Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient (1804-1860)

Young Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient, steel engraving (StadtMuseum Bonn)
Young Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient, steel engraving (StadtMuseum Bonn)

Clara had known the most important German singer of the 19th century since 1832 when the two of them performed in Paris together. They remained friends all their life and often met up with each other, especially when Clara and Robert Schumann moved to Dresden in 1844.

After the twenty-year-old Clara had seen Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient as Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio, she wrote: “[This is a most powerful woman - my ideal in art!]”. The singer, for her part, admired the pianist as well. When she married the Royal Saxon Officer von Döring and left Dresden in 1847, she wrote to Clara: “[You must have read in my eyes how deeply I admire and value you as a woman and as an artist.]” Since Wilhelmine’s marriage failed almost immediately, she returned to Dresden as early as 1848. At a private soirée on 14th October 1848, she sang for the first time the complete cycle of Schumann’s A Woman’s Love and Life on poems by Adelbert Chamisso, of which she owned the original manuscript. In the 1848/49 concert season, Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient appeared in five concerts hosted by Clara Schumann and the head violinist Franz (François) Schubert in Dresden.

During a joint concert trip of the Schumanns and Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient to Leipzig in January 1849, the singer offered Clara Schumann to address each other informally. Soon after that, Wilhelmine had to flee the town because of her involvement in the May uprising in Dresden. The singer went to Paris and withdrew from the concert stage. Until 1853, Clara and Wilhelmine kept exchanging letters but then the correspondence stopped, presumably due to Wilhelmine’s frequent changes of residence.

In November 1855, the two artists met again in Berlin. A further meeting took place only in April 1858. Although the singer’s voice was no longer ‘sure’, she planned a comeback in 1858/59 and asked Clara whether she would like to perform with her. The pianist advised strongly against it but, after quite some hesitation, finally agreed to a joint public appearance. The offer, however, came too late: After the last concert on 6th March 1859 in Leipzig, the health of the singer had deteriorated and she had also become depressed. She wrote a last letter to Clara on 12th March 1859, in which she complained that Clara had no time for her. Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient was no longer able to satisfy her desire to “[bring the German song to honour]”.

She died on 26th January 1860. Despite some discords in the last period of their friendship, Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient had remained Clara Schumann’s ideal artist. The cultivation of the German song was taken on by the young Stockhausen, who had heard Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient perform songs by Schumann as a 26-year-old; one year after her death, he sang the Schumann cycle A Poet’s Love, which had been dedicated to her, for the first time in public.

(J.M.N., translated by Th. H.)

Cp. also [ Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient ]

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