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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, C.: Piano Music
By Richard Todd
Clara Schumann was born in Leipzig in 1819, and even before the child was born, her father, Friedrich Wieck had decided his child was to become a great musician. He was responsible for her early piano tuition, and she proved such a receptive pupil that at the age of nine, she made her first public appearance at the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus. By the age of 12 she was already touring as a concert artist, as well as continuing her studies, adding singing, violin and composition to her list of attainments.
Her success had no bounds, until into her life came Robert Schumann. He had come to live with the Wiecks in 1830, and in 1837 he asked Clara’s father to allow them to marry. He refused and there followed a bitter struggle that eventually led the couple to court to seek legal permission. Though Clara was devoted to Robert, the marriage proved far from happy in musical circumstances, his demands that his wife be silent while he composed gave her little chance to play or compose. The position was made worse by having 8 children in 14 years. Yet somehow she managed to continue as a performing artist and teacher, and even found some time to compose.
Sixteen years after their marriage, Robert died, and Clara once more returned to the concert stage, touring extensively, including her favourite annual visit to England. She was to continue playing and teaching almost until her death in 1896, by which time she had seen the death of almost all of her children. She also continued to promote the music of Robert and to ensure publication. As a composer she never had any serious ambitions, Germany not being conducive to female composers at that time, but seems to have been happy to compose for her own satisfaction. The result was a modest collection of works, mainly for solo piano and as songs, though she did write a large-scale Piano Concerto and Piano Concertino.
After the death of her husband, Clara wrote almost nothing. Most of her output came in those years between the arrival of Robert in the Wieck household and their marriage. How much Robert influenced Clara, and how much came in the opposite direction we shall never know, but certainly Clara was a very gifted writer. Even Chopin, not a person to throw praise around, found her works of high quality. Many of her early pieces show the influence of the music she performed, but by the age of 16, when she wrote the Soir¾
es Musicales, she has totally mastered the structure and form of music. Four years later, in 1939, when she composed the Three Romances, her music had become more serious, and more readily influenced by Mendelssohn and her husband’s music. The date of composition of the Sonata (or Sonatina) is unclear, and it is more than probable that the last movement was added quite a few years later. She never performed the work in public. It would appear to have come from the early 1840’s and in texture is rather lightweight to carry the title of a sonata.
Though by the early 1850’s she was looking after a large family, and was again on the concert platform earning money to keep them. Somehow in 1853 she found time to resume composing, the result being one of her finest works, the Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann. A work of immense charm and considerable academic skill which she gave to her husband as a birthday present
Her output can best be summed up as pleasing, elegant and skilfully crafted, and certainly shamefully neglected, a fact that has more to do with the acceptance of women composers than the quality of the music.
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SCHUMANN, C.: Piano Music