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Classical Innovators: Clara Wieck Schumann

November 19, 2008
by Liz Colville
From her birth in 1819 to her death in 1896, Clara Wieck Schumann spent her life surrounded by men of monumental musical talent. Her father was a highly regarded piano teacher, she eventually married renowned Romantic composer Robert Schumann and she shared a close bond with composer Johannes Brahms. Although many historians simply look at her connection to these famous men, Clara Schumann, a talented pianist and composer, is worth studying in her own right.

A Prodigy in Love

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Even before she was born, Clara Wieck Schumann's father determined that she would be a prodigy, and his efforts to make her one were decidedly successful. She performed in her first concert at age seven and immediately began an active life of performance and composition. She was everything her father wanted, until she fell in love with a piano student/boarder of her father's named Robert Schumann. Although she did not pursue her father's plans for her, a life filled with music remained ahead for her. Read the full biography on AllMusic.com.
Clara Schumann is an intriguing figure for a variety of reasons. Her passionate rebellion against her father, and her complicated but deeply romantic marriage to Robert Schumann (who became mentally ill and spent the end of his life in an asylum) are definitely novel-worthy stories, as are rumors of a love affair with Brahms later in life. So when Boman Desai was inspired to write a novel about Brahms, he deemed it necessary to devote much time to the composer's relationship with the Schumanns. Learn about "Trio" on the author's Web site, or read the first few pages of the novel on ClaraSchumann.net.

Her Life and Music

Clara Wieck Schumann's appeal has extended far enough to earn her a posthumous profile on MySpace, the ubiquitous social networking site. Modern musicians use MySpace to share their music and stay in touch with fans, while Wieck Schumann's profile is more of a tribute. If you visit her page, you'll find her story told from the first person, information about the many movies that have been made about her life, and links to similar, all-in-good-fun profiles of her contemporaries, such as Brahms, Bach and, of course, her husband.
If Clara's quirky MySpace profile has left you craving slightly more reliable information, you'll want to explore Nancy Reich's award-winning biography. When it was first published in 1985, music critic New York Times Book Review that the book was "the best modern study of Clara Schumann available in English." Revised in 2001, Reich's book relies largely upon primary source research and contains engaging stories about the musician and composer as well as a complete catalogue of Schumann's work.
Sadly, unlike modern musicians, Clara's MP3s are not available on MySpace. However, you can listen to several of her compositions at Last.fm.

In Her Own Words

Of course, the best primary source is Clara Wieck Schumann herself. BrainyQuote.com offers several of her sayings. Although the composer declared, "My imagination can picture no fairer happiness than to continue living for art," personal obligations and societal conventions prevented her from fully living this dream. Read her words and get a taste of this complex and talented woman.
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