Everything you need to know about Clara Schumann
13 September 2018, 09:00 | Updated: 13 September 2018, 09:46
Today would have been Clara Schumann’s 199th birthday. To remember the female pianist and composer, and the profound impact she had on women in the music industry, here is everything you need to know.
A talented pianist and composer
Clara Schumann, born Clara Wieck, is considered to be one of the most talented and distinguished composer–pianists of the Romantic era.
Starting young, she was a child prodigy. Her father made her practice for two hours a day alongside her daily piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition and counterpoint lessons.
Music in the family
Her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a famous German piano teacher. It was thanks to him that Clara studied music from such a young age.
Trendsetter – Playing from memory
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.
Marriage to Robert Schumann
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.
The love triangle
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 romance scandals 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."
Premiering the work of Brahms
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 work composed by Brahms in his lifetime (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 through claims that her husband composed the work published under her name. The couple worked together on some songs, but her pieces were in fact more popular than his at the time.
An early end to composing
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 by Kathrine Hepburn in 1947 film Song of Love.