The Life and Music of Clara Schumann

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  • Topic: Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt
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The Life and Music of Clara Schumann
Vocal Pedagogy Presentation 4/25/13

Clara Schumann (Wieck) was born in Leipzig, Germany in September 1819 and died in Frankfurt in May of 1896. She was born to Friedrich Wieck and Marianne (Tromlitz). Her father was a talented pianist who taught but began his career in theology at his mother’s insistence. Clara’s mother, Marianne, was a pianist and soprano who studied with Friedrich. Friedrich and Marianne were wed in 1816 and he began training her to perform and help to forward his own career as a teacher. After eight years and five children, she left him and got a divorce. He then turned his musical focus to his eldest child, Clara and began to train her in her mother’s stead.

Clara made her concert debut in the Leipzig Gewandhaus at age 9. Her official debut was at age 11. She then traveled and performed in Paris at 12 and then Vienna at 18. Whilst in Vienna, she performed her fourth concert and after it was finished, the enthusiastic applause from the audience recalled Clara to the stage thirteen times.

During all of this, her father had other pupils that he was instructing. One of these was Robert Schumann, a local university student. Clara was nine years younger than Schumann, but she surpassed his talents and caught his interest. He did not begin courting her until she was sixteen years of age. Once her father found out however, he made his objections of the union quite clear, resolving to keep her inheritance from Clara if she proceeded. Robert and Clara fought him in court in what has been described as a “legendary legal battle.” They were wed in 1840, one day before her twenty-first birthday. They worked together, composing and performing and raising their eight children.

In Clara’s childhood, she met, performed for, and was admired by performers and composers such as Goethe, Paganini, Louis Spohr, Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn. She was influenced by each of these men and made an impact on them as well. Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Robert Schumann all played their own pieces for her. She performed their works as well as her own in her concerts after she was married. The practice of the day was that performers would often play entire concerts of their own works. Clara instead played the works of Bach, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schubert, as well as her husband’s. After her husband’s death in 1856, she predominantly played his works.

Clara learned harmony, theory, orchestration, fugue, counterpoint and composition from her father and other noted teachers in Leipzig. She was also taught piano, violin, theology, religion and languages by her father. Her father wished for her to not become a Wunderkind, but an artist. He trained her to be successful not so she would become famous in her own right, but so he would be seen as the teacher who produced such a star of the stage. He even for-saw this happening when he named her Clara. She was so-called because “she must be ‘illustrious,’ a shining light, a torch for his creed.”

She composed music mostly because it was what was expected of her. Performers of the day were expected to compose as well as perform; her father required it of her; and her husband later insisted upon it. She did enjoy writing music; she found joy in the act and wrote, “There is no greater joy than composing something oneself and then listening to it.” But she did not believe her compositions to be very good, constantly writing in her journal every flaw about each piece she could imagine and apologizing for her pieces in notes when she presented them to her husband. She considered herself as more of an interpretive artist rather than a creative artist.

Early in her life, because it was expected of her, she wrote many pieces and premiered them on the stage in Leipzig and other places. Some people speculate that her father actually wrote some, if not all of these pieces and simply had Clara perform them. This idea has been...
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