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13 September 2018, 09:00 | Updated: 5 February 2019, 14:31
The remarkable pianist and composer was a true pioneer who had a profound impact on the history of music. Here's everything you need to know about her life and work – with a look ahead to London celebrations of her bicentenary this year.
Clara Schumann, born Clara Wieck, is considered one of the most talented and distinguished composer–pianists of the Romantic era.
Starting young, she was a child prodigy. Her father made her practise for two hours a day alongside her daily piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition and counterpoint lessons.
Her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a famous German piano teacher. It was thanks to him that Clara studied music from such a young age.
At the tender age of 13, Clara was one of the first pianists to perform from memory. This has now become standard practice for most professional pianists.
She met composer Robert Schumann when she was only eight years old. Their friendship eventually blossomed into love, although Clara's father was against the relationship and even threatened to shoot Robert should he go through with the marriage.
Johannes Brahms was in love with Clara, but she was married to his best friend.
Robert Schumann's mental health deteriorated later in life and he attempted to commit suicide before he was then admitted to an asylum. When this happened, Brahms came to stay at their home to support the family. Clara and Brahms' relationship blossomed to more than friendship, and although it's unclear what exactly went on, this love triangle holds a position as one of the most retold love stories in music history.
Brahms wrote to her declaring his feelings:
"I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things I wish you."
Clara had a complicated personal relationship with Johannes Brahms, but he was always supportive of her professional career. She was in fact the first person to ever publicly perform any of his work Brahms (specifically the Andante and Scherzo from the Sonata in F minor, in Leipzig, 23 October 1854).
She earned most of the money in the Schumann household which was extremely unusual for the time.
Clara’s work has often been marginalised by people claiming her husband was the 'real' composer behind her works. The couple worked together on some songs, but her pieces were in fact more popular than his at the time.
Clara stopped composing at the young age of 36. In later life she said:
“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”
There have been many depictions of Clara on-screen, most famously Kathrine Hepburn played the composer in 1947 film Song of Love.
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This year marks the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann's birth. To celebrate the legacy of this great virtuoso and composer, St John's Smith Square in London is presenting a special festival dedicated to her life and work. The series takes place at the end of February and includes her complete published Lieder, chamber music and works that she inspired.