Clara Wieck Schumann

1819 - 1896

Clara Wieck Schumann was one of the most famous pianists of the Romantic Period. She was also the daughter of a famous piano teacher, the wife of a famous composer, the mother of eight children, the friend of a different famous composer, a writer AND a composer. Clara was a busy and interesting woman who was ahead of her time.

Childhood

Clara was born in 1819. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a famous piano teacher and her mother, Marianne Tromlitz Wieck, was a famous singer. Clara's parents did not get along with each other and when Clara was five her parents got a divorce. This was very unusual in those days.

From that time on, Clara's father planned her life  and career in every detail. She had lessons every day in piano, violin, singing, music theory, harmony and composition. She had to practice for two hours, using the teaching methods her father had developed. Her father decided everything about her life. He even told her what to write in her diary!

By the time Clara was nine, she was performing in public concerts and beginning to be famous. A young man, named Robert Schumann,  who was a pianist, composer and music philosopher (that means he wrote articles about musical ideas) saw her at one of her concerts. His name was Robert was so impressed with Clara that he asked to come and study with her father. Robert moved into the Wieck house and studied with Friedrich when Clara was 11 years old and Robert was 20. He became a good friend of Clara's but was never successful as a pianist. He injured his hand while using a machine that was supposed to stretch his fingers and was never able to fully recover.

Marriage to Robert

By the time Clara was 18, she and Robert had fallen in love and wanted to get married. Clara's father did not want them to get married. He didn't trust Robert and he had great plans for Clara. In those days, if a parent didn't give permission for a marriage the child couldn't get married until he or she was 21 years old. Clara and Robert went to court to get permission for Clara to marry the person she chose before age 21. It took 2 years but eventually they won the court battle. Clara and Robert were married one day before her 21st birthday. It was their way of showing that they'd won the fight against Friedrich Wieck.

Musical Career

Clara and Robert Schumann became one of the greatest musical couples of all time. She gave the first performance of many of his pieces, and helped him compose and hold down a job as a conductor and teacher. Robert encouraged Clara to compose and she did even though she was very very busy. Clara and Robert had eight children! They also had many musical friends. The most famous of their friends was composer Johannes Brahms. Brahms came to the Schumanns to play some of his music. They LOVED his compositions and he became almost a member of their household. He helped take care of the kids when Clara was performing and touring. He helped and encouraged Robert. 

Robert was not able to make much money as a composer and Clara was the person who supported the family. Between her husband, eight children and performance schedule she did not have much time to compose. Robert once wrote “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.” 

Robert Schumann was a complicated person. He was often sad and sick and spent the last years of his life in a hospital. Clara spent a lot of time performing his compositions and trying to make sure that he got the recognition she felt he deserved as a composer. Robert died when in 1856 when he was only 46 years old. Clara stopped composing after Robert died and dedicated her life to keeping Robert's music famous, raising her children (four of whom were still alive), performing and teaching. Brahms did ask her to marry him but she said that Robert was the only man she would ever love in her life. Brahms never married.

Music

Clara did not compose a lot of music. She did not think that she was as good at composing as she was a playing piano and she also didn't really believe that a woman could be a good composer. When she stopped composing at age 36 she wrote “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?” This quote really shows us a lot about what it was like to be a woman composer in the Romantic Period and explains a lot about why there are so few women composers.

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