Schumann, Clara Josephine (Wieck)



One of the greatest pianists the world has ever known; a composer of but few compositions, but these of such excellence that they entitle her to rank among the most distinguished musicians of her country, and whose fame will always remain connected with that of her husband, Robert Schumann. Clara Wieck was born at Leipsic, Germany; the daughter of the eminent and eccentric Frederick Wieck, one of the most celebrated piano teachers of Germany, and under him she began her studies when very young. Wieck was exceedingly strict with his children and forced them to spend long hours daily at their music lessons, and never allowing them any recreation. He was so harsh that Clara's mother left him. By his second wife, Wieck had two children, Marie and Cecilia, and with them Clara grew up. Marie attained considerable distinction as a pianist and was living in 1904 in Dresden as a piano teacher. Although Wieck has been bitterly denounced for his harshness and severity, Clara declared in after years that she was grateful to her father for forcing her to develop her talents, and that she owed her great proficiency to his help. From her earliest years she showed the most wonderful talent, and her diligence and zeal were phenomenal. Her debut as a pianist took place when she was nine years of age, at a concert in Leipsic, and at that time she played with rare feeling and understanding. When only eleven she appeared at a Gewandhaus concert and gained great praise from the most conservative musical critics. At that time she played a set of variations of her own, which it is said were made use of long years afterward by Robert Schumann, her husband.


When Clara was thirteen she met Schumann for the first time. He had just come to Leipsic from Heidelberg, where he had been a student. He adopted Wieck as his teacher, making his home with his family and thus became acquainted with the daughter, Clara, who took a deep interest in his studies and became his warm, sympathetic friend. It is said Schumann was engaged at that time to one of Wieck's pupils, but by mutual consent the engagement was broken off. Afterward his friendship for Clara grew into something deeper, and when she was seventeen he proposed marriage to her and was accepted, for the young girl returned his love, but her father bitterly opposed their union. He had other plans for his daughter, wishing her to make a career for herself, and if she married at all to look higher than the poor music student. After being refused again and again by Wieck, the young couple finally gained access to the Royal Court of Appeals, and presented their case. It dragged along for a year, and finally the court decided there was no valid reason why they should not marry, and in 1840, when Clara was twenty-one and Schumann thirty, they were wedded at Schonefeld, near Leipsic. The happiness and congeniality of their life together was as nearly perfect as is possible. After their marriage they made several artistic tours together, going once as far as Russia. Clara chumann worked side by side with her brilliant husband, her hours of study interrupted only by her concert tours from time to time, many of which were undertaken with him, when he directed many of his own works. Her fame as one of Germany's greatest artists grew steadily year by year. Her influence upon and her help to her husband cannot be too highly estimated. Schumann himself acknowledged his great indebtedness to her and declared she inspired the greatest of his works. Although both great artists, husband and wife, had decidedly simple tastes, and were devoted to their home and children. Their ideally happy life together lasted for only a few years, however. Robert Schumann was attacked by the brain malady, which is supposed to have been hereditary and from which he eventually died. For years he lived in a state of continual gloom and oppression, once even attempting to commit suicide, and was a great care to his gentle, devoted wife. In July, 1856, on her return from a concert tour to England, Clara Schumann was just in time to be with her husband as he breathed his last, in an insane asylum near Bonn, where he had been confined for more than two years. Mme. Schumann consecrated the remainder of her life to interpreting her husband's works and making them familiar to the public. She settled in Baden-Baden in 1863, making annual concert tours to England and the Continent, where her playing always created the greatest enthusiasm. In 1878 she accepted the post of principal piano teacher at the Frankfort Conservatory, and there she taught almost continuously until 1882, training during that time many pupils who afterward attained fame as pianists. She threw herself into her work with the greatest  zeal and enthusiasm, and was very successful as a teacher. Her life was most simple and regular, and in her later years she taught during the mornings and spent the afternoons knitting, and in summer time could almost invariably be found in the latter part of the day in her garden, listening to the song-birds in the trees.


She did not give up her playing in public when she grew old, but kept it up until a short time before her death, which occurred in Frankfort, May 21, 1896, from a stroke of apoplexy. The Schumanns are buried side by side. Mme. Schumann was possessed of a lovable, even disposition, was an affectionate and devoted wife, mother and friend, besides being a woman of rare genius. " In her personality," wrote one of her pupils, " there was the blending of all the attributes of a great character and a great artist;" but great musician as she was, Clara Schumann was first of all a great and lovable woman, amiable as she was gifted. Franz Liszt once paid her the compliment of saying that she was the sincerest woman he had ever known. In appearance she was of middle height, rather stout in her later years, with a pale face, aquiline nose and deep, expressive blue eyes. Her manners were simple but gracious.


As a pianist Mme. Schumann belongs with the great virtuosos. Deppe, the great teacher, once said: " She is the most musical of all the pianists, and is the finest Bach player I ever heard." J. Fuller Maitland includes the name of Clara Schumann in his list of great German composers. Her works are not many, but they all give evidence of her genius for composition, and had she not been overshadowed by her close association with one of the greatest creative musicians, this phase of her artistic activity would undoubtedly have won for her greater recognition. Most of her compositions are for the piano; but among her works are sixteen songs of such great beauty that most critics agree that they would have entitled her to rank among the great composers of her country had she done nothing else. She wrote besides, a piano concerto; many polonaises; caprices; valses; romances; scherzos; variations of themes of Robert Schumann; cadenzas to Beethoven's concertos in D minor, and a trio for piano and strings that has been highly praised.