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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some Torte à la Wieck for the birthday of a 19th century piano phenom.
** Linger for tours of Vienna circa 1837—and 2017.
** Savor a last ½ cup considering the overlapping influences of Europe’s greatest composers.
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Must I bury my art now?
Love is all very beautiful—
– Clara Schumann
Slice of Cake:
Two notes played against each other make…
A melodic harmony? Or a jolting clash?
In Clara Schumann’s long, triumphant, and tragedy-filled life,
there were strains of both harmony and discord—
within and without.
Clara, in and out of harmony with her father…
Not a wonder-child—
and yet still a child and already a wonder.
– Eduard Hanslick
music critic, Vienna
Clara’s mother was a renowned soprano singer named Marianne Tromlitz.
Her father was a well-known piano teacher.
His name was Friedrich Wieck.
By the time Clara was five years old,
she could already play piano by ear. Her father set about,
‘single-mindedly and single-handedly’ to turn Clara
into a performing phenomenon.1
He encouraged her to improvise on themes,
to transpose the between keys, and to compose small pieces of her own.
He arranged for her to give her first public concert at age 9.2
At age 10 she began formal classes in harmony, counterpoint, and composition. This was followed by weekly orchestration and singing lessons as well as violin.
By age 12 she was touring Europe, including Paris.
The girl has more power than
six boys put together.
(he heard Clara in a private concert
the month she turned 12)
At age 13, Clara began composing what would be one of her most important works:
Piano Concerto in A Minor (Opus #7).
An early version premiered in 1834 with Clara at the piano
and Felix Mendelson conducting the orchestra.
Over the next few years, she continued to work on and revise the concerto. It was finally published in 1837.
You will smile, but it is true:
1. I finished my score;
2. wrote out all the parts myself—and that in 2 days;
3. …I have begun orchestrating the concerto but have
not written it out yet. I changed the Tutti a bit.
– letter from Clara Wieck to Robert Schumann
Sept 1, 1835
This month Clara rehearsed her
revised Concerto with Queiser’s ensemble.
It took ten bottles of wine to get things started.
– from the diary of Friedrich Wieck
Clara continued to tour and perform to sell-out crowds.
At age 18, she writes of receiving ‘thirteen curtain calls’ at a concert in Prague—and later ‘four curtain calls after every piece (which is against the law).’ 1
Along the way, her father also taught her the music business as well as tour management—practical knowledge she was able to use for the rest of her career.
Clara was her father’s best pupil and a ‘walking advertisement for his abilities as a teacher.’ 1
Which is why
when she fell in love at age 16 with one of her father’s students—
a man almost 10 years older than her—
her father’s reactions was not a happy one.
It took three years and a court case before Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann were able to marry.
Clara’s relationship with her father never fully recovered.
Clara’s career clashing with her husband’s career…
I cannot abandon my art,
or I should reproach myself ever afterwards!
– Clara Schumann
Clara and Robert were married the day before her 21st birthday. Their courtship is the stuff of romantic legend: Her disapproving father, their years of clandestine meetings and surreptitious love letters secreted back and forth, and their artistic sharing of themes and musical dedications to each other—all is well told and well fictionalized. (There’s even a Katharine Hepburn movie!) 3
Digging a little deeper into the story I find plenty of signs of ardent love and sincere devotion between them.
But there’s also conflict—within each of them, as well as between them.
Even before the wedding, Clara was worried whether her role as wife would clash with her artistic career. And Robert was giving her very mixed messages.
She planned a tour to Paris, this time traveling without her father, who was angry with her and betting she’d fail. She also went without her husband-to-be, Robert.
Robert wrote to her from Germany:
“Use your time to compose, play. Don’t be so retiring, let them know what kind of artist they have in Paris.”
“Don’t leave Paris until you’ve had a total triumph… You are actually appearing in those places as a fully developed artist for the first time.”
Yet in that same letter, he also wrote:
“Young wives must be able to cook and to keep house, if they want satisfied husbands… Young wives may not make long journeys right away, but must take care of themselves and spare themselves…” 2
Once married, it wasn’t long before Clara found herself with a family of several children—but only one piano.
My piano playing is falling behind.
This always happens when Robert is composing.
There is not even one little hour to be
found in the whole day for myself!
If only I don’t fall too far behind!
Score reading has also been given up once again,
but I hope it won’t be for long this time.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to a friend
Here’s how Robert described Clara to a friend:
“She always wanted to move forward but Marie is grasping her dress on the one side, Elise also creates much to do, and the husband sits deep in thought…”
Still, Clara continued to perform and to tour.
In December 1845 and again in January 1846, she played concerts—albeit close to home— while she was 7 and 8 months pregnant.
Between 1840 and 1954 Clara Schumann gave
at least 139 public concerts,
and during those years she was pregnant almost continuously…
Clara continued…to teach, practice, and perform,
sometimes up to one week before the birth of a child.
– Nancy B Riech 2
She and Robert both knew she could earn ‘more in one three-week concert tour than his composing and editing in a year.‘ 2
Along with his compositions and teaching, Robert ran a magazine of new music and musical critiques called the Neue Zeitschrift für Music (New Journal for Music). When the magazine published a review of Clara’s Piano Concerto (Opus #7), it was not complimentary. Robert had not reviewed it himself—and that just made Clara feel worse.
Yet, Clara trusted her own abilities with her audience. She wrote to Robert:
I wouldn’t play it as often
if I hadn’t pleased the experts and
the average concert goer with it so much.
…Of the many pieces I played,
my concerto was received the best.
Do you think I am so unaware
that I don’t know the faults of the concerto?
…But the audience does not,
and furthermore does not need to know.
There is no better feeling
than having satisfied an entire audience.
– Clara Schumann 1
(Note: You can judge her Piano Concerto for yourself—there’s a link to a 2019 performance of it below.)
It wasn’t until 1852 that the family finally moved into a larger apartment where Clara could have her own piano and where she could practice without disturbing her husband. It was here that she composed another of her best works (Opus 20), a solo piano piece with variations on a theme of Robert’s.
Less than two years later, Robert had a breakdown, attempted suicide, and asked to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Bonn.
My true old friend, my piano,
must help me with this!
… I always believed I knew
what a splendid thing it is to be an artist,
but only now, for the first time, do I really
understand how all my pain and joy can be relieved only by
divine music so that I often feel quite well again.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to Joseph Joachim
Robert continued to be hospitalized for two and a half years until his death in July 1856.
Clara’s sorrows harmonizing with the consolation of art…
It was extraordinary to me
that I was able to play with such freedom and strength…
while I was so unhappy.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to Brahms 2
Clara Schumann had a nickname among the other composers (Brahms, Liszt, her husband, and others). They called her The Priestess, due to her “devotion and quiet dignity.” 2 She often came across as somber.
She had reasons to be somber.
Her early life was difficult. Her parents split up. Her father exercised his legal right to ‘take possession of her’ at age five, and for the rest of her childhood she rarely saw her mother.1 Her father was harsh, overbearing and sometimes violent—with her younger brothers, if not with her.2 Yet he taught her and coached her and managed her career until their break over her desire to marry Robert.
By gaining a husband, she lost a father. She and Friedrich Wieck had been so much to each other, now for the rest of his life they hardly saw each other.
Clara spent her entire adult life running a house full of children. She and Robert had 8 children. Four of them out-lived Clara. Two of her children who died left children of their own, whom Clara took in and raised.
Her husband’s health was certainly a worry to her.
And Robert was the love of her life.
She was combative with her husband, she was protective,** she was passionately loving. She devoted herself to his career both publicly and privately. She championed him when she had the more-famous name—and she continued to promote his music when his fame eclipsed hers. She was extremely proud of him and proud of them as couple.
** I’m not exaggerating by saying ‘protective.’
Click here to read
a “short, heroic moment” in Clara’s life.
After less than 16 years of marriage, Robert died.
And Clara lived on as a widow for another 40 years.
Playing her piano and performing before audiences was a constant source of comfort throughout her life.
It often seemed to me—and still does—
that when I played, my overburdened soul was relieved,
as if I had truly cried myself out.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to a friend 2
Clara’s life clashing with her ambition…
There is nothing better
than the pleasure of composing something oneself,
then hearing it played.
– Clara Schumann
about her Piano Trio (Opus 17)
Clara Schumann’s first public concert was in 1828 in Leipzig at age 9. Her last was in 1891 in Frankfurt at age 72.
As she grew older and her reputation more secure,
she programmed what she loved
and her adoring audiences generally respected her choices,
though…some heads were shaken…over her ‘serious’ programming….’
The pattern still followed by recitalists today—
a work by Bach or Scarlatti, a major opus
such as a Beethoven sonata, followed by
shorter pieces by Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn—
was pioneered by Clara Schumann.
– Nancy B Riech 2
Clara Schumann composed 23 works with opus numbers, and at least that many more without.
Which is probably not a lot for a career of over six decades.
Why didn’t she compose more?
One explanation is that she simply didn’t have to:
When she was starting out on her career in the 1830s, performers were expected to also be composers—and to include some of their own compositions in each program.
By the 1850s, they were not.1
Another explanation was that she was always more focused on performance.
Her compositions were merely a ‘vehicle for display.’ 1
In other words, she composed to play. And once she was free to play without composing, she did.
I may not be a creative artist,
but still I am re-creating.
– Clara Schumann
letter to Joseph Joachim
And then there’s her buying into the popular ideas of women’s limitations.
I once believed I had creative talent,
but I have given up this idea;
a woman must not wish to compose—
there never was one able to do it.
Am I intended to be the one? It would be
arrogant to believe that.
That was something with which only my father
tempted me in former days.
But I soon gave up believing this.
May Robert always create;
that must always make me happy.
– Clara Schumann1
She certainly had no shortage of reminders that even her performance career was breaking with social norms.
This squabble took place in an exchange of letters between
Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann in 1861:
You certainly have enough money.
It would be far more reasonable
and better if you cared for your health and
your beautiful self.
My health may well be better preserved if I
exert myself less, but in the end
doesn’t each person give his life for his calling?
…I feel no less freshness and warmth
than I did twenty years ago.
On the contrary, I feel younger
and believe that a quieter life would leave me
too much time to brood on my sorrows. 2
At some point we have to stop asking asking why, and simply respect her choices. And trust that had she wanted to write more music, she would have.
After all, nothing stopped her breaking norms to do other things she wanted to do. Certainly nothing stopped her from traveling and performing. Not pregnancy, not grief, not having to travel without a male guardian. Not age. She was still performing publicly into her 70s.
Maybe, in giving up composition, it was easier within her own mind to justify her not giving up her performances.
After Robert died, she wrote only a few more pieces, none of them with opus numbers. (Her last composition with an opus number was before Robert’s suicide.)
Maybe the idea of creating new compositions—which she used to give to Robert for his birthdays—made her too sad.
Performing certainly was her source of comfort. But maybe composing was not.
Grief doesn’t follow logic.
At age 59, Clara Schumann was offered a new gig.
In many letters and diary entries,
Clara Schumann expressed (with some envy)
her conviction that only a composer—a creator—
could achieve immortality;
the interpretive artist would soon be forgotten….
As a teacher, however… her influence extends to this day.
– Nancy B Riech 2
In 1878, after decades of teaching small numbers of individual students, Clara Schumann accepted a full-time teaching position for the first time.
She became principal teacher at Hoch’sche Conservatorium in Frankfurt
They called her Frau Kammerirtuosin Schumann (virtuoso in chamber music)
She was the only woman on the faculty.
There is no woman and there will not
be any woman employed in the Conservatory.
As for Madame Schumann, I count her as a man.
– Joachim Raff, director
Frankfurt 1879 (2)
Clara was treated very well by the director and governing board,2 and she was a success: A warm, conscientious teacher, if a bit lacking in humor or cheer. Her daughters Marie and Eugenie acted as assistant teachers.
I finally made it. Hurrah.
… I would never have dreamed how
difficult it would be to be accepted in her class.
Everyone in my generation is trying for it…
Fortune really favored me, but I also certainly
worked hard enough to earn it.
… I am proud to be a Schumann scholar now.
– a student from England named
Clement Harris, 1889
Clara Schumann kept her teaching job for 14 years, until she was almost 73 years old.2
Happy 201st Birthday
** Clara Wieck Schumann **
– born September 13, 1819
in Leipzig, Germany
Perhaps the pinnacle of Clara Schumann’s fame
came with her performances as 18-year-old Clara Wieck on tour in
Vienna during the Winter Season 1837-1838.
Vienna fell in love with Clara Wieck!
Her financial and critical success was more than her father could have ever foreseen. Viennese crowds at the box office were so large that police were sent in to control her fans. 1
The Austrian Emperor awarded her the country’s highest musical honor—naming her Royal and Imperial Austrian Chamber Virtuoso.
But perhaps best of all, chefs at the grand Hotel Empress of Austria created a new cake and named it in Clara’s honor: Torte à la Wieck.5
They are serving “torte à la Wieck” in the restaurants,
and all my enthusiasts go and eat the cake.
It was recently advertised as an ethereal light dessert
that played itself into the mouth of the eater.
Isn’t that a laugh?
– Clara Weick
in a letter to Robert Schumann
Vienna, January 30, 183
A Berlin paper republished this account:
The name Wieck is already the basis of
talk of fashion and daily gossip in Vienna
to such an extent that soon we will be able to
find that name on a Viennese menu…
We have had Paganini crullers, Catalani bread, Vasta tortes
and now we even have a torte à la Wieck—
at the Hotel Empress of Austria in the Weissburggasse.
This torte is an ethereally delicate pastry that seemingly
finds its own way into the stomach
of the connoisseur.
(Many thanks to my cousin Heide
for this translation!) 4
In March 2017, I spent a wonderful week in Vienna.
Notes from my Travel Journal – March 2017
Saturday night. Daisy and I went to hear the Vienna Philharmonic.
Every note perfect.
Nose bleed seats, yet we could see the whole orchestra.
Bartok—which has always sounded discordant and random in recordings, but hearing it live, it was dramatic and expressive.
The Beethoven Pastoral was lovely, as expected, with some surprising drama of its own in the third movement. (What got into that ‘pasture’? A mad bull?)
The whole evening made me really happy.
Sunday. Daisy, B and I went to the Galerie Belvedere Oberer (the upper palace) to see paintings by Klimt and also a painter Daisy had studied and I’d never heard of, Egon Schiele.
Daisy has to catch a train back to Prague this evening. It was so great she could come meet us here in Vienna!
The Mozart concertos,
both of which I played with indescribable delight…
What music this is—these adagios!
I could not restrain tears as I played them,
…. Doesn’t it seem as though sparks were
flying out to the instruments—
how everything weaves and breathes together…
I thought I could not stop talking about it and yet
this is only a weak expression of what I feel.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to Johannes Brahms, 1861
Thursday. Went by myself to Mozarthaus.
It was pretty spine-tingling to stand in the room where Mozart wrote the opera The Marriage of Figaro—and where Hayden sat and listened to the debut of the Quartets that Mozart dedicated to him!
Mozart lived at a dozen different houses in Vienna, but this is the only one still standing. (He lived here from 1784 until 1787.) There isn’t much in the house now that is from Mozart’s day, yet the museum was full of creative and fascinating exhibits about Mozart’s life. Including an amazing display for Figaro.
“Half Cup More”
Clara Schumann lived a long life right in the center of things.
Her 76 years sat right in the middle of the 19th century.
Her home in Germany was right in the middle of Europe
just as Classical music gave way to Romanticism.
Clara Schumann met and worked with many other musicians of her day:
Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Joseph Joachim, and Johannes Brahms.
Here are a couple of visuals (a graph + a list)
showing Clara Schumann among her contemporaries:
Timeline of the Lives of
19th Century Composers
Dec 1791: MOZART dies at age 35 in Vienna, Austria
Feb 1809: Felix MENDELSSOHN born in Hamburg, Germany
Mar 1810: Frédéric CHOPIN born in Żelazowa Wola, Poland
Jun 1810: ROBERT SCHUMANN born in Saxony, Germany
Oct 1811: Franz LISZT born in Doborján, Hungary
Sep 1819: CLARA WIECK (later Schumann) born in Leipzig, Germany
Mar 1827: BEETHOVEN dies at age 56 in Vienna, Austria
Jun 1831: Joseph JOACHIM born in Köpcsény, Hungary
May 1833: Johannes BRAHMS born in Hamburg, Germany
Nov 1847: Felix MENDELSSOHN died at age 38 in Leipzig, Germany
Oct 1849: Frédéric CHOPIN died at age 39 in Paris, France
Jul 1856: ROBERT SCHUMANN dies at age 46 in Bonn, Germany
Jul 1886: Franz LISZT dies at age 74 in Bayreuth, Germany
May 1896: CLARA SCHUMANN dies at age 76 in Frankfurt, Germany
Apr 1897: Johannes BRAHMS dies at age 63 in Vienna, Austria
Aug 1907: Joseph JOACHIM dies at age 76 in Berlin, Germany
Clara & the Boys
Frédéric Chopin visited Clara’s home in Sept 1835 and again in Sept 1836. (Clara was 16.)
She played for him some pieces by Robert Schumann, some pieces of his, and one of her own.
He ‘showered her with compliments’ and then played for her. 2
He took one of her compositions with him (her Opus 5) and left her one of his,
which he inscribed: “A Mlle Clara Wieck, par son admirateur, F Chopin”
(For Miss Clara Wieck, from her admirer, F Chopin) 2
Felix Mendelssohn also visited the Wieck household in 1835.
He and Clara played a duet at her 16th birthday party in September.
Earlier that same year, in May and then again in November of 1834,
Clara performed her Piano Concerto in A minor (Opus #7)
with Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.2
Mendelssohn believed Clara Schumann was one of the best interpreters of his work. Especially of his Capriccio, which he said she played ‘like a little devil.’ 1
In private settings, Clara and he were known for their four-hand sight-readings at fast tempos.
Over the years, she performed with him regularly and he praised her often both publicly and privately.
He also called on her to substitute for him when he was unable to play.
She included at least one piece of his in almost every recital for her entire career.
Seven years after Felix Mendelssohn’s death, Clara and Robert named their youngest child Felix after “the unforgettable one.” 2
The guest list for Clara’s 16th birthday party
included Mendelssohn, the young Robert Schumann,
and five other friends of her father’s.
Clara’s writing about her glorious birthday
and her delight in her gift
(the men went in together to buy her a gold watch)
gives no indication that being surrounded
only by adult men seemed at all strange to her.
Clara first met violinist Joseph Joachim when he was 12 years old and she was 24.
Over their 45-year friendship, Clara played more than 230 concerts with him, more than any other artist.
When Robert became sick, Joachim and Brahms were the two friends she depended on most.
Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann both called each other ‘best friend.’
When he first came to Düsseldorf, Clara gave Brahms piano lessons. She appeared with him in concerts, to help get him established.
I am anxious…to inspire the musicians here
to have respect for him;
aside from my duty as a friend,
I consider it my artistic duty.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to a Hamburg conductor,
talking about Johannes Brahms
Brahms had enormous respect for Clara Schumann’s opinion:
I want to publish my songs and I would really
like very much if you would first play through them sometime,
and say a word to me about them…
Write whether you like any of it—
and if there are other things,
perhaps, that you dislike intensely…
If possible, write me a brief word for each one.
…You might simply indicate… op. X,
5. bad; 6. shameful; 7. preposterous; etc.”
– Johannes Brahms
in a letter to Clara about his opus 69-72
Brahms’ music felt personal to Clara:
I don’t believe there is another person
who can experience this melody as blissful
and melancholy as I do…
Many others could perhaps understand
and speak about it better
but no one could feel it more than I do—
the deepest and most tender strings of the soul
vibrate to such music.
– Clara Schumann
in a letter to a Johannes Brahms
When I can work regularly
I feel once more really in my element.
A quite different feeling comes over me,
lighter and freer
and everything seems to become brighter and cheerful.
Music is a large part of my life, and
when I must do without it, it is as if
I were deprived of bodily and mental vigor.
– Clara Schumann
Thank you for reading!
— Kelly J Hardesty
Scroll down to the end—and you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.
You Can Read More…
notes & footnotes
Sounds and Sweet Airs:
The Forgotten Women of Classical Music (2016)
by Anna Beer
Clara Schumann: the Artist and the Woman
(1985, revised 2001)
by Nancy B Reich
The Katharine Hepburn movie about the Schumanns
is called Song of Love (1947).
It’s based on a play by Bernard Schubert and Mario Silva.
The movie is directed by Clarence Brown
(who also directed National Velvet
and The Yearling and Greta Garbo’s Anna Karenina)
Robert Schumann is played by Paul Henreid
(aka Victor Laszlo in Casablanca
and the dashing love of Bette Davis’ life in Now, Voyager).
Research a bit, I read Song of Love called a
‘criminally underrated romance movie from the 40s’ and
a ‘forgotten film in Katharine Hepburn’s career.’
Um, yeah forgotten.
I’m a pretty serious Hepburn fan
and I’d never heard of it
until a photo of it popped up while searching for
pictures of Clara Schumann.
Hepburn doesn’t mention it in her autobiography.
Not in her list of ‘very dull’
nor her list of ‘on the good side’ movies she’d made.
It’s not available to stream,
but I’ve ordered a DVD of it, so we’ll see!
Here’s a movie review of Song of Love by Ryan McDonald.
“Paganini crullers, Catalani bread, Vasta tortes”
Thank you to Wikipedia for these descriptions
of Clara’s rivals in pastry:
Niccolò Paganini (27 October 1782 – 27 May 1840)
Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer.
the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time.
Angelica Catalani (10 May 1780 – 12 June 1849)
Italian opera singer of nearly three octaves in range.
‘Her unsurpassed power and flexibility made her one of the
greatest bravura singers of all time.’
(If you know, please tell me.
The interwebs merely shrugged.)
Although the recipe for Torte à la Wieck was lost,
three women decided to concoct a recreation
in honor of Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday in 2019
They based their recipe
on their best research and their own culinary flair.
Here’s their story:
“In 2019, the bicentenary of Clara Wieck Schumann’s birth was marked
with a concert by ArtSung for the London Song Festival and
in collaboration with @mucha_elizabeth & @plantypal
our own version of Torte à la Wieck debuted.
Such an honour to work with these two incredible women.”
— Annabelle Utrect
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© Kelly J Hardesty 2023