Clara Schumann (born Wieck)

1819–1896

Romantic

Clara Wieck became a pianist and a composer. She showed remarkable strength and determination as she continued her professional career after her marriage.

Clara was trained by her father, Friedrich Wieck. He was a piano teacher who decided to make his eldest daughter a success. She performed at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig at nine years old and published her first piano composition when she was 12. Becoming a celebrated pianist during the 1830s, she also got to know Robert Schumann – one of her father’s pupils. Herr Wieck was alarmed: Clara’s relationship with Robert did not fit with his plan for Clara and he made it difficult for them. But, like her father, Clara was a determined person! She married Robert anyway. Her concerts were not managed by her father anymore: she did it herself.

This was a time when a married woman would be expected to look after her husband – to put his career and his needs first. Robert could get quite depressed, and Clara managed not only to care for him but to pursue her own career and have eight children!

When Robert had a mental breakdown and ended up in a private hospital, Clara continued performing to pay for the cost of his care. She became a close friend of the younger composer Johannes Brahms. He had been helped and encouraged by the couple; now it was his turn to support to Clara. For over two years he visited Robert regularly in the hospital, while Clara was banned from seeing him. She was allowed in only two days before he died.

Clara Schumann’s songs and piano music were written with no encouragement from anyone that this could be her career. She stopped composing at the age of 36, overpowered by the belief of the time that women shouldn’t try to be composers. It was a different era. Her name today is rightly celebrated.

Clara Schumann, courtesy of Benjamin Chai

Play Music!

Play Music!

Sample some music by Clara Schumann.

Variationen über ein Thema von Robert Schumann (‘Variations on a theme by Robert Schumann’), Op. 20

Clara and Robert Schumann had a truly musical partnership. Here, Clara takes a theme written by Robert, which we hear from 0.00–1.07, and then plays with it seven times after that – giving it more notes, different dynamics (loud and soft), speed changes, and other decorative ideas. She gave the piece to Robert on his birthday in 1853.

Performers: Yoshiko Iwai, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553501

Der Wanderer (‘The Wayfarer’)

In this song, a wayfarer (a traveller on foot) thinks about how nothing is familiar and home is such a long way away. When the voice comes in, the piano has a kind of pulsing accompaniment, representing the constant movement of the traveller.

Performers: Dorothea Craxton, soprano; Hedayet Djeddikar, fortepiano

Taken from Naxos 8.570747

Drei Romanzen (‘Three Romances’), Op. 22 (arr. for cello and piano): No. 1 Andante molto

Originally for violin and piano, this gentle ‘romance’ is one of three that Clara wrote in 1853. It has been arranged for cello and piano by the pianist on this recording.

Performers: Karine Georgian, cello; Jan Willem Nelleke, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.572375

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 What was Clara Schumann’s surname before she married?

a. Week
b. Weak
c. Wieck

 Clara Schumann mostly wrote for the voice and for the…

a. Piano
b. Cello
c. Orchestra

 What age was Clara Schumann when she gave her first official piano recital?

a. 4
b. 11
c. 9

 Which composer became a close friend?

a. Brahms
b. Chopin
c. Beethoven

 At what age did Clara give up composition?

a. 21
b. 36
c. 45


Key Facts...

Key Facts…
  1. Clara Schumann was taught piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony and composition by her father.
  2. She was one of the first solo pianists to perform pieces from memory. Now pianists do it most of the time.
  3. Friedrich Wieck threatened to shoot Robert Schumann if he married Clara. (He didn’t shoot him though!)
  4. The composer Johannes Brahms was a very close friend of Clara’s.
  5. The famous actress Katharine Hepburn played Clara Schumann in a 1947 film called Song of Love.

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Listen to more by Clara Schumann.

Piano Music


Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7

This piano concerto is Clara Schumann’s only surviving work for orchestra. She wrote the first sketch when she was only 14 – it became the final movement of the three. She was the solo pianist for the whole concerto’s first performance at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig in 1835. Felix Mendelssohn was the conductor. The middle movement (track 2) is a lovely, wistful ‘Romance’ – unusually in a concerto it is for just piano and solo and cello. Can you tell when the cello comes in?

Performers: Francesco Nicolosi, piano; Alma Mahler Sinfonietta; Stefania Rinaldi

Taken from Naxos 8.557552


Trois Romances (‘Three Romances’), Op. 11

This set of three pieces were written in Paris during Clara’s visit there in 1839. She gave them a French name! The first is dreamy overall; the second is a little more passionate – can you hear the low melody in the left hand at 0.00–0.06, as if it is going down the rungs of a ladder, while there are chords over the top? It goes back up the rungs briefly, then down again. The pianist makes the melody very clear by playing it more loudly than the little chords surrounding it. The third romance completes the set with tenderness.

Performers: Yoshiko Iwai, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553501


Piano Sonata in G minor

Clara Schumann wrote the first and third movements of this sonata, called them a ‘Sonatine’, and gave them to her husband as a Christmas present in 1841. He was really pleased! She carried on in January, and – between performing her own recitals – she managed to compose another two movements. The work was never published in her lifetime, but here it is now for us to enjoy. The Adagio (track 2), with its long, lyrical phrases, is like a song. Clara’s father had made singing an important part of her musical education, and her works often have this songlike quality, whether it is an instrument or a voice with the melody.

Performers: Yoshiko Iwai, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553501


Soirées musicales (‘Musical evenings’), Op. 6

Clara Schumann wrote these gentle little pieces 1836, and even at this stage it is clear that not only was she was an excellent pianist but she had a real feeling for the piano that she could transfer to the pieces she composed. Sometimes, a composer writes music that is full of good ideas but is not comfortable for a musician to play – sometimes because the composer doesn’t have a close knowledge of the instrument. But Clara’s experience flowed so smoothly into her writing: any pianist would find that her music lies comfortably under the hands and is satisfying to play.

Performers: Yoshiko Iwai, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553501

Chamber Music


Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17

As a pianist, Clara Schumann knew a lot about chamber music. She had performed many piano trios (violin, cello, piano) and the music she wrote for her own trio shows how comfortable she is with this combination of instruments. The beginning is in a minor key and sounds quite dark and unsettled. The whole work goes through different moods – the second movement (track 2) is playful, and the third (track 3) is heartfelt and plaintive – but in the end, after a bit of drama, it ends with a cheerful chord!

Performers: Rodolfo Bonucci, violin; Andrea Noferini, cello; Francesco Nicolosi, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.557552


Drei Romanzen (‘Three Romances’), Op. 22 (arranged by J.W. Nelleke for cello and piano)

These Three Romances were composed for violin and piano: the pianist on this recording has arranged them for cello and piano instead. Clara dedicated the work to Joseph Joachim, a Hungarian violinist whom she and Robert had first met in 1844, when he was 14 years old. In May 1853 he performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and Clara wrote that she had ‘never heard violin-playing like it’. In July she wrote this set of pieces – one of the last works that she composed – and she and Joachim became great friends.

Performers: Karine Georgian, cello; Jan Willem Nelleke, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.572375

Songs


Drei Lieder (‘Three Songs’), Op. 12

In March 1840, Robert Schumann – who was Clara’s fiancé at this point – urged her to ‘Write a song!’ He’d been composing songs rather than piano pieces himself, and found it so satisfying that he wanted her to do it too. She had written songs in the past, and at the end of 1840, the year of their wedding, she presented some new ones to Robert. In 1841, she gave him these settings of words by the German poet Rückert, which he then published alongside Rückert songs of his own. They were a close partnership, personally and musically.

Performers: Dorothea Craxton, soprano; Hedayet Djeddikar, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.570747


Am Strande (‘On the shore’)

The bubbling piano part at the very beginning of this song sets the scene: ‘Musing on the roaring ocean,’ begins the singer, ‘Which divides my love and me’. It is a passionate love song. It was one of the first songs that Clara gave to Robert after he had encouraged her enthusiastically in 1840 with the words ‘Write a song!’ The text is a German translation of a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns that was originally called Musing on the Roaring Ocean.

Performers: Dorothea Craxton, soprano; Hedayet Djeddikar, fortepiano

Taken from Naxos 8.570747


Volkslied (‘Folksong’)

This expressive song with words by Heinrich Heine, beginning ‘Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht’ (‘There fell a frost in the spring night’), was not published in Clara’s lifetime. It is a bleak poem, about an unlucky young couple who ran away together – the final line means ‘They met their ruin, they perished’. There is no anger or energy in this music, just a sadness and a lifelessness. Listen to how the voice finishes at 2.07, and the piano is left to complete the song on its own.

Performers: Dorothea Craxton, soprano; Hedayet Djeddikar, fortepiano

Taken from Naxos 8.570747