02 Mar 2011

Composer of the Week Encore – Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann was an extremely talented woman who often gets summed up as “Robert Schumann’s wife”, but I’m here to tell you that there was a lot more to her than that.
Clara the Pianist
Clara (born in 1819), was a very gifted young pianist. By age eleven she was performing throughout the cities of Europe, and by age 18 was performing to sell-out houses and getting great reviews. Here’s an review from the time:

“In her creative hands, the most ordinary passage, the most routine motive acquires a significant meaning, a color, which only those with the most consummate artistry can give.”

That was her skill at age 18. She was given Austria’s highest musical honor, the title of “Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso.” Serious stuff.
As her performance career progressed, she was a champion of the “new” Romantic composers, but also payed attention to the composers of the past. Her last public concert was in 1891- Clara had a 61 year performing career, impressive even by today’s standards.
Clara the Composer
Clara was also a talented composer, and wrote her piano concerto at age 14. Unfortunately, her confidence in her composition skills waned as she grew older, and she had stopped composing by age 36. She wrote at least 20 compositions, and some scholars believe that at least 20 of her works were lost or never published.
Clara the Muse
There are some who doubt how Robert Schumann’s music would have survived without Clara. Before they were married he wrote some of his most well-known Lieder, inspired by their love. And throughout his life and after his death, Clara was the ambassador of his music, making sure it was played throughout the continent.
Robert Schumann died when Clara was 36, leaving her to provide for seven children. Since Robert spent the last two years of his life in a mental institution she had grown accustomed to providing for the family, which she did by continuing to give concerts throughout her life, and by teaching.
Here’s the first movement from Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto. If you want to hear it live, put March 4-5 on your calendar, when it will be performed in Abravanel Hall with Mihaela Ursuleasa.