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Clara
SCHUMANN

biography

Clara Josephine Schumann née Wieck (born in 1819 in Leipzig, died May 1896 in Frankfurt am Main) – german pianist and romantic composer. Wife of Robert Schumann. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, taught her to play the piano. She performed in public for the first time in 1830. In 1832 she set out with her father on her first concert tour, during which she presented several compositions composed by herself.

TALENT AND STRENGTH

In the shadow of the husband’s fame

Clara was one of the greatest German pianists of the 19th century, and also a teacher, mother of seven children, loving wife of Robert Schumann, and a close friend of Johannes Brahms. She played a significant role in the development of the fame of both pianists, at the same time creating her compositions, which, however, were not so valued – mainly because she was a woman. After her death, she was quickly forgotten as a composer, and only in 1970 people showed interest in her talent and an extraordinary life story again. To this day, however, her story remains hidden in the shadows of the fame of two men of her life – Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

Wieck / Schumann / Brahms

souls’ symphony

Beautiful complexity of the relationship

A large part of the beauty of life lies in its complexity – in those experiences whose depth and dimension can not be cut, flattened and contained in neat categories. Nowhere is this complexity greater, more precious or more saturated with nuances than in the emotional universe of interpersonal relationships, of which the most expansive is the resistance and interpolation between the various labels we try to give them. The relationships we call Platonic are hard enough to taxonomize. When friendship is broken by the pulse of romantic love, when two people cease to know their names and know only what they feel, the level of complexity can become either destructive or transcendentally symphonic. Such an unusual relationship flourished between the talented pianist Clara Schumann and the composers Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

Friendship of three composers

The composers met in 1853 when Clara’s beloved husband, the famous composer Robert Schumann, was captivated by the musical genius of Brahms and took him under his wing. In a letter to Father Brahms, Schumann called the pianist “muses’ favourite.” Then he wrote a passionate article to one of the leading music magazines of the era, praising the ingenuity of the young musician and predicting his upcoming fame. In turn, Brahms was extremely grateful to Schumann; he called him “Venerable Master.” Johannes wanted to be “always worthy” of Schumann’s trust in his talent.

The sickness of Robert Schumann

Just four months after the Schumann met Brahms and gave him generous patronage, Robert suffered a nervous breakdown. On February 27, 1854, he climbed the bridge and threw himself into the waves of the Rhine river. He was rescued and dragged ashore, and then immediately transferred to a private psychiatric institution, where he spent the remaining two years of his life suffering from auditory hallucinations and other mental illnesses. Schumann liked Brahms so much that when Clara sent him a portrait of a young composer, he wrote to Brahms about placing his picture “under the mirror” in his room – a convincing suggestion that his relationship with the young composer was vital for him.

Schumann never recovered. He died in a psychiatric centre on July 29, 1856. He left Clara, a single mother of four sons and four daughters, in a difficult situation and severe mourning. However, the pianist managed to support a large family thanks to her musical talent – she taught piano, performed in Europe and tirelessly travelled to maintain a reasonable standard of living and pay for schools for her children.

Letters from Clara Schumann to Johannes Brahms

During Robert Schumann’s illness and his stay at the mental hospital, Clara began to correspond with Brahms. He soon became her closest confidant and friend. Doctors at the asylum forbade her to visit her husband for fear of overstimulating his weak nervous system, which is why Brahms also served as a messenger between Clara and the sick Schumann. In the dark after Robert’s death, a friend became Clara’s only source of light, and their friendship took on a new dimension. An extraordinary fullness of feelings was born between the two composers – something opposing the classification, blurring the border between what is caring and what is romantic – between friends and lovers. We can learn a lot about this unique account of their surviving correspondence, collected in the Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms from 1973.

Letter from Brahms to Robert and Clara Shumann

”Even I, before I knew you, imagined that such people as you and such marriages as yours could only exist in the imagination of the rarest people.

[…]

People … do not deserve that you two, Robert and Clara, should be on earth at all, and I feel uplifted when I think that I may see the time when people will idolize you — two such wholly poetical natures. I almost wish that the world in general might forget you so that you could remain all the more sacred to the elect…”

Letter from Brahms to Shumann family

““You have made me so extremely happy that I cannot attempt to express my thanks in words. May God grant that my works will soon be able to prove to you how much your love and kindness have uplifted and inspired me.”

Young Brahms (21 years old) letter to Clara (35)

I should not have enjoyed a single moment of the trip. The [cities] which otherwise would have thrilled me with joy, leave me cold, so dull and colorless does everything seem to me.

I will go home and play music and read to myself until you appear, and I can do so with you. If you wanted to please me very much indeed you would let me find a letter in Düsseldorf… If the great longing that has possessed me during the last few days has any influence on my playing etc. it ought soon to enable me to cast a spell over people.

The beginning of Brahms' letter to Clara

“I would gladly write to you only by means of music, but I have things to say to you to-day which music could not express.”

Brahms writes to Clara

“Clara, dear Clara… I feel ever more happy and peaceful in my love for you. Every time I miss you more but I long for you almost with joy. That is how it is. And I knew the feeling already but never quite so warm as it is now.”

Letter from Brahms to Clara

“My Beloved Clara,

I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say. I should like to spend the whole day calling you endearing names and paying you compliments without ever being satisfied.”

Letter from Clara to Brahms

“That I am often mightily captivated by the wealth of your genius, that you always seem to be one on whom heaven has showered its fairest gifts and that I love you and honor you for so many magnificent qualities — all this is true, dearest Johannes, and has taken deep root in my heart. So do not try to kill it all in me by your cold philosophizing — it is impossible.

[…]

I have always considered myself so fortunate to be able to be to you a friend who understands you, and who is in a position to recognize your value as a musician and as a man.

[…]

I am waiting for another letter, my Johannes. If only I could find longing as sweet as you do. It only gives me pain and fills my heart with unspeakable woe. Farewell! Think kindly of Your Clara.

Write me as often as you can. One requires to be cheerful during a cure and whence would good cheer come to me if not from you?.”

Fragments of Brahms reports after visiting Robert Schumann

“His look is friendly and bright, his movements are the same as ever, he keeps one hand constantly to his mouth, and smokes in short puffs as he always used to.”

“Herr Sch. then turned to look at the flowers and went further into the garden towards the lovely view. I saw him disappear with a glorious halo about him, formed by the setting sun.”

Clara's letter to Brahms

,,You cannot imagine how sad I am when I feel I have not put my heart into my playing. To me it is as if I had done an injury not only to myself but also to art.

I have been talking as if you had been patiently sitting listening at my side all the while. If only it were so! Oh, write to me often, my beloved friend! You know how you can show your love in this way, particularly when I can feel that you do it willingly and from your heart. Greet your dear ones for me and for yourself a thousand greetings from Your devoted Clara.”

Brahms' letter to Clara

”My beloved Clara,

I always enjoy festivals in solitude, quite alone, with perhaps just a few dear ones in my room, and very quietly — for are not all my people either dead or far away? But what a joy it is to me then to remember how big with love is a certain human breast. For, after all, I am dependent upon the outside world — the hurly-burly in which we live. I do not add my laughter to its medley of voices, nor do I join its chorus of lies, — but it is as if the best in man could shut itself up, and only half of him sallied forth dreaming.

How fortunate you are, or, I should say, how beautiful, how good, how right! I mean that you bear your heart as a conscious possession, securely; whereas we are obliged every minute to conceal ours. You see everything so warmly, with such beautiful serenity, just like a reflection of yourself; and then with the same serenity you give unto each his due. All this sounds so stupid, and I cannot say what I think; although it would be even more stupid to speak of lilies and angels, and then to come back to you and your sweet nature.”

pianists / composers

meet their music

Clara Schumann

Her stage and composing debut took place in 1830 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig (during the concert she performed her composition “Variationen über ein Originalthema”). Her lively artistic activity began then in all over Europe. Clara’s frequently performed, among others, at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. Many of her other essential concerts took place in European countries such as Berlin, Vienna, Russia, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and France.

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Robert Schumann

German composer and music critic – he was considered one of the most influential artists of the Romantic era. The essential compositions by Schumann include the early cycles of piano miniatures from 1832–39 and numerous songs, most of which he wrote in 1840 (“the year of songs”). From 1841 he wrote mainly orchestral, and chamber works; he left behind five symphonies (including one unfinished), numerous overtures, concertos and sonatas, and many music reviews.

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Johannes Brahms

German composer, pianist and conductor. Brahms’ compositions were very clearly rooted in the German tradition. His work was influenced by, among others Beethoven and Bach. He was also inspired by German folk songs and early romantic songs. Brahms was a composer who had no ambition to revolutionize music. By design, he was a traditionalist. Meanwhile, in the next generation, he was considered a “precursor of modernity” (as Arnold Schönberg declared).

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Sources:

  • [book] Letters Of Clara Schumann And Johannes Brahms, 1853 1896, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Berthold Litzmann
  • [article] When a Friendship Is More Than Friendship: The Tender Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, Maria Popova, brainpickings.org
  • [article] Clara Schumann, Biografie niemieckie i inne, biografie-niemieckie.pl
  • [article] Clara Wieck Schumann – sylwetka pianistki i kompozytorki, Ewa Fabiańska, meakultura.pl (PL)
  • [wikipedia] Robert Schumann – niemiecki kompozytor i krytyk muzyczny, pl.wikipedia.org (PL)
  • [wikipedia] Johannes Brahms – niemiecki kompozytor, pianista i dyrygent okresu romantyzmu, pl.wikipedia.org (PL)