German musician Clara Wieck (1819-1896) married musician Robert Schumann in her hometown of Leipzig in 1840. A virtuoso pianist, she became the performing star of that eminent power couple, The Schumanns. She gave over a thousand concerts to enthusiastic audiences throughout Europe and Russia. Unfortunately, her first concert in Paris at age 11, meticulously planned by Friedrich, her father and teacher, had sparse attendance due to an outbreak of cholera.
When Clara turned 18, Friedrich refused to give his student, Robert Schumann, then 25, permission to marry his daughter. Clara sued him in court and won. In time she managed to escape a stage father’s suffocating hold on her life and career.
While on tours, Clara used her considerable influence to tirelessly promote her husband’s music, that of violinist Joseph Joachim and of her good friend Brahms, as well as compositions of Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn. With letters of introduction in hand, many hopeful musicians presented themselves at the Schumann home.
Clara also distinguished herself as a composer of piano concertos, chamber and orchestral works, lieder, and solo piano pieces. As a performer, she was the main breadwinner for her family. She also became an influential teacher at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt.
Her duties as Schumann’s wife, and as a mother of eight, hampered her explorations as an artist. Four of their children predeceased her. One ended up in a mental institution.
During Robert’s final years of mental collapse, Brahms was a constant presence in Clara’s life. Their letters speak to a deep friendship, perhaps love.
~ by Kathy Cohn