In class, we briefly discussed what has been referred to as “music’s greatest love story” between Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. I decided to take a closer look at the life of Clara, who not only married an influential musician, but also was a musical prodigy herself.
Clara Schumann, formerly Clara Wieck, was born on September 13, 1819 into a musically gifted family in Leipzig, Germany. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, had been a renowned piano teacher, and he rigorously trained Clara to become one of the eras few woman virtuosos by the time she was 15 years old. Clara’s first public performance when she was only 11 years old, and she was unique in that she played from memory and that she performed not only her own compositions, but also variations of other composers’ works. After Clara met Robert Schumann, a composer and one of her father’s piano students, she fell in love with him. Clara’s father, however, viciously disapproved of the relationship, arguing that Clara was too accomplished and too good of a pianist to settle for an unknown composer like Schumann. Her father did everything he could to end the pair’s relationship: he sent her on long tours in Dresden for months, and he denied Schumann’s request to marry Clara in hopes of severing the romance.
Despite the opposition from Clara’s father, the pair eventually married on September 12, 1840. During their marriage, the couple continued to embrace their musical lifestyles. Whenever the pair worked together on concerts, Clara served primarily as the pianist, and Robert was the composer. Clara played the piano (even though she, herself was capable of composing pieces) because Robert refused to perform his compositions publically ever since he had injured his hand when he was younger. Over the years, Clara composed several famous pieces, including: “Der Mond kommt still gegangen”, “Warum willst du and’re fragen”, and “Die stille Lotosblume.” Although the pairs’ success and careers were sometimes a source of conflict, their love for music and one another overcame any of their major problems. The couple had eight children, and Robert eventually developed severe depression, which landed him in an asylum. Because of that, Clara was forced to take on the family responsibilities, and she had to sacrifice much of her musical career to become the head of the house. Several years after he was admitted into the asylum, Robert died, and Clara became a widow at the age of 37. After that, Clara chose to devote her time to interpreting her late husband’s pieces, and years later she began teaching piano at the Hoch Conservatory (and continued to perform only occasionally).
Do you think that Clara would be considered as influential a musician as she is today had she not been married to Robert Schumann? Is her fame solely attributed to her skill, or is it also a product of her marriage to another famous composer?