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Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann
Portrait by Franz von Lenbach, 1878
Born Clara Josephine Wieck
(1819-09-13)13 September 1819
Died 20 May 1896(1896-05-20) (aged 76)
Frankfurt, German Empire
Cause of death
Nationality German
Occupation Pianist, composer
Spouse(s) Robert Schumann (m. 1840; died 1856)
Children Eight

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. Together they encouraged Johannes Brahms. She was the first to perform publicly any work by Brahms.[1] She later premiered some other pieces by Brahms, notably the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.[2]


Early life

Clara Josephine Wieck was born in Leipzig on 13 September 1819 to Friedrich Wieck and Marianne Wieck (née Tromlitz).[3] Marianne Tromlitz was a famous singer in Leipzig at the time and was singing solos on a weekly basis at the well-known Gewandhaus in Leipzig.[4] The differences between her parents were irreconcilable, in large part due to her father's unyielding nature.[4] After an affair between Clara's mother and Adolph Bargiel, her father's friend,[5] the Wiecks divorced in 1824 and Marianne married Bargiel. Five-year-old Clara remained with her father.

Child prodigy

From an early age, Clara's career and life was planned down to the smallest detail by her father. She daily received a one-hour lesson (in piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint) and two hours of practice, using the teaching methods he had developed on his own. In March 1828, at the age of eight, the young Clara Wieck performed at the Leipzig home of Dr. Ernst Carus, director of the mental hospital at Colditz Castle. There she met another gifted young pianist who had been invited to the musical evening, named Robert Schumann, who was nine years older. Schumann admired Clara's playing so much that he asked permission from his mother to discontinue his law studies, which had never interested him much, and take music lessons with Clara's father. While taking lessons, he took rooms in the Wieck household, staying about a year. He would sometimes dress up as a ghost and scare Clara, and this created a bond.

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.[6] However, her Paris recital was poorly attended, as many people had fled the city due to an outbreak of cholera.[6]

The appearance of this artist can be regarded as epoch-making.... In her creative hands, the most ordinary passage, the most routine motive acquires a significant meaning, a colour, which only those with the most consummate artistry can give.

An anonymous music critic, writing of Clara Wieck's 1837–1838 Vienna recitals[7]

From December 1837 to April 1838, Clara Wieck performed a series of recitals in Vienna when she was 18.[7] Franz Grillparzer, Austria's leading dramatic poet, wrote a poem entitled "Clara Wieck and Beethoven" after hearing Wieck perform the Appassionata sonata during one of these recitals.[7] Wieck performed to sell-out crowds and laudatory critical reviews; Benedict Randhartinger, a friend of Franz Schubert (1797–1828), gave Wieck an autographed copy of Schubert's Erlkönig, inscribing it "To the celebrated artist, Clara Wieck."[7] 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."[8] On 15 March, Wieck was named a Königliche und Kaiserliche Kammervirtuosin ("Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso"), Austria's highest musical honor.[8]

Marriage to Robert

Robert was a little more than 9 years older than Clara and moved into the Wieck household as a piano student of Friedrich's by the end of 1830 when she was only 11 and he was 20. In 1837 when she was 18, he proposed to her and she accepted. Then Robert asked Friedrich for Clara's hand in marriage.[9] Wieck was strongly opposed to the marriage, as he did not much approve of Robert, and did not give permission. Robert and Clara had to go to court and sue Friedrich. The judge's decision was to allow the marriage.[10] In 1840, despite Friedrich's objections, Clara and Robert were married.[11] They maintained a joint musical diary.

Meeting Joachim

She and Robert first met violinist Joseph Joachim in November 1844, when he was just of age 14.[12] A year later she wrote in her diary that in a concert on Nov. 11, 1845. "little Joachim was very much liked. He played a new violin concerto of Mendelssohn's, which is said to be wonderful".[13] In May 1853 they heard Joachim play the solo part in Beethoven's violin concerto. Clara wrote in the diary that he played "with a finish, a depth of poetic feeling, his whole soul in every note, so ideally, that I have never heard violin-playing like it, and I can truly say that I have never received so indelible an impression from any virtuoso."[14]

From that time there was a friendship between Clara and Joachim, which "for more than forty years never failed Clara in things great or small, never wavered in its loyalty."

Brahms coming on the scene

Also in the spring of 1853, the then unknown 20-year-old Brahms met Joachim (only a few years older, but by then an acknowledged virtuoso) in Hanover, made a very favorable impression on him, and got from him a letter of introduction to Robert Schumann. Brahms went and presented himself at the Schumanns' home in Düsseldorf. He played some of his own piano solo compositions. Both Schumanns were deeply impressed. Robert published an article highly lauding Brahms. Clara wrote in the diary that Brahms "seemed as if sent straight from God."[15]

Robert's confinement and death

Robert attempted suicide in February 1854 and then was committed to an asylum for the last two years of his life. In March 1854, Brahms, Joachim, Albert Dietrich, and Julius Otto Grimm spent time with Clara, playing music for or with her to divert her mind from the tragedy.[16] Robert passed away 29 July 1856.

Tours, often to England, often with Joachim

Clara first went to England in April 1856, while Robert was still living (but unable to travel). She was invited to play in a London Philharmonic Society concert by conductor William Sterndale Bennett, a good friend of Robert's.[17] Clara was displeased with the little time spent on rehearsals: "They call it a rehearsal here, if a piece is played through once." She wrote that musical "artists" in England "allow themselves to be treated as inferiors."[18] She was happy, though, to hear the cellist Alfredo Piatti play with "a tone, a bravura, a certainty, such as I never heard before." In May 1856 she played Robert's Piano Concerto in A minor with the New Philharmonic Society conducted by a "Dr. Wylde", who Clara said had led a "dreadful rehearsal" and "could not grasp the rhythm of the last movement."[18] She returned to London the following year and many more times in the rest of her career.

In October–November 1857 Clara and Joachim took a recital tour together to Dresden, Leipzig, and Munich.[19] St. James's Hall, London, which opened in 1858, hosted a series of "Popular Concerts" of chamber music, of which programmes from 1867 through 1904 are preserved.[20] Joachim appears a great many times, as if he made a second home in London. Clara also spent a few months of many years in England and participated in Popular Concerts with Joachim and Piatti. Most often on the same concert programmes would be second violinist Joseph Ries and violist J. B. Zerbini. Playing chamber music bypassed the issues Clara had with English orchestra conductors.

In January 1867 Clara and Joachim took a tour to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland, along with Piatti, Ries, and Zerbini, two English sisters "Miss Pynes," one a singer, and a Mr. Saunders who managed all the arrangements. Clara was accompanied by her oldest daughter Marie, who wrote from Manchester to her friend Rosalie Leser that in Edinburgh Clara "was received with tempestuous applause and had to give an encore, so had Joachim. Piatti, too, is always tremendously liked." [21] Marie also wrote that "For the longer journeys we had a saloon [car], comfortably furnished with arm-chairs and sofas... the journey ... was very comfortable." On this occasion, the musicians were not "treated as inferiors"!


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. Concert programmes from 1831 through 1889 (some 2000 of them) were preserved and information from them arranged in order of year performed.[22] Pieces for solo piano, or for piano and one other instrument, will not be listed.

Concertos for piano and orchestra

Alphabetically by composer, and followed by year(s) of performance by Clara:

Clara also performed concerti by (now) lesser known composers: Adolf von Henselt (1837, 1844), Ignaz Moscheles (1831), and Bernhard Scholz (1875).

Trios (for violin, cello, and piano)

Piano quartets (violin, viola, cello, piano)

Piano quintets (string quartet and piano)

Later career; views of some other composers

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.[6]

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".[6]

In 1878 she was appointed teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, 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". She was more impressed with Richard Strauss's early Symphony in F minor in 1887.[6]

Clara Schumann played her last public concert in Frankfurt on 12 March 1891. The last work she played was Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn, in the piano-duet version. Her partner was James Kwast.[32]

She suffered a stroke on 26 March 1896, dying on 20 May at age 76. She is buried at Bonn's Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery) with her husband.


File:Clara s.jpg
Drawing of Schumann (date unknown)

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.[33]

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, as she became a more independent artist, her repertoire contained mainly music by leading composers.[34]

File:Clara Schumann, pianist and wife of Robert Schumann (crop).jpg
Clara Schumann, "one of the most soulful and famous pianists of the day", according to Edvard Grieg

Clara Schumann's influence also spread 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.[35]

Clara was also 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.

Family life

Clara Schumann often took charge of finances and general household affairs. 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. She was the main breadwinner for her family, and the sole one after Robert was hospitalized and then died, through giving concerts and teaching, and she did most of the work of organizing her own concert tours. She hired a housekeeper and a cook to keep house while she was away on her long 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 life was punctuated by tragedy. Four of her eight children and her husband died before she did, and her husband and one of her sons ended their lives in insane asylums. Clara's first son Emil died in infancy in 1847, aged only one. In 1854, her husband Robert had a mental collapse, attempted suicide, 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 aged only 2 and 7. In 1879, her son Felix died, aged 25. In 1891, her son Ferdinand died, at the age of 42. Clara was required to raise Felix's children as he was no longer married. Her son Ludwig suffered from mental illness like his father and, in her words, had to be "buried alive" in an institution. She herself became deaf in later life and she often needed a wheelchair.[6]

Clara and Robert's oldest child, their daughter, Marie, was of great support and help to Clara, When she was of age, she took over the position of household cook. It was Marie who dissuaded Clara from continuing to burn letters she had written to Brahms and he had returned, requesting that she destroy them. Another daughter, Eugenie, who had been too young to remember Robert, wrote a book on the Schumanns and Brahms.[36]


Composing gives me great pleasure... there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.
—Clara Schumann
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
—Robert Schumann in the joint diary of Robert and 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 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's compositional output decreased notably after she reached the age of thirty-six. The only compositions that exist from later in her life are cadenzas written to two concertos – one by Mozart and the other by Beethoven – and some sketches for a piece that never reached completion.[37] 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".[38]

Wieck-Schumann was the authoritative editor of her husband's works for the publishing firm of Breitkopf & Härtel.

Portrayals in film

She has been depicted on screen numerous times. Possibly the best known is by Katharine Hepburn in the 1947 film Song of Love, in which Paul Henreid played Robert Schumann and Robert Walker starred as a young Johannes Brahms.[39]

She was also portrayed in the 2008 Franco-German-Hungarian film Geliebte Clara.


  1. ^ The Andante and Scherzo from the Sonata in F minor, in Leipzig, 23 October 1854: Litzmann 1913, vol. 2, p. 90
  2. ^ 13th of September 2012 Clara Schumann Google Doodle-from The News Clerks
  3. ^ Hall, George. "Schumann, Clara (Josephine)." The Oxford Companion to Music [n.d.]. Accessed through Grove Music Online on 30 June 2009.
  4. ^ a b Haisler, J.L. (2003). The Compositional Art of Clara Schumann (a Master of Music thesis). Houston, Texas: Rice University. 
  5. ^ Reich, Clara Schumann, p.34.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Joseph Braunstein, Liner notes for Michael Ponti's recording of Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 7
  7. ^ a b c d Reich (1986), 249.
  8. ^ a b Reich (1986), 250.
  9. ^ Litzmann 1913, Vol.I, p. XI.
  10. ^ Litzmann 1913, Vol. I, p. XII
  11. ^ Litzmann 1913, vol. 1, p. XVI
  12. ^ Litzmann, 1913, vol. 1, p. 366.
  13. ^ Litzmann vol. 1, p. 388
  14. ^ |Litzmann 1913 vol. 2, p. 41
  15. ^ Litzmann 1913, vol. 2, p, 42
  16. ^ Litzmann 1913 vol. 2, pp. 61-62, 69, 71
  17. ^ Litzmann 1913, vol. 2, p.131.
  18. ^ a b Litzmann 1913, vol. 2, p. 133
  19. ^ Litzmann, 1913, vol. 2, p. 152.
  20. ^ Arts & Humanities Research Council Concert Programmes, St. James's Hall Concerts (1867-1904) [1]
  21. ^ Litzmann, pp. 249-250
  22. ^ Litzmann 1913, vol.2, "Works studied and repertoire", pp. 442-452
  23. ^ Netherlands, well received, Litzmann vol. 2, p. 102
  24. ^ Paris Conservatoire, 6 April, to a "storm of applause", Litzmann v. 2, p. 205
  25. ^ Litzmann, v. 2, p. 237
  26. ^ Third performance, in Hamburg, with Brahms conducting the Philharmonic; relatively the most successful of the first five performances, but Clara felt "the public understood nothing and felt nothing," Litzmann v. 2 p. 200
  27. ^ London, Litzmann v. 2 p. 263
  28. ^ 1 January, to a "storm of applause," Litzmann v. 2 p. 147
  29. ^ Litzmann, vol. 1, p. 76
  30. ^ Frankfurt; Clara commented that the orchestra liked the concerto, Litzmann v. 2. p. 247
  31. ^ In Frankfurt; Litzmann v. 2 p. 247
  32. ^ Peter Clive. Brahms and His World: A Biographical Dictionary, p. 403. Retrieved 23 October 2014
  33. ^ Reich, Nancy B., Clara Schumann, The Artist and The Woman. Revised edition. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001, pp. 271-2. ISBN 0-8014-8637-8.
  34. ^ Litzmann, Berthold, Clara Schumann: An Artist's Life Based on Material Found in Diaries and Letters, Vol. I, Litzmann Press, 2007, p.316, ISBN 978-1-4067-5906-8.
  35. ^ Reich, Nancy B., Clara Schumann, The Artist and The Woman. Revised edition. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001, pp. 254. ISBN 0-8014-8637-8.
  36. ^ Eugenie Schumann
  37. ^ "Clara Wieck Schumann - Biography New beginning and her last years 1856 - 1896". Rutgers University. 
  38. ^ See: Clara Schumann Piano Music, selected & with introduction by Nancy B. Reich. ISBN 9780486413815.
  39. ^ Song of Love at the American Film Institute Catalog


  • Avins, Styra (ed), JOHANNES BRAHMS: Life and Letters (1997), selected and annotated by Styra Avins, Transl. by Joseph Eisinger and S. Avins, Oxford University Press.
  • Gál, Hans, Johannes Brahms: His Work and Personality, transl. from German by Joseph Stein, Knopf, New York, 1963; published in the UK by Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
  • Litzmann, Berthold, Clara Schumann: An Artist's Life based on Material found in Diaries and Letters, translated and abridged from the fourth German edition by Grace E. Hadow. McMillan, London, and Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig, 1913, two vols.; reprinted at unspecified date. Another edition New York, Da Capo Press, 1979, ISBN 978-0-306-79582-4. Another, Litzmann Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4067-5906-8. Page numbers do not agree between different printings. Each will be referred to by its year.
  • Schumann, Clara, and Brahms, Johannes, Briefe aus den Jahren [Letters from the Years] 1853-1896, two vols., Band I: 1853-1871, Band 2: 1872-1896, with a "Geleitwort" (Preface) by Marie Schumann. To be called "Briefe"
  • Schumann, Eugenie, The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms: The Memoirs of Eugenie Schumann, English Edition 1927, reprinted 1991 by Music Book Society, Lawrence, Massachusetts, ISBN 1-878156-01-2; translated by Marie Busch from the German original Erinnerungen von Eugenie Schumann, 1925. To be called "Eugenie Schumann."

Further reading

  • Bogousslavsky, J. and M. G. Hennerici, Bäzner, H., Bassetti, C., Neurological disorders in famous artists, Part 3, Karger Publishers, 2010, pp. 101–118.
  • Boyd, Melinda. "Gendered Voices: The 'Liebesfrüling' Lieder of Robert and Clara Schumann." 19th-Century Music 39 (Autumn 1975): 145–162.
  • Gould, John. "What Did They Play? The Changing Repertoire of the Piano Recital from the Beginnings to 1980." The Musical Times 146 (Winter 2005): 61–76.
  • Kopiez, Reinhard, Andreas C. Lehmann and Janina Klassen. "Clara Schumann's collection of playbills: A historiometric analysis of life-span development, mobility, and repertoire canonization." Poetics, Volume 37, Issue 1, February 2009: 50–73.
  • Burstein, L. Poundie. "Their Paths, Her Ways: Comparison of Text Settings by Clara Schumann and Other Composers." Women and Music — A Journal of Gender and Culture 6 (2002): 11ff. Accessed through the International Index to Music Periodicals on 29 June 2009.
  • Rattalino, Piero. Schumann. Robert & Clara. Varese: Zecchini Editore, 2002. ISBN 88-87203-14-8.
  • Reich, Nancy B. "Clara Schumann." In Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150–1950. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986. ISBN 0252012046.
  • Reich, Nancy B. Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8014-3740-3 / 978-0-8014-8637-1.
  • Reich, Susanna. Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso. 1999. Reprint. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. ISBN 0-618-55160-3.
  • Kees van der Vloed, Clara Schumann-Wieck. De pijn van het gemis. Aspekt, Soesterberg 2012. ISBN 9789461531773. Invalid language code.

External links

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