Memorial Page on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Master’s Birth
Of those who ever had the privilege and good fortune of meeting Clara Schumann, who would not have felt the great charm surrounding her person, who would have been able to elude the charm emanating from her?
What was there so special about this woman? Was it the simple nobleness of her physical appearance, the hair, grey and adorned with a little cap, the soulful eyes, tranquil and serious, contemplative and asking, the low, somewhat lisping voice, or the affectionate warm pressure of her well-formed hand? Was it the self-effacement and placidness, the softness and mildness of her quiet manner, or the serenity gained from a life that was as much rich as hard, which expressed itself in her movements, words and gestures always and everywhere? Did this placidness and self-effacement not dampen any quickness, any unnatural exuberance, the cockiness of the young facing her? Was there not the silent shadow of hidden, well-guarded grief passing now and then over the noble face as an admonition that nobody had admission to this sanctuary?
This unusual woman,full of liveliness, standsbefore the author’s eyes, in the way he saw her for the first time 48 years ago. As clear as this image may be, great efforts are required to faithfully retrace its delicately chiselled features, as words and pen seem too clumsy and untoward for this purpose. The unadorned narration, covering many golden and unforgettable days and hours, will attempt to convey the personality and manner of high priestess Clara Schumann to the young who arekeen on music and dream of artistic fame, in particular. It is because these young are so often lackingthe examples of artistic personalities who would strengthen them.
Upon commencement of lessons in the house of Friedrich and Alwin Wieck, the “little miller”, as the boy was usually called, entered an environment he was unfamiliar with so far. From the very first minute, he was exposed to the names of Robert and Clara Schumann resounding towards him in thousands of variants. Clara’s brother, Alwin, looked up at his big sister with enthusiasm and utter devotion. For him, there was virtually one great piano virtuoso only, and this was Clara Schumann. Her father Friedrich actually saw in the artist just the fruit of his education. He had had to put up with Robert, forced by circumstances; the fact that,deep inside himself, he did not agree to the famous son-in-law altogether manifested itself in the form of occasional judgements which were to prove alarmingly wrong to the mature studentlater on. Friedrich Wieck only grudgingly admitted the overwhelming influence of Schumann’s creative genius who had elevated his spouse to the rank of high priestess. There were frequent moments when Clara outranked Robert in the eyes of the Wiecks. Even though this might sound incomprehensible or at least hard to understand to outsiders, those familiar with the Wiecks and their horizon were hardly surprised by it.
At the end of the 1860s and the beginning of the 1870s, Clara frequently travelled to Dresden, either on visits or giving concerts. Although she did not stay then with the Wiecksbut with Mr Hübner, Director of the Royal Picture Gallery, instead, the days of her stay were duly celebrated by her family. Artistic and chamber music concerts took then place in the now defunct hall of the Hotel de Saxe with its noble architecture and amazing beauty of sound. This was the scene of the first great artistic events which opened up an entirely new world to the young student. The unforgettable impressions ofClara Schumann’s unveiling of Schubert’s Sonata in A minor Op. 45 are still remembered, a source from which both Schumann and Brahms (see the middle movement in F major of Amorous Valse No. 6) had fervently drawn inspiration. The spouse’s spirit penetrated from adolescent years long bygone through his Kreisleriana which, of all piano virtuosi, no one had ever managed to interpret it the way Clara did. Into which realms was the young enraptured listener transported by the first two books of the Hungarian Dances, published in 1869, by their great friend Brahms, who was first introduced to the Dresden audience by Clara together with Miss Julie von Asten! The pearls of the G minor chord progressions in the first of the Hungarian Dances still sound today in the ear of this gentleman, grey by now, with the power of tangible reality. By the stage of the hall of the Hotel de Saxe, directly at the entrance to the artists’ dressing room with its curtains drawn, an old man’s figure was seated, Friedrich Wieck, tall and haggard but dignified, whose every feature was saying proudly: “Look, this is my daughter, listen, this is the fruit of my musical education!”
To young Müller, Clara Schumann had become a superior and inapproachable being, and he looked forwardto the planned introduction, the first audition, with his heart pounding fast. The boy, barely twelve years old, brought up in very poor conditions, who had never met any person that was famous by birth or spirit, in whose modest life the word ‘artist’ and the incomprehensible concept of artistry had appeared only recently, this young chap was vehemently frightened when his teacher told him the audition was imminent. His strict father did his bit to intimidate him even further.
The great moment did come but, against all odds, everything went smoothly.
Thelady, who entered the room with a rapid pace, stately and slightly greying, wearing a black dress with a black cloak, was actually an incarnate human, behaving and talking exactly like other mortals, almost like his own mother. She was talking in a quiet, slightly hesitant and lisping manner, which the child noticed as something outlandish, and he decided very quickly that she had to be something special and superior indeed. Her beautiful warm eyes rested on those of the shy victim for a very long moment, scrutinising, as if she wanted to explore his entire inner self. Then she slowly stroked the head and brow of the half-absent boy with the words: “Now, young Theodor, play something for me.”
Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, fully mastered by mature children only, so to speak, had been prepared most diligently. The examinee, of course, was not yet really familiar with the master’s musical language. “Almost Too Serious” and “The Poet Speaks” definitely were beyond his capacity. With most the other pieces, he had somehow come to grips, so, for instance, “Knight of the Hobbyhorse” was drummed by the boy with real pleasure, particularly in the crescendo and forte of the second part; “A Curious Story”, “Blind Man’s Bluff”, “An Important Event”, etc., matched the child’s conceptions. When the master sat down at the grand piano next to the boy, his shyness disappeared; not a single movement, expression, or look exchanged with her brother escaped him. “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples” was listened to without interruption, after which Clara Schumann opened the performer’s eyes into totally unknown lands. Her displays and recital hints had more than transient or merely personal meaning, as they opened up artistic principles.
She did not like at all my performance of the dotted rhythm in the melody of the second, fourth, etc., bar. The accompanying figure, spread over both hands, consists of two quaver triplets, the crotchets are thus split into three, whereas the dotted position of the melody represents a split into four. This is easier for the intellect to comprehend than for eleven-year-old fingers to play. Millions of piano aficionados did play, play, and will play:
What a subtle rhythmic difference there is between this performance and Schumann’s prescription:
Just note the difference in meaningfulness between Schumann’s calm and dwelling rhythm of the melody and the angular commonplace flourish in No.1.Clara Schumann did not rest until this passage was at least approximately successful according to her wish. For the first time, the performer became aware of the principle of highest assiduousness without which no fully-fledged artistic accomplishments are possible. The innocent question, addressed to him: “Do you really think my husband would not have taken the trouble to prescribe triplets in the melody if he had wanted them there?” had the effect of an assault. Mountains of future difficulties thus emerged. Who in German conservatoires would deal nowadays with such “trivia”?
Piano music holds many such tasks. Those who have not learnt to master the dotted rhythm in the first of the Scenes from Childhood, will not be able either to adequately reflect the spirit of the composersin, for instance, the 32ndCramer Etude (edited byBülow) or the A flat major variation in the second movement of the aforesaid Schubert Sonata in A minor (Op. 45).
The second display concerned the first four bars of the second part. There, an altered imitation of the aforesaid melody bars appears in the bass. On this, the performer did not dwell like a thousand others. “These basses have to talk, dear Theodor, they are actually the essence.”This was something totally new again because no such talking of the basses to be highlighted had been prescribed. Hence there was something in the music which, even though not prescribed in the score, wanted and needed to be accentuated. A second principle of future artistic endeavours: choice, identification and conscious presentation of hidden musical content. This made a world of difference to the conceptual mania, so often cherished in modern times, for not searching and interpreting based on the facts but insinuating something alien in a most personal manner, instead. Further thoughts on the talking basses will be elaborated below.
Clara reached out for the seeker with thehazy looka third time on the first path towards Schumann’s dreamland, in the transition between the fifth and sixth bars of the second part. This is the most delicate point in the little filmy passage. Mrs Schumann put her corrections in the following words: “Without any jerking, slowing down a tiny bit, no fermata, quietly sliding to the beginning.” Then the important instruction came: “For my husband’s music, never stretch the ritardandos too long.”
This also was new ground, a perspective of unknown areas of musical presentation that so far were hardly discernible, an indication of the peculiarities in interpreting Schumann’s prescriptions. It was even more: a warning of and a measure against all exaggeration, evidenced more and more strongly in the course of many years of communication with Clara.
Using the example of this short twenty-two bar long piano piece, the master had taught three of the most important artistic principles: Painstaking assiduousness, exhaustive interpretation of the musical content, avoidance of any exaggeration. Indeed a huge benefit falling most easily to the disciple whom it accompanied in his artist’s surge as a continuous means of protection against a multitude of wrong ways. Perhaps also a burden every now and then, as such principles are enforced onlythrough fighting various half measures lurking in all corners. The strict purity with which the chosen ones, such as Clara Schumann, Amalie and Josef Joachim, Julius Stockhausen, and Johannes Brahms paid homage to their art, is now nearly lost. Naming this closely associated artistic circle is by no means an expression of one-sided partisanship or even misjudgement of other great artists of a glorious past. Hans vonBülow, full of holy artistry, must certainly not be forgotten at this point, as he is on a par next to the afore-named.
Returning to the audition of the Scenes from Childhood, may it be conveyed from the treasure of reminiscences that the other pieces were worked through with the same conscientiousness as No. 1. I was not allowed to overlook or take lightly any single dot, however small, nor any single character, however seemingly insignificant. “Do you really think my husband would have sat down at his writing desk on a nice Sunday afternoon to put those little characters into or above the notes out of sheer boredom?”Still, all these questions and remarks putme in a thoughtful mood, however softly they were pronounced. When the delicate and so emphatically talking cadenza in “The Poet Speaks”resisted any attempts at successful rendering as desired, disheartenment and tears overcame the young performer; Clara’s intimated encouragement managed to dry them soon after.
This first lesson with Clara Schumann was the beginning of a relationship of a personal and musical nature which connected the narrator to her for years to come. Every time she came to Dresden, she would convince herself of the progress made, reproving, complimenting, admonishing, spurring on and thus holding her guiding and protecting hand over the maturing disciple of art.
Commemoration of Robert Schumann in Bonn, 1873.
On 17th, 18th and 19th August 1873, a music festival themed “Commemoration of Robert Schumann” took place in Bonn, intended for setting up the initialfunds to raise a memorial to the master at the cemetery. The mute witnesses spoke an eloquent language: the programme book, kept carefully by the author and laying in front of him, and a photograph of the old original gravestone (see adjacent image) with the sprigs, still green, picked from the grave on 17th August 1873.
The first gravestone of Robert Schumann’s resting place is absolutely unknown and no mention of it is made in the entire Schumann literature. The author deemed a valuable supplement to this memorial page to capture the gravestone after a photograph from 1873.
Alwin Wieck had decided to go on a pilgrimage to Bonn and wished to take his student with him. The teacher’s wish found a most fertile soil in the student, and a burning desire surged in him, themed “going to the music festival in Bonn”. Carrying out this plan, however, proved difficult because his parents were not in a position to meet even the smallest part of the expenses. Benevolent souls were approached, invoking the educational impact and artistic stimulation of the festival. Donations flew scarcely, as the Dresden philistines probably just sensed in the music festival some pretext for a cheerful trip to the Rhine area and they kept their pockets closed, accordingly. A few days before the festival, Alwin Wieck departed alone. The poor boy staying behind, depressed and unhappy, made yet another last-minute effort and, lo and behold, it worked: the travel expenses were collected at the last moment. This trip to the music festival turned into a unique, first and important life event leaving on the surface a mark on the left cheek, visible over 25 years. It stemmed from the gun salutes fired at the Loreley rock. The ignorant rubberneck had taken near the peaceful gun, unsuspecting, and believed he had to stay there by all means, when he was hit by some tiny powder particles, without coming to any harm but in a lasting manner, as can still be seen.
The Bonn festival was a climax In Clara Schumann’s life following her husband’s death. She herself was the undisputed centre of the commemoration where she shone with the brightest, though not dazzling, brilliance of the most mature artistry, transfigured by the reverberation emanating from the works of her late husband.
The programme book reveals the exquisite banquet table which had been set up for the purpose:
Conductors: Joseph Joachim and J. v. Wasielewski.
Soloists: Clara Schumann, Marie Wilt, Amalie Joachim, Marie Sartorius, Franz Diener, Julius Stockhausen, Adolph Schulze, Ernst Rudorff;
Concert masters: Ludwig Strauß (London) and Otto von Königslöw.
First concert: Symphony Nor. 4 in D minor, and“Paradise and the Peri”;
Second concert: Manfred Overture, Piano Concerto in A minor, Night Song for Chorus and Orchestra, Symphony No. 2 in C major, Part Three of the Scenes from Goethe’s Faust;
Third concert: String Quartet in A major (Joachim von Königslöw, Strauß and Lindner of Hanover), “Silent Tears” and “Messages” (Marie Wilt), “The Fiddler” and “Wandering Song” (Franz Diener), “Andante and Variations” for two pianos (Clara Schumann and Ernst Rudorff), “Sometimes I Can Sing” and “Sundays on the Rhine” (Amalie Joachim), “The Lion’s Bride” (Julius Stockhausen), Piano Quintet (Clara Schumann, Joachim, von Königslöw, Strauß and Wilhelm Müller of Berlin). The most exquisite pearls of Schumann music!
What convergence and fusion of artists in those days, with Johannes Brahms, who had not had his say due to all sorts of misunderstandings and sensitivities, in the fore. All this on the vibrant and sun-flooded Rhine, in the town of Beethoven. To conclude, a trip to the Remagen borough of Rolandseck, crowned with a garden party over there. Indeed, what wealth of faces for the fifteen-year-old boy who was allowed to mix with all the famous people and was tolerated at the artists’ table at Rolandseck under the protection of Clara Schumann.
An abundant blessing flowed from the Apollonian cornucopia over the fatuous believer, still unspoiled bythat criticalness that so often affectsenjoyment. Like the entire audience, the newly ascended genuine Schumann devotee was in a frenzy, too, when two reprises of the quartet from Paradise and the Peri, “As there is spell power in the tear”, were exacted. The applause following the Piano Concerto in A minor became a rapturous manifestation, everybody had stood up, and the celebrated performer was virtually overwhelmed with flowers. Amongst the soloists, Julius Stockhausen stood out, excelling in the Scenes from Faust, in particular. Whoever has listened to “Here, the view is free”, “Highest sovereign of the world”, as sung by him, who at that time was in the prime of his artistic maturity, will have to admit no one else has hardly ever come up to him in this. The waves of applause once again boomed rapturously over Clara Schumann at the third concert of the morning after the Variations for 2 pianos and the Piano Quintet. She was so outstanding at this festival, whilst at the same time so modest and subjected to her husband’s spirit ruling over her, that all other artists of those days remained in the shadow next to her. But they did not begrudge her sun.
The festival and its music had faded away. There was thunderous pounding in the brain of the young Schumann devotee, and even the morning coffee at the Kley Garden with its view over the Siebengebirge Mountains, now disappeared, unfortunately, offered no distraction or cooling. In the morning of 20th August, he was at the Gasthaus zum Stern restaurant, apprehensive, together with his teacher, only to thank Clara Schumann and to say goodbye to her. The victress, beaming with joy, was sitting there in the fairy-taleflower garden into which all the hotel rooms had been converted. The site of her deepest grief, of the most difficult time of her life, when he was lowered into the grave in Bonn, this had become the site of her fame and her victory. During the short conversation, an audition to take place in winterwas agreed, for which the student was to come to Berlin. The last words referred to the return journey which, according to schedule, was to take back Theodor Müller, abounding in impressions and very short of funds, to Dresden immediately, whilst Alwin Wieck was meant to reach the same destination travelling slowly up the Rhine without depriving himself of the pleasures of the journey. To the kind-hearted lady, such conclusion was not acceptable at all. With the words: “Oh no, this will not do, Theodor also needs to see a bit more of the Rhine”, she shoved a gold ducat and a Saxon two thaler coin into his hands, bewildered as he was. Recalling this moment, the author’s hand accepting the gift shivers with delight still today. And “dear old shadows rise” on contemplating, silently and immersed in woefulness, the image of the first plain gravestone and the sprigs,reverently picked from thegrave 46 years ago.
Through the gate of the commemoration, the youth had now fully entered the magnificent tone structure raised by Robert Schumann, into which until now he had been looking with a glimmer of anticipation only. He was not in a position yet to have gained an overview of all the conditions inside the strange structure, to be able to interpret and evaluate all the structural elements in their entirety. For him, the commemoration was in a way, metaphorically speaking, a consecration. It was like a confirmation of acceptance into the circle of adults. But many years were still to elapse until declaration of maturity.
In the reminiscences of Clara Schumann, the music festival in Bonn could not be left out, however many personal elements there were involved. Some more details can be found in Litzmann’s “Clara Schumann”, volume III, in Kalbeck’s Brahms Biography, volumeII², and in the correspondence between Brahms and Joachim, volume IV.
At the beginning of winter 1873, the audition in Berlin, Zelten 11, took place, as agreed back in Bonn. Prelude and Fugue No. 2 (C minor) of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Fantasy Pieces Op. 12 Book 1 by Robert Schumann, and the Fantaisie-Impromptu by Chopin had been selected for this purpose and been practised most assiduously; he considered himself well prepared, accordingly. This is why the harsh verdict given after presentation of the last-mentioned piece with the dry words “there was actually not a single tone that suited me” had a devastating effect on me. So, what was the crime committed by the performer? From his point of view, he had practised in an extraordinarily assiduous and thoughtful manner, the piece was perfectly within technical feasibility and interpretability, and hardly any of the keys had been struck incorrectly, so, what was the issue?
“Well, you are leaving all your fingers put, you are not properly raising a single finger! For the next three months, you will have to play nothing else but just plain scales and exercises. Once you have learnt how to raise your fingers, you can come back and play to me again!”
Now imagine the young piano player, publicly so often complimented before, sitting there, shocked, embarrassed, heart-stricken. Far worse than the scathing rebuke was the question now emerging surreptitiously whether the mistakes reproved were indeed the player’s fault only? My faith in the teacher began to totter and this was not good at all. The harsh rebuke gave cause for thorough and sweeping treatment. For the next month, literally no more piano pieces were even touched upon, the staff of musical life consisted just of scales, self-invented finger exercises, and Czerny’s School of the Virtuoso, prescribed to himself. After three bitter and hard months, the prescribed goal was achieved. Not a single finger was left put any more unless so required. What pains had to be taken and what battles had to be fought by the teachers over the following years to eradicate the negligence in poorly prepared students, which had so often been reproved by Clara Schumann,vehemently but too softly! This mistake can only be removed with the strictest rigour, but, unfortunately, one of its friends is also the widespread exasperating habit of striking the basses in the left hand too early. Whether the teacher had felt her judgement, although most beneficial, was too harsh or whether it was an effusion of her kindness – at Christmas I received a shipment of sheet music and the following letter (see reproduction in the Appendix).
Berlin, 22ndDecember 1873
Dear Mr Müller,
Please find enclosed a small Christmas gift including the Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach (different edition from the one you have) and some symphonies or inventions. I hope you will be pleased by this but it is also meant to spur you on for further diligent studies, notably for assiduousness. Significant achievements in the art are brought about only through utter assiduousness, and this is particularly hard for young talents who tend to consider such assiduousness to be unimportant but eventually no perfection can be reached without it. You must always watch your technique carefully and not set it aside, as this is something I noticed in particular when I heard you recently. Well, you are now in good hands and I hope I will be able to convince myself of the progress made by you soon again.
Kindest regards and all the best for your future,
The letter with the sheet music was found under the Christmas tree in Alwin Wieck’s home.
May our young artists commit to memory the comments made about assiduousness. To the author, Clara Schumann’s letter was and still is today a venerable document to be kept sacred.
Newly copied for the Schumann Portal by Petra Sonntag in October 2008 on behalf of StadtMuseum Bonn, from: Bilder und Klänge des Friedens. [Images of Sounds of Peace]. Musikalische Erinnerungen und Aufsätze von Theodor Müller=Reuter [Musical Reminiscences and Essays by Theodor Müller-Reuter]
Leipzig, 1919, pp. 5-18
Translated 2013 by Thomas Henninger
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