Henriette Reichmann (1819–1868)

Henriette Reichmann, ca. 1860 (Signed photography,Robert-Schumann-Haus Zwickau)

The pianist Henriette Reichmann, born in Stuttgart, took her first piano lessons from the music teacher and song composer Friedrich Christian Schmidt (1802-1873) who had been a singer and actor at the Stuttgart Theatre from 1818 and then a répétiteur from 1830. Henriette’s father, Christian Gottlieb Reichmann (1791-1857) was also connected to the Stuttgart Theatre, as a manager of the theatre depot. This was where Henriette Reichmann performed for the first time in 1837 as a pianist.

When travelling to Paris on her second concert trip in January 1839, Clara Wieck also made an intermediate stop in Stuttgart where the two 19-year-old artists met for the first time on 24th January, at a gathering organised by Gustav Schilling, after which Clara noted in her diary: “[A little gathering at the house of Dr Schilling in the evening. I played there a lot. Miss Reichmann, Mrs Heinrich, Mrs Sick, all good pianists.]” (Jugendtagebücher [Youth Diaries], p. 315). The writer and lexicographer Gustav Schilling (1805-1881), a piano teacher in Stuttgart since 1830, had entered Clara Wieck in his Universal-Lexicon der Tonkunst [Universal Encyclopaedia of Music] in 1838 where it said she was “[absolutely the greatest of all contemporary piano virtuosos and a genius artist altogether]” (Vol. 6, p. 861). In Stuttgart, Gustav Schilling also helped her prepare for her concerts, but Robert Schumann was not pleased at all by the flatteries of this gentleman and specifically warned her about him.

In contrast to her first concert trip to Paris in 1831/32, Clara was not accompanied this time by her father, as the conflict surrounding the marriage to Robert Schumann had escalated to a point where Friedrich Wieck had largely terminated all support for his daughter. He provided his daughter with a Frenchwoman, Claudine Dufourd, unknown to her, as a travel companion. Clara was very distrustful of her and suspected she had been hired by Friedrich Wieck to watch out for and suppress any correspondence with Robert Schumann. So it was a stroke of luck when Clara Wieck met Henriette Reichmann in Stuttgart, who became her new travel companion: “[I am supposed to take Miss Reichmann with me to Paris and will certainly do so with the greatest pleasure. The parents and the daughter are extremely good, very simple and kind people to whom I feel very much attracted. Both parents were crying because their beloved daughter was leaving like this on her own, but, on the other hand, I was also most pleased by their trust to leave their daughter in my care. I have the very best intentions to do whatever is in my power. Henriette has already become a dear friend of mine.]” (Jugendtagebücher, p. 315; entry of 26.01.1839).

Henriette Reichmann was not only a travel companion but also took piano lessons from Clara Wieck in the following months, in fact, the main reason why she had left with her, and also supported Clara emotionally when her longing for Robert Schumann became too strong. Claudine Dufourd was dismissed soon after their arrival in Paris. When the great concert tour was finished in August 1839, the two artists parted ways in Frankfurt am Main: Clara Wieck continued her journey to Altenburg where she saw Robert Schumann again after one year of separation, and Henriette Reichmann returned to Stuttgart. There, she gave her own concert on 12th October 1839: “She played Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor [Op. 13], Études by Chopin and Henselt, and Thalberg’s so-called Moses Fantasia [Op. 33]. Judging by her performance, we have one more reason to express our high admiration of her excellent teacher [Clara Wieck] and benevolent friend who, apart from a renowned perfect mastery on the piano also possesses a rare talent and rare gift for teaching. Otherwise, this performance by Miss Reichmann would not yet have been so remarkable and this is why we have to express our thanks for Miss Wieck’s willingness to undertake such work and for the zeal with which she accomplished it …]” (Jahrbücher des deutschen National-Vereins für Musik und ihre Wissenschaft [Yearbooks of the German National Association for Music and its Science] of 7th November 1839, p. 254). Another concert in Stuttgart where she performed Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 25, is documented for 21st March 1843. Even though Clara occasionally criticised Henriette Reichmann’s piano playing, they still continued to be friends and maintained a friendly correspondence.

From around 1849, Henriette Reichmann settled in Hull (England) as a piano and singing teacher. In the summer of 1853, fourteen years after their joint trip to Paris, she went to see Clara Schumann in Düsseldorf, and Robert Schumann dedicated his Scenes from a Ball – nine characteristic pieces for piano four hands, Op. 109, to her on the occasion; perhaps it was a recollection of earlier times, when Robert Schumann had also exchanged a few lines with Henriette Reichmann in 1839, who had taken a deep interest in the fate of the engaged couple at the time. In a letter to Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann wrote on 18th May 1839: “[By the way, I really like Henriette; she wrote me a few words which were better than all your letters, namely: ‘fate is treacherous, life is short; hurry to the goal’ – this encompasses absolutely everything, bravo, Henriette! I like you.]” (quoted after Seibold, p. 214, emphasis in original). Schumann sent her his presentation copy of Op. 109 on 10th November 1953 with the note: “[When playing and listening to these songs that float between pleasure and seriousness like life itself, may you remember every hour the one who wrote and dedicated them to you. Robert Schumann. Düsseldorf, 10th November 1853.]” (quoted after ibid., p. 216). Henriette’s reply included, inter alia, the following meaningful closing words: “[May the fact that the only friend of my youth, our unique Clara, has received me again, me, the lonely one who is exposed to the storms of this earthly pilgrimage, be my pleasure for the whole remainder of my existence with its seriousness.]” (quoted after ibid., p. 216, emphasis in original). The last meeting between Henriette Reichmann and Clara Schumann took place in August 1854 when they both stayed at the health resort of Ostend for treatment, and their correspondence continued at least until 1856.

Cf. Clara Wieck, Jugendtagebücher 1827‒1840, edited by Gerd Nauhaus and Nancy B. Reich, with the collaboration of Kristin R.M. Krahe, Hildesheim, 2019, pp. 314–316, 322, 334, 616, 617.

Cf. Freia Hoffmann: Article “Reichmann, Henriette, Henrietta”, in: Europäische Instrumentalistinnen des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts. 2009. Online Encyclopaedia of the Sophie Drinker Institute, edited by Freia Hoffmann. Online at: https://www.sophie-drinker-institut.de/reichmann-henriette [08.09.2020].

Cf. Wolfgang Seibold: Familie, Freunde, Zeitgenossen. Die Widmungsträger der Schumannschen Werke (= Schumann-Studien 5), Sinzig, 2008, pp. 211–216.

(Theresa Schlegel, 2020, translated by Thomas Henninger, 2020)

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