Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Clara Josephine Wieck was born in Leipzig on 13 September 1819 to Friedrich Wieck and Marianne Wieck (née Tromlitz). Marianne Tromlitz was a famous singer in Leipzig at the time and was singing solos on a weekly basis at the well-known Gewandhaus in Leipzig. The differences between her parents were irreconcilable, in large part due to her father's unyielding nature. After an affair between Clara's mother and Adolph Bargiel, her father's friend, the Wiecks divorced in 1824 and Marianne married Bargiel. Five-year-old Clara remained with her Father.
From an early age, Clara's career and life were planned down to the smallest detail by her Father. She received daily one-hour lessons (in piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint) and had to practice for two hours, using the teaching methods her Father had developed. In March 1828, at the age of eight, Clara Wieck performed at the Leipzig home of Dr. Ernst Carus, Director of the mental hospital at Colditz Castle. There, she met another gifted young Pianist who had been invited to the musical evening, Robert Schumann, who was nine years older. Schumann admired Clara's playing so much that he asked permission from his mother to stop studying law, which had never interested him much, and take music lessons with Clara's Father. While taking lessons, he rented a room in the Wieck household, staying about a year. He would sometimes dress up as a ghost and scare Clara, and this created a bond.
In 1830, at the age of eleven, Clara left on a concert tour to Paris via other European cities, accompanied by her Father. She gave her first solo concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. In Weimar, she performed a bravura piece by Henri Herz for Goethe, who presented her with a medal with his portrait and a written note saying: "For the gifted Artist Clara Wieck". During that tour, Niccolò Paganini was in Paris, and he offered to appear with her. However, her Paris recital was poorly attended, as many people had fled the city due to an outbreak of cholera.
In her early years her repertoire, selected by her Father, was showy and popular, in the style Common to the time, with works by Kalkbrenner, Henselt, Thalberg, Herz, Pixis, Czerny, and her own compositions. Concert programs from 1831 through 1889 (some 2000 of them) were preserved and information from them has been arranged in order of year performed. Pieces for solo piano, or for piano and one other instrument, will not be listed.
Clara also performed concertos by (now) lesser known composers: Adolf von Henselt (1837, 1844), Ignaz Moscheles (1831), and Bernhard Scholz (1875).
Robert was a little more than 9 years older than Clara and moved into the Wieck household as a piano student of Friedrich's by the end of 1830 when she was only 11 and he was 20. In 1837 when she was 18, he proposed to her and she accepted. Then Robert asked Friedrich for Clara's hand in marriage. Wieck was strongly opposed to the marriage, as he did not much approve of Robert, and did not give permission. Robert and Clara had to go to court and sue Friedrich. The judge's decision was to allow the marriage, which notably took place on September 12, 1840, the day before Clara's 21st birthday, when she would have attained what would come to be known as majority status. They maintained a joint musical diary.
She and Robert first met Violinist Joseph Joachim in November 1844, when he was just 14 years old. A year later she wrote in her diary that in a concert on Nov. 11, 1845 "little Joachim was very much liked. He played a new violin concerto of Mendelssohn's, which is said to be wonderful". In May 1853 they heard Joachim play the solo part in Beethoven's violin concerto. Clara wrote that he played "with a finish, a depth of poetic feeling, his whole soul in every note, so ideally, that I have never heard violin-playing like it, and I can truly say that I have never received so indelible an impression from any virtuoso." From that time there was a friendship between Clara and Joachim, which "for more than forty years never failed Clara in things great or small, never wavered in its loyalty."
Her life was punctuated by tragedy. Four of her eight children and her husband died before she did, and her husband and one of her sons ended their lives in insane asylums. Clara's first son Emil died in infancy in 1847, aged only one. In 1854, her husband Robert had a mental collapse, attempted suicide, and was committed to an insane asylum for the last two years of his life. In 1872 her daughter Julie died, leaving two small children aged only 2 and 7. In 1879, her son Felix died, aged 25. In 1891, her son Ferdinand died, at the age of 42. Clara was required to raise Felix's children as he was no longer married. Her son Ludwig suffered from mental illness like his Father and, in her words, had to be "buried alive" in an institution. She herself became deaf in later life and she often needed a wheelchair.
Clara Schumann often took charge of finances and general household affairs. Part of her responsibility included making money, which she did by giving concerts, although she continued to play throughout her life not only for the income, but because she was a concert Artist by training and by nature. She was the main breadwinner for her family, and the sole one after Robert was hospitalized and then died, through giving concerts and teaching, and she did most of the work of organizing her own concert tours. She hired a housekeeper and a cook to keep house while she was away on her long tours. She refused to accept charity when a group of Musicians offered to put on a benefit concert for her. In addition to raising her own large family, when one of her children became incapacitated, she took on responsibility for raising her grandchildren. During the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849, she famously walked into the city through the front lines, defying a pack of armed men who confronted her, rescued her children, then walked back out of the city through the dangerous areas again.
Also in the spring of 1853, the then unknown 20-year-old Brahms met Joachim (only a few years older, but by then an acknowledged virtuoso) in Hanover, made a very favorable impression on him, and got from him a letter of introduction to Robert Schumann. Brahms went and presented himself at the Schumanns' home in Düsseldorf. He played some of his own piano solo compositions. Both Schumanns were deeply impressed. Robert published an article highly lauding Brahms. Clara wrote in the diary that Brahms "seemed as if sent straight from God."
Clara first went to England in April 1856, while Robert was still living (but unable to travel). She was invited to play in a London Philharmonic Society concert by Conductor william Sterndale Bennett, a good friend of Robert's. Clara was displeased with the little time spent on rehearsals: "They call it a rehearsal here, if a piece is played through once." She wrote that musical "artists" in England "allow themselves to be treated as inferiors." She was happy, though, to hear the Cellist Alfredo Piatti play with "a tone, a bravura, a certainty, such as I never heard before." In May 1856 she played Robert's Piano Concerto in A minor with the New Philharmonic Society conducted by a Dr. Wylde, who Clara said had "led a dreadful rehearsal" and "could not grasp the rhythm of the last movement." Still, she returned to London the following year and performed in Britain in over 15 years of her career.
In January 1867 Clara and Joachim took a tour to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland, along with Piatti, Ries, and Zerbini, two English sisters named Pyne, one a singer, and a Mr. Saunders who managed all the arrangements. Clara was accompanied by her oldest daughter Marie, who wrote from Manchester to her friend Rosalie Leser that in Edinburgh Clara "was received with tempestuous applause and had to give an encore, so had Joachim. Piatti, too, is always tremendously liked." Marie also wrote that "For the longer journeys we had a saloon [car], comfortably furnished with arm-chairs and sofas... the journey ... was very comfortable." On this occasion, the Musicians were not "treated as inferiors"!
She was initially interested in the works of Liszt, but later developed an outright hostility to him. She ceased to play any of his works; she suppressed her husband's dedication to Liszt of his Fantasie in C major when she published Schumann's complete works; and she refused to attend a Beethoven centenary festival in Vienna in 1870 when she heard that Liszt and Richard Wagner would be participating.
In 1878 she was appointed Teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, a post she held until 1892 and in which she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique.
She held Anton Bruckner, whose 7th Symphony she heard in 1885, in very low esteem. She wrote to Brahms, describing it as "a horrible piece". She was more impressed with Richard Strauss's early Symphony in F minor in 1887.
Clara Schumann played her last public concert in Frankfurt on 12 March 1891. The last work she played was Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn, in the piano-duet version. Her partner was James Kwast.
In fact, Clara's compositional output decreased notably after she reached the age of thirty-six. The only completed compositions that exist from later in her life do not have opus numbers and are: Vorspiele (Improvisations), 1895, and cadenzas written to two concertos, one by Mozart and the other by Beethoven. Today her compositions are increasingly performed and recorded. Her works include songs, piano pieces, a piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, and three Romances for violin and piano. Inspired by her husband's birthday, the three Romances were composed in 1853 and dedicated to Joseph Joachim, who performed them for George V of Hanover. He declared them a "marvellous, heavenly pleasure".
She suffered a stroke on 26 March 1896, dying on 20 May at age 76. She is buried at Bonn's Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery) with her husband.
Clara Schumann has been depicted on screen numerous times. Possibly the best known is by Katharine Hepburn in the 1947 film Song of Love, in which Paul Henreid played Robert Schumann and Robert Walker starred as a young Johannes Brahms.
In 1954 Loretta Young portrayed her on The Loretta Young Show: The Clara Schumann Story in Season 1, Episode 26 (first aired 21 March 1954) in which she supports the composing career of her husband Robert, played by George Nader, alongside Loretta Young, Shelley Fabares and Carleton G. Young.
An image of Clara Schumann, from a lithograph by Andreas Staub, was featured on the 100 Deutsche Mark banknote from 2 January 1989 until the adoption of the euro, on 1 January 2002. The back of the banknote shows a grand piano she played, and the exterior of Dr. Hoch's Konservatorium, where she taught. The great hall of the conserbatory is named after her.
She was also portrayed by Martina Gedeck in the 2008 Franco-German-Hungarian film Geliebte Clara.
In October–November 1857 Clara and Joachim took a recital tour together to Dresden and Leipzig. St. James's Hall, London, which opened in 1858, hosted a series of "Popular Concerts" of chamber music, of which programs from 1867 through 1904 are preserved. Joachim visited London annually beginning in 1866. Clara also spent a few months of many years in London and participated in Popular Concerts with Joachim and Piatti. Most often on the same concert programmes would be second Violinist Joseph Ries and violist J. B. Zerbini. George Bernard Shaw, the leading Playwright who was also a music critic, wrote that the Popular Concerts helped greatly to spread and enlighten musical taste in England. Playing chamber music bypassed the issues Clara had with English orchestra conductors.
As she grew older, however, she became more preoccupied with other responsibilities in life and found it hard to compose regularly, writing, "I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not Desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?" Robert also expressed concern about the effect on Clara's composing output: