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Clara and Robert

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle. Today, Clara and Robert, the genius whose talents she served – to the detriment of her own.

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and her husband Robert, the archetypally Romantic genius whose talents she served – to the detriment of her own.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

“Ah, if only he had taken me with him,” Clara confided to her diary after Robert’s death. Indeed, their lives had been so closely intertwined that sometimes she must have felt like the flip side of a single coin. They kept a joint marriage diary. They studied Bach together. They quoted each other’s music in their own. Much of Robert’s music is a love-letter to Clara, translating key events in their relationship into sound – and from the start, Clara became its principal advocate and most authoritative interpreter. She was severed from Robert not by his death but on his committal to the insane asylum at Endenich where he passed his final two years. She would spend the next 40 learning to live without him.

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 1, Toccatina in A minor)
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 2, Notturno)
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Robert Schumann
Novelletten, Op 21 (No 8, Sehr lebhaft (Stimme aus der Ferne))
Eric le Sage, piano

Clara Schumann
Am Strande; Warum willst du andre fragen, Op 12 No 11; Liebst du um Schönheit, Op 12 No 4; Er ist gekommen, Op 12 No 2
Christina Högman, soprano
Roland Pöntinen, piano

Robert Schumann
6 Etudes pour le pianoforte d’après les caprices de Paganini, Op 3 (No 1 in A minor; No 2 in E)
Mariya Kim, piano

Clara Schumann
Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op 20
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

23 days left to listen

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Clara Schumann

    Soirees Musicales, Op.6 For Piano [1834-6}; No 1, Toccatina in A minor

    Performer: Jozef de Beenhouwer.
    • Clara Schumann: Soiree Musicales.
    • Partridge.
    • 12.
  • Clara Schumann

    Soirees Musicales, Op.6; No 2, Notturno

    Performer: Konstanze Eickhorst.
    • CPO : 999-132-2.
    • CPO.
    • 12.
  • Clara Schumann

    'Am Strande' [1840]

    Performer: Roland Pöntinen. Singer: Christina Högman.
    • BIS: 738.
    • BIS.
    • 1.
  • Robert Schumann

    12 Poems From 'Liebesfruhling' Op.37

    Performer: Roland Pöntinen. Singer: Christina Högman.
    • BIS: 738.
    • BIS.
    • 4.
  • Robert Schumann

    6 Studien Nach Capricen Von Paganini Op.3

    Performer: Mariya Kim.
    • NAXOS 8 572374.
    • NAXOS.
    • 1.
  • Clara Schumann

    Variations On A Theme Of Robert Schumann In F Sharp Minor Op.20 For Piano

    Performer: Jozef de Beenhouwer.
    • CPO : CPO999- 758 2.
    • CPO.
    • 4.

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