Clara Schumann: Musician & Composer

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Clara Schumann: Musician & Composer

Every époque is marked by its own magnificent talent. A well-known German composer and teacher Clara Schumann can be definitely called an outstanding personality of the Romantic Era. Together with her husband, a great German composer Robert Schumann, they were dominant composers, whose works are valued till nowadays. Her creative career lasted for 61 years and has left numerous masterpieces that are highly appreciated. This woman has changed the format and repertory of the solo piano recital and has left a unique collection of the concerts to further generations. However, the work of a creative thinker can hardly be limited only to inspiration and inner impulses; it cannot be separated from the exterior influences and personal life. Clara Schuman’s personal life was filled with events that became crucial for her creative work. Originated from the aesthetic beliefs of this woman, her oeuvres had a strong interconnection with the lessons she got in life. This paper is aimed to follow life tragedies and triumphs as accompanying factors that let Clara Schumann form the new preferences of the audience.

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Important Events in the Composer’s Life

Clara Schumann was born in Leipzig in 1819. At the age of 6, after her parents got divorced, the girl was left with her father Friedrich Wieck, who was known as a good musical educator (Reich 10). Separation from mother definitely had a negative impact on the childish psyche. However, the mother and her daughter still had a possibility to communicate through letters, and both parents had influence on small Clara’s upbringing. At the same time, the devotion of her father to music became the first factor that predetermined future interests of the small girl. The further remarkable dates of her life were also connected with music. In 1828, being a musical performer at the Leipzig mental therapist’s, she got acquainted with young talented musicians and Robert Schumann among them. Even though he was nine years older, the boy was so impressed by Clara’s performance that he insisted on stopping his study of jurisprudence and decided to become Friedrich Wieck’s student.

In 1830, being an 11-year-old girl, Clara and her father gave performances on the European tour with the last stop in Paris. The solo concert took place in Leipzig, but the performance in Weimar was honored by obtaining a medal from Johan Goethe for her remarkable spirit and musical talent (Reich 27). During this time, Niccole Paganini, who was in Paris, offered Clara Shuman to give joint performances, but low attendance of the concerts was predetermined by the cholera outbreak. At the age of 18, Clara Wieck held a series of concerts in Vienna, which inspired the leading Austrian poet of those times Franz Grillparzer to write a poem entitled “Clara Wieck and Beethoven” (Reich 3). The verse reflected the enthusiasm of a young musician through the link with an outstanding composer of all the times. Her concerts were marked by big sellouts, and the public as well as critics adored her performance and unique talent and wrote numerous enthusiastic reviews. In 1838, in Austria, her talent was awarded with a remarkable title of “Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuosa” despite her foreign origin, protestant religion and female gender (Reich 3).

The personal life of Clara Schumann was obviously quite complicated and left a considerable imprint on her creative work and mental state. Robert Schumann fell in love with her since she was 15, but Clara’s father was set aggressively against their marriage. Even though the couple got married in 1840 in spite of Friedrich’s objections, the further years he did everything to do harm to them. However, such obstacles appeared to be positive for Robert Schumann’s development as a composer. Inspired by his love, he supplemented the German musical heritage with such well-known pieces as a songs cycle “Poet’s Love” (Dichterliebe) on Heine’s verses (Reich 208).

During the further performance with her husband, Clara Schumann extended her glory outside Germany and assisted Robert Schumann’s advances in any ways. Primarily, due to her efforts, the world knows Schumann as a great and outstanding composer of the Romantic Era. Clara Schumann had to rule the household and be in charge of all the financial issues due to mental instability of Robert. However, the underlying reasons for her performances were not solely her responsibility and financial needs, but to a great extend her values. She was a musician by training and in her soul.

In their research, Kopiez, Lehmann, and Klassen marked out a strong interconnection between the life-span and concerts frequency of the composer. For example, during her marriage and until husband’s illness the number of her concerts per year decreases and counted approximately 10.4 concerts a year (Kopiez, Lehmann, and Klassen 66). Her young age showed the number of performances up to 27 concerts (Kopiez, Lehmann, and Klassen 66). The seasons of the concerts also depended on their frequency. In addition, good infrastructure of the cities became a priority for Clara Schumann when she was married and could not easily leave her husband and children.

In 1878, Clara Schumann was appointed as the piano tutor in Frankfurt-on-Main conservatory (Reich 164). She occupied this position for 14 years and made a great contribution to the technique of playing piano. She significantly reduced her performances shortly before getting the position of a professor in Frankfurt (Kopiez, Lehmann, and Klassen 67). As a result, the research provides evidences that being the only financial provider for the family had a crucial influence on Clara Schumann’s concerts regularity. Advancements of her career and a performance frequency decrease were associated with the critical events of her life (Kopiez, Lehmann, and Klassen 67).

The death of Robert Schumann had a great impact on the work of Clara as she dedicated herself completely to interpretation of his works. Even though her first performance in England and mainly the compositions of Robert were highly criticized, she came back to London again to popularize Schumann’s oeuvres. The reflection of warm relations with Brahms and their deep mutual support can also be found in the works of Clara. She played an important role in recovering Brahms’ D minor concert, which was rejected by the audience after the first performance. Nevertheless, her repertoire comprised few solo compositions for piano by Brahms. According to Kopiez, Lehmann, and Klassen, it was only 1.6 percent of the music she played (68). However, on her last concert performed in Frankfurt in 1891, she played Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” (Reich 166).

The Importance of the Composer’s Work

During a long period, Clara Schumann was not recognized as a composer and was respected only for her pianist’s talent that effected the development of separate concert forms of piano solo performances. She was one of the first performers who played the compositions without a printed music text, which is generally accepted nowadays. Being taught to remember music orally, Clara Schumann always gave performances without sheet music and knew all compositions by heart. Mainly this fact was previously regarded as something unique.

The performance of this woman was amazing since the first concerts. During the earliest years, the repertory of Clara comprised mostly popular and light music, including the works of Kalkbrenner, Henselt, Thalberg, Hertz, Pixis and her own compositions. As long as she grew up professionally and got an authority, she planned her program independently more and more often. Including mainly the works of such romantic composers as Chopin, Mendelsohn and Robert Shuman along with more “difficult” remarkable composers of the past like Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti, Beethoven and Schubert let the audience distinguish her performances’ mood and level from many others. Hence, she has played a crucial role in changing the repertory of the performing pianists. Though she played generally accepted musical works, demonstrating only the pianist’s technique and skills during her early career, her later performances were focused on more serious compositions. Some critics believed that to a great extend the marriage with Robert Schumann should be regarded as the factor that brought about the above mentioned changes. Anyway, it is essential that many leading musicians of that time followed her example.

The role of Clara Schumann as a composer was also remarkable due to the fact that she was a woman. This can be proved through the example of how she influenced the comprehension of females in the musical sphere by her husband Robert. Schumann’s meeting with his future wife was marked by his complete amazement and surprise as he previously stated that “there are no female composers”; he called women “frozen, firm embodiments of music” until Clara Wieck showed him that women can be sophisticate and exceptionally talented in any sphere (Gates 2). Clara Schumann’s “Quatre Polonaises” can be regarded as the crucial composition that completely convinced Robert Schumann of his previous erroneous beliefs (Gates 2).

Clara Schumann was a very strong woman. Her life was filled with many tragedies. Four of her children and her husband died prior to her. The husband and son were sent to mental health facilities for some time. However, she still performed music and put efforts to pass her knowledge to others. Many of her students travelled around the world and taught others the valuable musical skills they got. With time Schumann’s belief in herself was lost, and she stopped composing new works. However, her influence on music is felt even nowadays. The main idea passed from her to the new generations was that a performer has to put all efforts to transfer all the depth and idea of the composer. Nowadays, her works are performed and recorded more and more often. Her pieces comprised songs, piano plays, solo concerts, trio, choral pieces and three romances for piano and violin. Some of the compositions, which number approximately 100 pieces, were published after her death.

Contribution to Music of the Romantic Era

Clara Schumann was a bright and remarkable representative of the Romantic Era. Being not solely a talented composer, but a woman, her feelings and personal life had a considerable influence on her performance and creative pieces. According to her own words, “composing music…and listening to it” was the greatest joy for her throughout life (Gate 2). The Romantic Era was marked by weakening of strict classical rules and orders and a decrease in numerous restraints. Clara Schumann set an example of breaking such restrictions by becoming a female musician and composer, who played concerts even when she had several children. This woman has changed the format and repertory of the solo piano recital and left a unique collection of concerts to the further generations. Even though Clara Schumann wrote only three romantic pieces, she performed the compositions of others such as Chopin, Mendelssohn, her husband Robert Schumann and thus popularized the Romantic Movement in music.

The creative power of Clara Schumann was marked by a number of her contemporaries and followers. Among numerous works that became a great contribution to the German musical heritage of that period, one should emphasize her “Caprices en Forme de Valse”, “Romance Variée” and many others (Gates 2). While numerous examples prove that

Clara played a crucial role in Robert Schumann’s development as a composer, Gates marked out the letters of the couple with the evidence that they two completed each other and Clara thanked her husband for all her music that came from her soul (3).

Moreover, the choice of the new repertoire for the concerts was another step on the way to ruin the accepted classical laws. One can see that the innovations and choices of this woman were characterized by artistic freedom, experimentation and an emphasis on her creativity. Not only Schumann’s pieces themselves, but their performance was always associated with inspiration and expressive motives. In many compositions, the composer expressed her feelings. For instance, “Romance Variee” was devoted to her beloved husband; “Three Romances” reflected her emotional state as well (Gate 3). Hence, mainly the above mentioned pieces can be defined as those that clearly represented the traditions of the new Romantic school.

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To sum it up, Clara Schumann was a remarkable example of a great female talent born in the Romantic Era in Germany. Her pieces including songs, piano plays, solo concerts, trio, choral pieces and three romances for piano and violin are highly valued till nowadays. Being one of the first women who displayed her talent in music, she put all her soul in her compositions and performance. Clara Schumann founded the rules of a music choice and predetermined the new preferences of the wide audience. She has not only initiated the new techniques for playing the piano, but put into musicians’ mind the idea that the main task of a performer is to focus on the idea of the composer and put all efforts to transfer it completely to the audience. Being a woman, she could not restrict her personal life and devote herself to career completely. Therefore, there are numerous evidences how her creative work and repertoire were strongly influenced by her personal situation and constraints.