religion and languages (under his supervision), and violin, theory, harmony, orchestration, counterpoint, fugue and composition with the best teachers in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin; she attended every important concert, opera and drama given in Leipzig; and she copied Wieck’s letters into her diary, thus learning how to conduct the business arrangements of a musical career. Until her 19th year, Wieck directed her education and her career, escorting her on tours in Germany, Austria and France. He made most of the entries in her girlhood diaries, which chronicle her repertory and concerts and the musical life of the 1830s. Though her father was high-handed and despotic, even cruel at times, especially regarding Robert Schumann, his role as Clara’s mentor and manager cannot be minimized and she herself acknowledged it frequently. In a letter of 1894, she wrote:

My father had to put up with being called a tyrant; however, I still thank him for it every day; I have him to thank for the freshness that has remained with me in my old age (at least in my art). It was also a blessing for me that he was exceedingly strict, that he reprimanded me when I deserved it and in so doing, prevented me from becoming arrogant from the praise the world showered on me. At times the rebuke was bitter, but it was still good for me! (Litzmann, iii, p.585).

Clara Wieck played in the Leipzig Gewandhaus when she was nine, made her formal solo début there aged 11, performed in Paris when she was 12, and dazzled audiences in Vienna when she was 18. She was appointed k.k. Kammervirtuosin to the Austrian court and an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The young prodigy met, played for, and was admired by the leading musicians and celebrities of the day including Goethe, Paganini, Louis Spohr, and younger musicians such as Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn.

Following a court battle with her father who refused to consent to her marriage, Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann, whom she had known since childhood and had been in love with throughout her teens, wed in 1840, the day before Clara’s 21st birthday. At that time, Schumann was not a well-known composer but had a reputation as the editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik while she was already a pianist with an international reputation. The Schumanns settled first in Leipzig and subsequently in Dresden and Düsseldorf. Between 1841 and 1854 they had eight children: Marie (1841–1929), Elise (1843–1928), Julie (1845–72), Emil (1846–7), Ludwig (1848–99), Ferdinand (1849–91), Eugenie (1851–1938), Felix (1854–79), and Clara still carried on performing, composing and teaching. Her husband, whose growing mental illness had been a cause for concern for many years, attempted suicide in 1854 and was hospitalized in Endenich, where he died in July 1856. Forbidden by his doctors to visit him during the two and a half years he was in the hospital, she saw him only during the last two days of his life.

After her husband’s death, Clara resumed her concert tours to support her children. She was no longer a glamorous young woman but a solemn ‘priestess’ of the art. Dressed in black, unsmiling and performing ‘serious’ music, aged 37, she devoted herself to her children and her husband’s memory and music. During her long years of widowhood, she took on more tasks related to her husband and his work: she edited the authoritative Gesamtausgabe of his work (with the help of Johannes Brahms and a group of trusted friends), prepared an instructive edition of his piano compositions, arranged and transcribed a number of his piano and vocal works, and edited a volume of his Jugendbriefe.

The marriage of Robert and Clara Schumann had been a rare partnership: the two musicians studied scores together and read poetry for possible settings; she arranged many of his instrumental works for piano and acted as rehearsal pianist for groups he conducted. Robert Schumann paid homage to her in the many quotations from her works that appear in his own. Through her concert tours in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, England (she made 19 trips to the British Isles), Robert Schumann’s work became known to the musical world. Almost without exception, Clara played at the première of each work he wrote for or with piano; and almost all his orchestral works were introduced in concerts in which she was the solo artist.

In 1878 Clara Schumann became principal teacher of piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, but did not relinquish her performing career. Her presence attracted students from all over the world and especially from England, where she was an immensely popular performer. She made her last public appearance as a pianist in 1891 but continued to teach until her death in 1896 at the age of 76.

Clara Schumann’s life was one of musical triumph and personal tragedy. The divorce of her parents and consequent loss of her mother in her early childhood, the bitter struggle with her father over her marriage, the mental illness and early death of her husband, the illness of one son who was incarcerated in a mental hospital for over 40 years, and the loss of four children who predeceased her, all made their mark on her character and personality. She supported her children and grandchildren by her earnings and worked unceasingly, acting as agent and impresario for her own concerts. Pauline Viardot, Jenny Lind, Felix Mendelssohn and especially Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms were among her closest musical associates. The Schumanns met Brahms shortly before Robert’s hospitalization and he became a lifelong, devoted friend. She helped advance his career by playing his works when he was young and unknown and he – who was very much in love with her, in turn assisted her with decisions on family, career, composing and editing throughout her life.

2. Career as pianist and composer.

Clara Schumann was considered the peer of such keyboard giants as Liszt, Thalberg and Anton Rubinstein and dubbed Europe’s ‘Queen of the Piano’. She carried on a brilliant career for over 60 years, and her playing was characterized by masterful technique, beautiful tone and poetic spirit. Because of her reputation and long years on the stage, she had a great influence on concert life and pianism in the 19th century. As a young woman, she was one of the few pianists to perform music from memory and, with Liszt, one of the first pianists to give solo concerts without assisting artists. Following her example, concerts became shorter and fewer works were offered so that greater attention could be given to individual pieces. Her attention to the composer’s text, in an age of improvisation and embellishments on the score, was almost unique. In her hands, the piano recital became an event in which public attention was focussed on the composer rather than the virtuoso performer. (A collection of 1299 programmes of concerts she gave between 1828 and 1891 is held in the Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau.)

In her girlhood concerts, Clara Wieck performed bravura works by such popular composers of the day as Johann Peter Pixis, Henri Herz, Frédéric Kalkbrenner and Liszt, but as she matured, and especially after her marriage, she began to present balanced programmes of works from the 18th and 19th centuries. In an age when the great virtuoso pianists gave entire concerts of their own works, she introduced J.S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Beethoven and Schubert to audiences accustomed to showy variations on popular and operatic melodies. Clara Schumann was one of the first pianists in Europe to perform the music of Chopin and she also frequently included Mendelssohn’s music. Since Robert Schumann was the only composer of piano music among his contemporaries who did not perform in public (since he had physical problems with his hands), she took on this task for him, beginning at the age of 12 when she gave the first performance of his Papillons.

Critics and audiences were almost uniformly respectful and admiring, as is indicated by this review from London near the end of her career:

We think we are correct in saying that no pianist ever before retained so powerful a hold upon the public mind for so long a period … Madame Schumann’s character, intellect and training saved her from becoming a mere partisan: though for years she has been acknowledged unequal as an exponent of Schumann’s music, yet one always hears of her wonderful interpretations of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. By her modesty, prudence and talents she has gradually achieved a veritable triumph (MT, 1 April 1884).

The composer-pianist was an accepted phenomenon in the early 19th century. In her first solo concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the 11-year-old Clara Wieck played her own Variationen über ein Originalthema as well as works by Herz, Kalkbrenner and Czerny. Throughout her girlhood years, she astonished audiences as much by her compositions as by her playing. Almost every concert in the 1830s featured one or more of her own works and often included improvisations, a skill expected of all keyboard performers in the early 19th century. Some examples of her improvisations (referred to as ‘praeludieren’ and ‘fantasieren’ in reviews) were preserved by her at the urging of her daughters but were not published in her lifetime.

Beginning with her four Polonaises op.1 (1831), many of her works were published and favourably reviewed. In the use of bold harmonies, adventurous modulations, rhythmic freedom and the genres she chose, her compositions reflect the advanced tendencies of their day and resemble the works of other young composers of the new Romantic school such as Robert Schumann, Mendelssohn and Chopin. Outstanding among the works of her girlhood is her Piano Concerto op.7 (dedicated to Louis Spohr), which she began at the age of 13 and first performed three years later on 11 November 1835, at the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Mendelssohn’s direction. It is a dramatic and innovative work, a record of her own virtuosity and independent musical thinking.

Her early compositions fall into two broad categories: such virtuosic audience-pleasers as Romance variée op.3 and Souvenir de Vienne op.9, and the imaginative, poetically conceived character pieces such as opp.5 and 6 which were inspired by the music of Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn. After her marriage her compositional style changed; she herself was maturing as an artist and the daily involvement with Robert and their joint studies influenced her work. She wrote fewer character-pieces and turned, as Robert Schumann had, to songs; three (Am Strande, Volkslied and Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen) were presented to her husband on their first Christmas together. These were followed by four songs, three of which (op.12) were incorporated in a joint collection (Robert Schumann’s op.37). All her lieder, including some until recently unpublished, are expressive and powerful contributions to the genre.

The piano and chamber works in larger, more classically structured forms (for example the Sonata in G minor, the Piano Trio and the three Preludes and Fugues) were among the works written after her marriage. The Trio op.17 is probably her greatest achievement. Written in 1846, at a time of great stress, it has an autumnal, melancholy quality, and demonstrates a mastery of sonata form and polyphonic techniques.

Although Robert Schumann encouraged his wife’s composition and contacted publishers for her, his creative work took priority over hers, and for many years her composing and practising were relegated to hours when her husband would not be disturbed. Despite her obvious gifts, she ceased composing after Robert’s death (apart from a march composed for a friend’s anniversary in 1879). The reasons for this have been a matter of continual speculation but the fact that she wanted to support her children and, later, her grandchildren by performing and teaching was obviously an important choice of her own. After her death, her reputation as a pianist and teacher endured but her compositions were generally ignored, although interest in her creative work revived in the 1970s when the first recordings began to appear. Since that time, the discography of her works has grown to over 100 recordings, editions of published and previously unpublished pieces have appeared, and broadcasts and concert performances of Clara Schumann compositions have increased.

Clara Schumann arranged works by Brahms and William Sterndale Bennett for piano. Published arrangements and editions of Robert Schumann compositions include the vocal score of the opera Genoveva (1851), Studies for the Pedal-Piano from opp.56 and 58 (1896), a four-hand arrangement of his Piano Quintet, op.44 (1858) and transcriptions for piano of a number of songs (1873).

Works

Editions

Clara Schumann: Romantische Klaviermusik, ed. F. Goebels, i (Heidelberg, 1967); ii (Heidelberg, 1976) [G i, ii]

Clara Wieck Schumann: Selected Piano Music (New York, 1979 [repr. of Leipzig and Vienna edn, 1836–46]) [S]

Clara Wieck-Schumann: Ausgewählte Klavierwerke, ed. J. KIassen (Munich, 1987) [K]

Clara Schumann: Sämtliche Lieder, ed. J. Draheim and B. Höft, i (Wiesbaden, 1990); ii (Wiesbaden, 1992) [D i, ii]

Clara Schumann: Seven Songs, ed. K. Norderval (Bryn Mawr, PA, 1993) [N]

Clara Wieck: Frühe Klavierwerke, ed. G. Nauhaus and J. Draheim (Hofheim, 1997) [ND]

printed works published in Leipzig unless otherwise stated

MSS in D-Bsb, Dl and Zsch

Orchestral and chamber

op.

7

Piano Concerto, a, orch/qnt acc., 1833–6 (1837), ed. J. Klassen (Wiesbaden, 1990); arr. for 2 pf, ed. K. Smith (Bryn Mawr, PA, 1993); arr. for 2 pf, ed. V. Erber (Wiesbaden, 1993)

17

Piano Trio, g, 1846 (1847); (Munich, 1972/R)

Piano Concerto, f, 1847, sketch D-Zsch; completed and orchd as Konzertsatz, ed. J. De Beenhouwer and G. Nauhaus (Wiesbaden, 1994)

22

Drei Romanzen, vn, pf, D♭, g, B♭, 1853 (1855) (Wiesbaden, 1983/R)

Piano

1

Quatre Polonaises, E♭, C, D, C, 1829–30 (1831), ed. B. Hierholzer (Berlin, 1987)

Etude, A♭, early 1830s, Bsb

2

Caprices en forme de valse, 1831–2 (Paris and Leipzig, 1832)

3

Romance variée, C, 1831–3 (1833), G ii

4

Valses romantiques, 1835 (1835)

5

Quatre pièces caractéristiques, 1833–6 (1836), S, K, G ii [no.3]: 1. Impromptu, Le sabbat; 2. Caprice à la boléros; 3. Romance; 4. Scène fantastique; Ballet des revenants; no.1 as Hexentanz (Vienna, 1838), nos.1–4 with op.6 as Soirées musicales (1838)

6

Soirées musicales, 1834–6 (1836), S, K [4 pieces]: Toccatina, Ballade, Nocturne, Polonaise, 2 Mazurkas; reissued with op.5 (1838)

8

Variations de concert sur la cavatine du Pirate de Bellini, 1837 (Vienna, 1837), S

9

Souvenir de Vienne, Impromptu, G, 1838 (Vienna, 1838)

10

Scherzo, d, 1838 (1838), S, K

11

Trois romances, e♭, g, A♭, 1838–9 (Vienna, 1840), G ii, S, K; no.2 also pubd. as Andante und Allegro, NZM, vi (1839), suppl.7

14

Deuxième scherzo, c, after 1841 (1845), G ii

15

Quatre pièces fugitives, F, a, D, G, 1841–44 (1845), G ii; ed. J. Draheim (Wiesbaden, 1994)

Sonata, g, 1841–2: Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo, Rondo [orig. titled Sonatine; Scherzo identical with op.15 no.4]; ed. G. Nauhaus (Wiesbaden, 1991)

Impromptu, E, before 1884, in Album du Gaulois (Paris, 1885)

16

Drei Präludien und Fugen, g, B♭, d, 1845 (1845), G i, S; ed. B. Harbach (Pullman, 1994), ed. S. Glickman (Bryn Mawr, 1997)

Three fugues on Themes of J.S. Bach, E♭, E, g, 1845, ed. V. Goertzen (New York, 1999)

Praeludium und Fuga, f♯, 1845, ed. V. Goertzen (New York, 1999)

Präludium, f, 1845, Bsb

20

Variationen … über ein Thema von Robert Schumann, f♯, 1853 (1854), G i, K

21

Drei Romanzen, a, F, g, 1853–5 (1855), K, G i [no.1], G ii [no.3]; ed. J. Draheim (Wiesbaden, 1983/R)

Romanze, a, 1853, in Girl’s Own Paper (London, 1891), K

Romanze, b, 1856, G ii

March, 1879, Zsch, first public perf., Frankfurt, Oct 1888; arr. 4 hands, ed. G. Nauhaus (Wiesbaden, 1996); orchd. J.O. Grimm, 1888, Zsch

Präludien und Vorspiele, improvisations written out 1895, Bsb, Zsch, Praeludien, ed. V. Goertzen (New York, 1999)

Vocal

Der Abendstern, early 1830s, Zsch, D ii

Walzer (J. Lyser), 1833 (1833), D ii

12

Three songs (F. Rückert), 1841 (1841), D i: Er ist gekommen, Liebst du um Schönheit, Warum willst du and’re fragen [pubd as nos. 2, 4, 11 of 12 Gedichte aus Friedrich Rückert’s ‘Liebesfrühling’ für Gesang und Pianoforte von Robert und Clara Schumann; other nos. = R. Schumann, op.37]

Am Strande (R. Burns, trans. Gerhard), 1840, NZM, viii (1841), suppl.14; D ii

Volkslied (H. Heine), 1840, Zsch, D ii, N

Die gute Nacht (Rückert), 1841, Zsch, D ii, N

13

Sechs Lieder, 1840–43 (1844), D i: Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen (Heine) [also in D ii as Ihr Bildnis], Sie liebten sich beide (Heine) [also in D ii], Liebeszauber (E. Geibel), Der Mond kommt still gegangen (Geibel), Ich hab’ in deinem Auge (Rückert), Die stille Lotosblume (Geibel)

Loreley (Heine), 1843, Zsch, D ii, N

O weh des Scheidens (Rückert), 1843, Zsch, D ii, N

O Thou my Star (F. Serre), 1846 (London, 1848) [= trans. of Mein Stern, Zsch, D ii, N]

Beim Abschied (Serre), 1846, Zsch, D ii, N

Drei gemischte Chöre (Geibel), SATB, 1848: Abendfeyer in Venedig, Vorwärts, Gondoliera; ed. G. Nauhaus (Wiesbaden, 1989)

23

Sechs Lieder aus Jucunde (H. Rollett), 1853 (1856), D i: Was weinst du Blümlein, An einem lichten Morgen, Geheimes Flüstern, Auf einem grünen Hügel, Das ist ein Tag, O Lust, O Lust

Das Veilchen (J.W. von Goethe), 1853, Bsb, D ii, N

Doubtful

Der Wanderer in der Sägemühle, D ii; Der Wanderer, 1831 (J. Kerner), D ii

Cadenzas

2 for Beethoven: Pf Conc., G, op.58, 1846 (1870)

1 for Beethoven: Pf Conc., c, op.37, 1868 (1870)

2 for Mozart: Pf Conc., d, k466, n.d. (1891)

Juvenilia

all lost

cited in C. Schumann’s diary, programmes and Albumblätter

Orchestral

Scherzo, 1830–31

Ov., ?1833

orch version of op.4

Songs

Der Traum, 1831 (C.A. Tiedge); Alte Heimath, 1831 (J. Kerner); others listed as Lied/Lieder on programmes from 1830 on

Piano solo

Waltz, 1828

Variationen über ein Originalthema, 1830

Variationen über ein Tyrolerlied, 1830

Phantasie-Variationen über ein Wieck Romanze, 1830–31

An Alexis, 1832

Rondo, b, 1833

other works mentioned, incl. Capriccio, chorales, variations, scherzos, impromptus, n.d.

Bibliography

  • ADB (C. Krebs)
  • Grove1 (G. Grove)
  • GroveW (N.B. Reich) [incl. further bibliography]
  • MGG1 (I. Fellinger)
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  • B. Litzmann: Clara Schumann: ein Künstlerleben nach Tagebüchern und Briefen, 1 (Leipzig, 1902, 8/1925), ii (1905, 7/1925), iii (1908, 6/ 1923); Eng. trans., abridged (London, 1913/R); Eng. trans. G. Hadow, with new introduction (New York, 1979).
  • Johannes Joachim and A. Moser, eds.: Briefe von und an Joseph Joachim (Berlin, 1911–13); Eng. trans., abridged, 1914/R)
  • F. May: The Girlhood of Clara Schumann: Clara Wieck and her Time (London, 1912)
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  • B. Litzmann, ed.: Clara Schumann–Johannes Brahms Briefe aus den Jahren 1853–1896 (Leipzig, 1927; Eng. trans., abridged, 1927 /R)
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  • R. Brunner, ed.: Alltag und Künstlertum: Clara Schumann und ihre Dresdner Freundinnen Marie von Lindemann und Emilie Steffens. Errinerungen und Briefe, nach den quellen (Studio Verlag, 2005)
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