Clara Schumann was one of the leading pianists of the Romantic era but her contributions to the classical music world are usually discussed less often than that of her husband, Robert Schumann. Yet appreciation of Clara Schumann’s work is on the rise and her Piano Concerto came in at #52 on the first-ever Classical California Ultimate Playlist. But, when you look at her life – a study in contradiction – you’d think she ought to have been recognized as the maverick she was well before now.
Through much of the 19th century, Clara Schumann (1819-1896), defied the norms set for the women of her day. Her demanding musician father started her on the piano at age 5, and she dutifully rose to prominence in the concert hall by the time she was 13. When she fell in love with her father’s student, Robert Schumann, her disapproving father tried to end the relationship by keeping Clara on the road for months at a time on concert tours all over Europe.
But age 20 she rebelled, and she and Robert successfully sued her father for their right to marry.
She was an enthusiastic composer in her teenage years, writing her Piano Concerto in A Minor, at 17. But, by age 36 she decided composing was not a woman’s role.
“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea;” she said, “a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”
Clara was a devoted wife, who somehow managed to keep up her own touring while raising eight children. At the same time, she put Robert’s career first, nurturing him through increasing bouts of depression and mental breakdowns AND putting his career first, acting as muse, collaborator, and champion…all while raising eight children!
To find out more about Clara Schumann and hear some of her best-known works, look here.