A pianist in the shadow of Clara Schumann?

To the memory of the 175th anniversary of the birth of Marie Wieck on 17thJanuary 2007

If these days you ask music lovers or sometimes even music experts what they would associate with the name of Marie Wieck, you will often just meet bashful looks or shrugs expressing ignorance, all because this pianist, singer, music teacher and music publicist is nowadays basically unknown to the musical public,contrary to the situation in her lifetime. Johanna Marie Wieck was born on 17thJanuary 1832 in Leipzig as the second child of Friedrich Wieck and his second wife Clementine, née Fechner. Similarly to her half-sister, Clara Wieck-Schumann, 13 years her senior (Wieck had first been married to MarianeTromlitz, later remarried under the name of Bargiel), Marie received her musical education from her father and was also meant to become a pianist, the same as the elder Clara who, through her love for Robert Schumann and the marriage with the composer, had escaped from the influence of her father. If nothing else, Friedrich Wieck wanted to demonstrate yet again through her performance, and was indeed in a position to do so, that his teaching method, later continued and publicised by Marie, had been successful.

“When I was nearly six years old”, this is how Marie Wieck quoted herself in her memoirs Aus dem Kreise Wieck-Schumann [“The Wieck-Schumann circle”] from her diary (initially kept by Wick himself on behalf of his daughter, the same as for Clara), “I started learning how to use the keys and to play a few exercises. Mr Anger from Lüneburg gives me lessons. Since that time, from October 1838, my father has been taking care of me seriously, after a few interruptions. After my fingers had been trained sufficiently through exercises and scales, the same as with Clara, I started to acquire the high notes at Easter only. Before that, I had played those small exercises without sheet music.” In the musical education of his second youngest daughter, Friedrich Wieck proceeded adequately in the same way as with the elder Clara. The same applied to the schooling. Similarly to Clara, Marie was also taught by private tutors, with the main focus on foreign languages. However, Marie was apparently less well musically trained than her elder half-sister who, as is well-known, already gave concerts at the LeipzigGewandhaus concert hall at the age of nine. Friedrich Wieck’s diary notes from 1842/43 reveal that Marie had some difficulties with reading notes and playing octaves. In her diary, by the hand of her father, the following personal assessment of Marie Wieck can be found: “I am as dim-witted, stupid and lazy as Clara. Perhaps I have got talent, too, still slumbering deeply within me, but at least I dohave the right feeling, a sense of the beat, and a musical ear. The fact that my father cannot deal with me that much because of his expanded piano and musicbusiness, might perhaps lead to a slightly delayed development. […] My education is thorough and similar to the one for Clara. I do not go to school yetbut I regularly go to see our aunt, Mrs Kunze, Master, to learn French, together with my little sister Cäcilie.” In retrospect, Marie herself acknowledged she “had not been a precocious child prodigy that was learning everything by itself.”

Clara Schumann also occasionally made critical remarks about her younger half-sister’s playing. For instance, in February 1843, she wrote in the marriage diaries kept together with her husband: “Marie played in a most charming manner but I was always irritated by the reluctance that could somehow be felt with each tonein her playing.” And in May of the same year, she stated: “[…] she [Marie] plays very nicely but everything still sounds terribly drummed into, something thatcould not be any different in a child.”

Still, the intensive and systematic training led to Marie making progress andbeing able to perform in private circles in Dresden, either as a soloist or together with her father. The repertoire included a four-handed rondo by Franz Hünten on Rossini’s Barber of Seville, an etude by Johann Baptist Cramer, an etude by Charles Meyer, four-handed compositions by Carl Czerny and Franz Hünten, and a valse by Frédéric Chopin. Marie Wieck then debuted publicly for the first time on 20th November 1843 in Dresden at a concert by Clara Schumann who gave several concerts in that town. Together with her sister, she played the first two movements of Sonata Op. 47 by Ignaz Moscheles four-hands. Marie herself quoted in her reminiscences from her father’s diary: “Thank God and with God’s blessing, Marie is performing for the first time at Klara’s concert here”.

The critique, inter alia in Signale für die musikalische Welt [“Signals for theWorld of Music”], appreciated her playing and attested her artistically convincing performance. Even her critically-minded sister expressed her joy at Marie’s performance in the marriage diaries with the words “he [Friedrich Wieck] had since long wished such moment to occur and certainly deserved yet again a bit of joy at seeing all his efforts rewarded”. Marie wrote in her memoirs: “I can still see my father in front of me, seated in the corner of the centre stage, watching his daughters with an anxious expression on his face.”  And the eleven-year-old girl was apparently richly rewarded for her success. “I received as a reward”, said Marie herself, “as mentioned in the diary, ‘two dresses, two visits to the theatre and a dinner at Renner’s’”.

This first public appearance was followed by shorter concert tours (to Eisenach, Weimar, Kassel) on which her father accompanied her. She was also able to celebrate successes in Leipzig where she performed on various occasions at theGewandhaus concert hall and the concert hall of the Euterpe Music Association.Alongside, she continued her piano studies, mainly with her father, and even started teaching herself. After first assuming some instruction sessions for her younger sister Cäcilie, she also gave a few piano lessons to her niece Marie Schumann at the beginning of 1847. In doing so, she seriously looked into her father’s teaching methods and pursued these. Along with her pianistic activity, Marie Wieck also paid particular attention to singing. She received singing lessons from her father, also performed as a soloist in the 1860s and later successfully worked as a singing teacher. It can be presumed that Marie first taught together with her father before assuming his students on her own.

Her musical success was yet based primarily on her pianistic activity. She gave concerts in many European towns. This is documented by her own collection of programmes, held by the Robert Schumann House in Zwickau, along with other parts of her Nachlass (including numerous letters from and to Marie Wieck).Later great concert tours led her, inter alia, to Zurich and Baden-Baden in 1851, to Vienna and Italy in 1855, to England in 1864/65, to Russia in 187, and to Scandinavia in 1879. The public was enthusiastic about her piano playing, of which she gave an extensive account herself in her memoirs Aus dem KreiseWieck-Schumann. In 1857, she was appointed court pianist for the chamber concerts of the Prince of Hohenzollern, not least owing to her outstanding pianistic performances. She gave her last concerts in Dresden on 4th December 1915 and on 15th January 1916 at the advanced age of 84.

Apart from her artistic and educational work, Marie Wieck was also active as a music commentator and particularly committed to the dissemination of her father’s teaching methods. In 1877, she published Wieck’s Singeübungen[“Singing Exercises”] together with Wieck’s student, Louis Grosse. Two years earlier, Pianoforte Studien [“Pianoforte Studies”] by Friedrich Wieck had appeared already, based on her father’s teaching practice. In 1912, the first edition of the aforesaid family chronicle was published. A serious eye disease leading to blindness shortly before her death severely restricted her virtually restless work over the last years of her life. Marie Wieck deceased on 22ndNovember 1916 in Dresden. An obituary by Martin Kreisig, the founder and first director of the Robert Schumann Museum, says: “With her, we have buried a genuine German artist, an artist who took the art seriously, so much that she was still unfailingly active until nearly her very last days.”

Nonetheless, in spite of all the recognition of her artistic performances, MarieWieck was never able to fully step out of the shadows of her elder sister Clara Schumann. The public’s interest was always more directed towards Clara Schumann, apart from her outstanding artistic performance, particularly due to various external circumstances (the matrimonial proceedings and the later marriage with Robert Schumann, the early demise of her husband, or her role as a single mother). In contrast, Marie’s life was unspectular, running in an ‘orderly artistic manner’. Emphasising this point, she wrote to Gustav Jansen on 16th April 1905: “Conventionality in our family did not damage the art.”

Ute Scholz (2007 for Schumannportal and DIE TONKUNST 2007, No. 1, p. 52-54, translated 2013 for www.schumannportal.de by Thomas Henninger)

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