Clara Wieck-Schumann biographical introduction Part 2
Clara Wieck was born on September 13, 1818 in Lepizig, daughter of Friedrich and Mariane Wieck. At the age of five, her parents got divorced and Clara was separated from her mother. She and her two brothers Gustav and Alwin stayed under custody of the father. Friedrich Wieck, piano pedagogue and merchant for musical supplies, chose the name “Clara” not without any reason. Clara means “the bright”, “the famous”. This name was in a way the guideline of the education he let accord Clara. When she was five, she started piano lessons. The father wanted her to become a famous piano virtuosa, in which he succeeded without any doubt. Clara didn’t visit a public school, but was educated by private teachers. Friedrich Wieck put focus on languages (English and French), but also on physical work out. Daily recreational walks were absolved – a habit, which Clara kept all of her life and also passed it on to her children and grandchildren. After her father introduced her in private circles in Dresden and Leipzig the 9-year old Clara began her career with a concert of the pianist Caroline Perthaler on October 28, in 1828, in a couture store in Leipzig. In 1830 she gave her first “Akademie”. The following years were scheduled with education (in which also musical theory was a big part), until Friedrich Wieck decided to go on the first journey abroad with his daughter. His plan as to conquer one of the most important musical cities in the world: Paris. If one wanted to become famous as a pianist, he had to be successful and accepted in Paris, Vienna and London. The itinerary to Paris leads through Weimar, where Clara was allowed to play two times for the aged Goethe. From there they traveled with several stops to Kassel. Here she impressed Louis Spohr by her play. Covered with commendatory letters, they continued to Paris, where they spent two months and Clara held little soirees. She became friends with the singer Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient and made acquaintance of Chopin. She also met Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Hiller, Kalkbrenner, Pixis and Herz during her stays in Paris and was also glad about the reunion with Paganini.
Since 1830 Robert Schumann lived in the house of Wieck. He took piano lessons with Friedrich Wieck, officially studied law and hovered a long time between literature and music. He helped 15-year old Clara with the orchestration of her (only) piano concert, who gave the final of this concert by draft on her five month tour through Northern Germany, which she undertook with her father in winter 1834/35. In November 1835, the concert was premiered under the conduct of Mendelsohn Bartholdy at the “Gewandhaus zu Leipzig”.
At that time Clara became aware of the growing affection towards the nine years elder Robert Schumann. The engagement with Ernestine von Fricken might have been conducive to this awareness and also stirred jealousy at Clara’s side. Robert Schumann dissolved the engagement and soon he was certain about his affection to Clara. But until the love between the two of them could find final fulfillment, Robert and Clara had to get through struggles with Friedrich Wieck and also a court-ordered marriage license. Clara found temporarily resort at her mother Mariane, who lived sind 1825 with her second husband, piano instructor Adolph Bargiel in Berlin. The contact to her mother never broke up, but at that time the two of them became closer again. Robert Schumann got along quite well with Mariane Bargiel and visited his bride in Berlin.
Clara Wieck spent her life until her marriage on concert tours and with teaching and composing. The fact the piano virtuosi gave concerts of their own works in the early 19th century, was more than common. The peak of her young career was the stay in Vienna in the year 1838. The imperial city fell in real Clara Wieck craze, and Clara befell the great honour of being appointed to imperial and royal chamber virtuosa. Of course that was a big exception for a woman, protestant and a foreigner!
In 1839, Clara went for her first concert tour to Paris without her father. She wanted to prove that she could persist without him, but due to the judicial disputes of Robert she had to return earlier than planned. The artistic success of this journey is hard to rate. The second trip to Paris was for sure very important for Clara’s personal development, because it resulted in the total detachment from her father and the turning to Robert. It was for sure the hardest decision she had to make in her entire life. To prevent the marriage, Friedrich Wieck took action such as libel, refusing the delivery of the legal estate as also Clara’s grand piano, so that an amicable arrangement was not possible anymore.
After receiving the marriage license of the appellate court, Clara and Robert married on September 12th, 1840 in Schönefeld bei Leipzig. There they spent the first years of their marriage. In Leipzig, their daughters Marie and Elise were born. In the apartment in Inselstraße 5 (nowadays number 18), the couple received a lot of visitors. The life of the Schumanns was filled with visits to theatres and concerts, reception of private visits, recreational walks and journeys and both family life and the composing by Schumann and his work at the “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik”. Clara also gave concerts after the marriage, but she had little time for her own composing and practicing. Robert encouraged her consistently to continue in her composing and also campaigned the printing of her works.
In 1842, Robert Schumann accompanied his wife on a tour through Northern Germany. The couple separated in Hamburg, because Clara traveled further on to concerts in Copenhagen and Robert returned home to take care of the little daughter Marie. That was a decision they both regretted, because Clara was longing for her husband and child, although a lot of Copenhagen families worshiped the ground she walked on and also Robert was longing for a reunion with his wife.
1844 the couple moved from Leipzig to Desden, hoping that the healthy climate of the city next to the Elbe will improve Schumann’s health condition. In Dresden, Clara’s main challenge was to care for her husband and to postpone the improving in her own career. She gave birth to four children (Julie, Emil, who died at the age of one, Ludwig and Ferdinand). She gave piano lessons, but she also did give concerts and composed a few of her best works. 1844 was also the year of the big trip to Russia together, which resulted in long-term stays in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In the winter of 1846/47 the Schumanns started a trip to Vienna with their two elder daughters and after that they continued their journey to a concert tour to Berlin. They became friends with the painters Julius Hübner and Eduard Bendermann and their wives, and also with the painter-port Robert Reinick. The Schumanns also made acquaintance with the sculptor Ernst Rietschel (who designed the famous double medaillion of the married couple). In 1850 Schumann was called to Düsseldorf to become musical director. In the following year, Clara gave birth to her youngest daughter Eugenie. In Düsseldorf in 1853, the couple got to know the violinist Joseph Joachim and his friend, the young composer and pianist Johannes Brahms. Together with Joachim, Clara Schumann gave a lot of concerts in the following decades, also accompanied by his wife, Amalie, a famous and well-reputable singer. In the last apartment that she shared with Robert, Clara had an own working room, where she could practice without disturbing her husband. She gave concerts in Düsseldorf and the surrounding cities and assisted her husband in the rehearsal works in the Musikverein. Robert’s work as a conductor more and more harmed his health and in the year of 1852, his condition got worse. At the end of the year 1853, Schumann de facto quit his work and started on a concert tour to Holland with his wife. This tour was a very successful time for both of them: Schumann’s composing and Clara’s interpretations both were highly applauded.
In February 1854, Robert Schumann tried to commit suicide and was delivered on his own wish to the sanatorium of Dr. Richarz in Endenich bei Bonn. In June 1854, Clara gave birth to the youngest child, Felix, who never happened to meet his father. The doctors forced Clara and the children to keep distance from the patient. To maintain the subsistence for her family and to distract herself from her grief, the pianist continued to give a lot of concerts. In 1855, she went on a tour to Holland and Pommern, in 1856 she went for the first time to England. From these journeys she brought flowers for her husband, which she collected in a book “Blumenbuch für Robert”. He never consciously SAW this book. Clara met her husband again shortly before he died at July 29th, in 1856.
Clara Wieck verbrachte ihr Leben bis zur Heirat auf Konzertreisen, mit Unterricht und eigenem Komponieren. Dass Klaviervirtuosen im frühen 19. Jahrhundert eigene Kompositionen aufführten, war selbstverständlich. Die Krönung ihrer Jugendkarriere war der Wienaufenthalt im Jahr 1838. Die Kaiserstadt geriet in ein wahres Clara-Wieck-Fieber, und der jungen Pianistin widerfuhr die große Ehre, zur Kaiserlich-königlichen Kammervirtuosin ernannt zu werden – eine große Ausnahme für eine Frau, Protestantin und Ausländerin!
At the age of 37, she was widowed and had to care alone for herself and her seven children. Clara Schumann wrote in letters to her friends that she has the feeling to never ever become joyful again. The Christmas festivities were really hard for her to endure, because a lot of memories of her beloved husband were revealed. The stops after Schumann’s death were Berlin, Baden-Baden, which became the centre of the family during the summers and from 1873 on again Berlin, where Clara moved with her daughters Marie and Eugenie. The decades after 1856 were scheduled with concert tours during the winter (often accompanied by her daughter Marie), which brought her to various European countries, such as Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, nowadays Poland, in 1846 again to Russia and very often to England. The pianist was her own manager and she had a very wide business correspondence. The summer months were to prepare for the tours, for recreations (often spent in Switzerland), for family and the reception of visitors. Clara took care of her friendship relations throughout decades.
In 1878, Clara Schumann was employed at the “Dr. Hoch’sche Konservatorium” in Frankfurt/Main as the first and at that time only woman and worked there until 1892 as a teacher. Students from England, America and different European countries came to the famous pianist. Her daughters assisted her, because she herself only taught advanced players. Clara Schumann was lucky to celebrate her 50th and also her 60th anniversary on stage (1878 and 1888). In 1889 emperor Wilhelm II. honored her with the “Große Medaille für Kunst”. 1891 her last public performance took place in Frankfurt/Main. Back in 1888, she traveled to England for the last time and said goodbye to the audience in London, which couldn’t even imagine a season without the famous Clara Schumann. In her last years, she suffered from rheumatism and amblyacousia. But she played piano in private company until she died.
The years in Frankfurt Clara was also working on publishing the works of her husband. She had a very tense correspondence with the Leipzig publisher Hermann Härtel (see reference) about problems with the Schumann complete edition, which she was also in negotiation with Johannes Brahms, who was also playing part in this edition. 1886, Clara published a so called instructive edition (“Instruktive Ausgabe”) of the piano works by Robert Schumann, which she commented with instructions of recitation of her own interpretation. In the same year a collection of letters written in his youth (“Jugendbriefe”) were released, also edited by Clara.
In her personal life, Clara not only had to deal with the loss of her beloved husband, but also the death of three of her children: Julie died in 1872, Felix in 1879 and Ferdinand deceased in 1891. Her son Ludwig had to be committed to an institution due to an incurable mental disease. Her son Ferdinand, who took part in the war in 1870/71, became addicted to morphine and therefore Clara took responsibility for his six children and also bore for their living.
Clara Schumann died on May 20th, 1896 after suffering a second stroke and was buried next to her husband in Bonn.
There are various descriptions from her students on Clara Schumann’s piano playing. Laura Rappoldi-Kahrer said that it was „ganz gegen den Effekt, frei von jedweder Äußerlichkeit, einzig und allein der wahren Kunst dienend“ (Laura Rappoldi-Kahrer, Memoiren, 1929). The musical instruments Clara Wieck-Schumann was playing derive from different companies: In her youth she mainly played on grand pianos by the Viennese companies Streicher, Graf or Stein. Robert Schumann gave her an instrument by the Breitkopf & Härtel for a wedding present. Later she played on grand pianos by the companies Klems in Düsseldorf, moaned about the hard-steering pianos by Boradwood in London and received in 1863 a grand piano by the company Erard in Paris as a present. Since the 1870s she preferred instruments by Grotrian-Steinweg in Braunschweig.
Clara Schumann outrageously formed the music scene of her time. Thanks to her a changement in the conception of concert programmes was achieved: The focus was now put on the performances of more challenging compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms and not longer on the presentation of mainly virtuosi’s plays.
Clara Schumann’s acceptation is also ascribable because of the fact that she also acquainted the audience with the compositions of Robert Schumann in her concerts. A lot of his creations had their debut performance because of her and especially after his death she considered it her mission to share his work with the audience.
Without her art, the music but also without her self-discipline and the educational background for which she was grateful towards her father for all of her life, Clara Wieck-Schumann would have never been able to survive her life with all the luck and also all the grieves and losses.
In a letter to Johannes Brahms in 1868, she stated about the importance of music in her life – a phrase that could have been her philosophie in life: “Die Ausübung der Kunst ist ja ein grosses Teil meines ichs, es ist mir die Luft, in der ich atme!” [Performing the art is a big part of my life, it is the air that I breath!] (Julia M. Nauhaus)
Translation: Katharina Ma
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