Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann's Talented Life

Robert Schumann was the fifth and youngest child of a bookseller. At school he was extremely good at music and literature. He passed his school-leaving examination with flying colours.  By the time Schumann entered the University to study Law he was not only  interested in music and literature, but also in women and drinking.

Young Schumann studied law at Leipzig while simultaneously continuing his music studies. One of his music teachers was Friedrich Wieck.

Wieck’s daughter  Clara showed a great talent at the piano while she was only 9 years old. She was an undisputed prodigy. Her father took her on concert tours. Their friendship was to play a big role in Schumann’s life. Further tragedy however lay in store for Schumann. A mishap damaged one of his hands and this meant the end of his career as a pianist. Some theories blame a device he used to strengthen his fingers, but other accounts lay the blame on mercury poisoning. Doctors used mercury to try and cure his syphilis

In 1834 he became engaged to a girl of sixteen called Ernestine, but then Schumann broke off the engagement because he loved Clara Wieck. Clara’s parents did not want her to marry him. Her father did everything he could to stop the marriage. One possible reason was that he may have known that Schumann had syphilis, or that he  was often drunk. In the end, after many arguments, court cases and secret meetings between Robert and Clara, they were married in 1840. This happened shortly before Clara’s 21st birthday. The couple had three daughters.  Schumann’s disability meant that Clara played a significant part in popularizing Schumann’s works by playing them. Schumann suffered from depression. When he was depressed he hardly wrote anything, but 1840 was a happy year for him and he wrote lots of songs as well as orchestral music. In 1841 he wrote four symphonies. In 1842 the couple went on a concert tour together, but Schumann found it difficult because Clara was more famous than he was. He returned alone to Leipzig to work at his publishing. He felt depressed again at this time and returned to his drinking. He was happy again when Clara returned, and composed some chamber music. In 1844 they toured Russia and played to the Tsar. By August he had a complete nervous breakdown. It took him some time to recover.

Schumann’s piano music is very well known. Although he had to give up his career as a pianist his wife Clara played his pieces and helped them to become famous. Many of his piano works are collections of short pieces, each with a title e.g. Papillons (Butterflies), Davidsbündlertänze, Carnaval.

His piano concerto is a great favourite. Clara Schumann played it with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at its first performance on New Year’s Day 1846.  On 27th February 1854 Schumann threw himself into the river Rhine. He was rescued by some boatmen, but when they brought him to land he seemed to have gone quite mad. He was taken to an asylum where he spent the last two years of his life. He died on 29 July 1856.
After Schumann’s death Clara devoted herself to playing her husband’s music and helping it to become well known. She visited England regularly where she played at concerts. She also edited a lot of Schumann’s works for the publisher Breitkopf und Härtel.

Clara played a significant role in classical music, through her expert advice and encouragement to other composers like Brahms. Although Clara was extremely talented in her own right as both pianist and composer, her career became secondary to that of her husband. There is reason to believe that Robert’s jealousy played a factor in constraining her career.
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