Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (engraving, cf. StadtMuseum Bonn, SMB 2003/44 )

On 25th September 1831, only a few days after her 12th birthday, Clara set out on her first trip from Leipzig to Paris together with her father, Friedrich Wieck. For Clara Wieck, who had “only” performed in Leipzig, Dresden and Altenburg before, this was at the same time her first great concert tour. Before reaching Paris in February 1832, they made a number of intermediate stops, all in connection with concert performances, of course, the first of which was in Weimar between 26th September and 12th October 1831.

In Weimar, Friedrich Wieck established the necessary contacts with the high society to introduce his daughter and to create opportunities to perform. After some initial disappointing calls (Friedrich Wieck noted in his diary: “[ … to the home of the Oberhof Marshal von Spiegel who, in the worst mood possible and after his servant would not even let us talk to him, refused everything and would not allow Clara to play at the Theatre either. […] The Grand Duchess suffers from severe hearing problems and also currently no longer engages in music. […]]”, however, Friedrich Wieck was soon well received, amongst others, by the Privy State Councillor Christian Friedrich Schmidt, “[an enthusiastic admirer of Beethoven]” (Jugendtagebücher [Youth Diaries], p. 67), at whose music gathering Clara was allowed to perform, and the Chief Building Director of the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Clemens Wenzeslaus Coudray, who brought them in contact with Goethe.

On 1st October 1831, Clara Wieck and her father were granted an audience with the 82-year-old Goethe at his house on Frauenplan square: “[We found him reading and the servant introduced us without further announcement, since he had given us an appointment for this time the previous day. He was very friendly when receiving us; Clara was asked to sit with him on his sofa. Soon after, his daughter-in-law [Ottilie von Goethe] arrived, together with her two very sage-looking children, aged ten and twelve … Clara was then requested to play and she performed La violette by Herz. Whilst she was playing, more visitors arrived and she also performed the Bravura Variations by Herz, Op. 20. – Goethe made a very correct judgement on the composition and Clara’s playing; he called the composition cheerful and piquant in French, and praised Clara’s correct approach to this kind of music. And so we promised them things which many other people could only wish for in vain.]” (ibid., p. 68).

Eventually, on 7th October, Clara Wieck was also able to give a public concert at the Weimar Town Hall where, before an audience of 500, she performed, inter alia, Pixis’s Piano Concerto, Op. 100, Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano”, Op. 2, and Herz’s Bravura Variations, Op. 20. “[The artist, still very young, received rapturous applause already for the first piece, which rose to real enthusiasm for the following ones. Indeed, her great skill, assurance and power with which she performs even the most difficult movements in a light and playful manner, but even more so the brilliance and sensitivity of her performance which leaves little to be desired, are highly admirable. Miss Wieck recently performed at Court to great applause, and before and after that concert in various private circles …]”, the music periodical Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (No. 12 of 21.03.1832, col. 196 f.) wrote.

Goethe is said to have stated: “[When listening to Clara’s presentation, one forgets about the composition.]” (Jugendtagebücher, p. 69), and another time: “[this girl has more power than six boys together]” (ibid., p. 70); after her second visit to Goethe’s house on 9th October, he presented Clara a bronze medal with a half-length portrait of his and the dedication: “[to artistic Clara Wieck]”.

On 12th October, Clara and Friedrich Wieck moved on to Erfurt, equipped with numerous letters of recommendation for other towns and valuable new album sheets. Later on, in the 1840s and 1850s, Clara performed several more times in Weimar; she gave her last concert as Clara Wieck at the Weimar Municipal Theatre on 5th September 1840, a few days before her wedding to Robert Schumann.

In 1888, together with her grown-up daughters Marie and Eugenie, Clara Schumann visited one more time the Goethe House in Weimar, which had become a Museum after the death of the grandson, Walther von Goethe (1818-1885), and saw all her life pass by: “[At the Goethe House, I found the piano (a Streicher) still in the same room and in the same place where I had played to him in 1831. – This moved me very strangely! A whole life had taken place since then – it seemed like chaos to me …]” (Litzmann, Clara Schumann, Vol. 3, p. 503).

“[But what my mother had experienced, suffered and accomplished could be seen nowhere better than in her hands. […] At a later age, these became so similar to Goethe’s hands that when people saw a cast of Goethe’s hand, they would exclaim: But this is Mrs Schumann’s hand!]” (Eugenie Schumann, Erinnerungen [Reminiscences], pp. 118 f.)

Cf. Clara Schumann. Ein Künstlerleben. Nach Tagebüchern und Briefen von Berthold Litzmann. Volume One: Mädchenjahre 1819‒1840, Leipzig, 1920, pp. 27–31, 410; cf. Clara Schumann. Ein Künstlerleben. Nach Tagebüchern und Briefen von Berthold Litzmann. Volume Three: Clara Schumann und ihre Freunde 1856‒1896, Leipzig, 1923, p. 503.

Cf. Eugenie Schumann. Claras Kinder. Erinnerungen. With an afterword by Eva Weissweiler and poems by Felix Schumann, Berlin, 1999, pp. 118–119.

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. 67–72.

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

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