Clara Schumann

Composer: Clara Schumann (née Clara Josephine Wieck)
Date of Birth: 13 September 1819
Date of Death: 20 May 1896
Nationality: German
Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic-era
Contribution(s): Clara Schumann was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. She exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was the composer Robert Schumann. Together they encouraged Johannes Brahms. She was the first to perform publicly any work by Brahms. She later premiered some other pieces by Brahms, notably the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.

Legacy: Although for many years after her death Clara Schumann was not widely recognized as a composer, as a pianist she made an impression which lasts until today. She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making that the standard for concertizing. Trained by her father to play by ear and to memorize, she gave public performances from memory as early as age thirteen, a fact noted as something exceptional by her reviewers.

She was also instrumental in changing the kind of programs expected of concert pianists. In her early career, before her marriage to Robert, she played what was then customary, mainly bravura pieces designed to showcase the artist’s technique, often in the form of arrangements or variations on popular themes from operas, written by virtuosos such as Thalberg, Herz, or Henselt. And, as it was also customary to play one’s own compositions, she included at least one of her own works in every program, works such as her Variations on a Theme by Bellini (Op. 8) and her popular Scherzo (Op. 10). However, as she became a more independent artist, her repertoire contained mainly music by leading composers.

 Clara Schumann’s influence also spread through her teaching, which emphasized a singing tone and expression, with technique entirely subordinated to the intentions of the composer. One of her students, Mathilde Verne, carried her teaching to England where she taught, among others, Solomon; while another of her students, Carl Friedberg, carried the tradition to the Juilliard School in America, where his students included Malcolm Frager and Bruce Hungerford.

Clara was also instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognized, appreciated and added to the repertoire. She promoted him tirelessly, beginning when his music was unknown or disliked, when the only other important figure in music to play Schumann occasionally was Liszt, and continuing until the end of her long career.

Biography: 
Early life   |   Child prodigy   |   Marriage to Robert   |   Meeting Joseph Joachim   |   Brahms coming on the scene   |   Robert’s confinement and death   |   Tours, often to Britain, often with Joachim

Later career; views of some other composers   |   Family life

Repertoire:
Concerti for piano and orchestra   |   Trios (for violin, cello, and piano)   |   Piano quartets (violin, viola, cello, piano)   |   Piano quintets (string quartet and piano)   |   Lieder (voice, piano)

Composer Examples:

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