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Clara and Robert Schumann

Clara Schumann, née Wieck

Portrait of the famous Leipzig composer Clara Schumann, born Wieck, who later married Robert Schumann and also performed as piano virtuoso in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, culture, Music City Leipzig.
Clara Schumann was a gifted pianist from an early age. © Andreas Staub

One of Leipzig's most famous musicians was the daughter of the ambitious piano pedagogue and instrument seller, Friedrich Wieck. She was born on 13 September 1918 in Leipzig and started receiving the strict training reserved for piano masters from the age of five. She performed in the Gewandhaus for the first time at the tender age of nine. At 16, she was counted as a pianist of European importance.

In October 1931, she performed in Weimar for Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who was full of praise for her. This performance was followed by numerous successful concert tours, for which she interpreted the works of Ludwig von Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schuman.

In 1828, she met 18-year-old law student Robert Schuman. Schumann was her father's piano student, and lived with the Wiecks in 1830/31. He fell in love with the young Clara, who returned his affections. Five years later, they secretly got engaged. On 12 September 1840, the celebrated pianist and the as-yet-unknown composer got married in the Schönefeld church and moved to their apartment in Inselstrasse. They spent four happy and productive years there.

Would you like to walk in Clara and Robert Schumann's footsteps? 

At the Schumann House in Inselstrasse, which was regarded as an important meeting place for international artists, you can get an insight into the artistic careers of Clara and Robert during their youth. On the occasion of the 200th birthday, the site has been redesigned and expanded. The exhibition, curated by Dr Beatrix Borchard opened on 14 September 2019 at the Schumann House, is entitled "Experiment of an artist marriage" and for the first time addresses the life of a couple of artists together.

Clara's places of work

Robert Schumann

Portrait of composer Robert Schumann who lived in Leipzig together with his wife Clara Schumann, culture, Gewandhaus
© Joseph Kriehuber

Schumann, who was born on 8 June 1810 in Zwickau, came to Leipzig in May 1828 to study law. The "old, famous and beautiful city" became the melting pot of his self-awareness. After just one year, he dropped out of law school and switched to music. He moved in with his piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, and trained as a pianist. This is where he first met Cara Wieck, the nine-year old piano prodigy.

He overextended a tendon in his right hand in the spring of 1833, through excessive and erroneous practice, which forced Schuhmann to dedicate himself exclusively to his compositional work. His ideas on modern poetic composition styles were first expressed through his piano pieces, such as the "Abegg Variations Op. 1".

After marrying Clara Wieck on 12 September 1840 in the Schönefeld church, the young couple moved into a late classical house. No other building in Leipzig was home to so much fantastic music or so many important artists. The first year of their marriage was a Schumann's "year of music". He created around 150 piano pieces, including the "Liebesfrühling" cycle.

Portrait von Clara und Robert Schumann als Coverbild für das Jubiläumsjahr 2019.
A portrait of Clara and Robert Schumann.

Clara Schumann in Leipzig

Clara's eventful life

Clara's upbringing was marked by austerity and authority. From very early on, her father did his utmost to market Clara as a child prodigy. After a few years in a public primary school, she began to receive private tuition instead, which allowed her to completely focus on playing the piano. She was limited to playing the piano, both in her education and in her free time.

His controlling ways reached their peak when he wrote from an "I" perspective in a diary for Clara, in an attempt to pass it off as though she had written it herself. Later down the line, Clara wrote in her diary herself, but always had to read her often melancholy entries out loud.

However, his daughter's success proved the strict father right. Clara was much acclaimed, performing on stage from a young age.

Clara met Robert at the tender age of eight years old, when her father was giving him piano lessons. Robert, who was ten years older, lived at the Wiecks' and became friends with Clara. The latter took to Robert and his tales from the beginning.

When she was 16, they became closer, with Robert continuing to rave about their first kiss for years to come. Predictably, however, Clara's domineering father wished to stand in the way of their love. Under no circumstances did he want to see his daughter with an unsuccessful piano player, who also happened to be paralysed in one hand. He forbade both of them from any contact with each other and even confiscated Clara's ink, to prevent her from writing letters. This led to Clara regularly sneaking from room to room to steal ink, writing her letters to Robert sentence by sentence.

Then in 1839, the lovers filed a lawsuit at the Leipzig court and were granted the right to marry. They had eight children together, one of whom, Emil, died aged only 16 months.

During the first four years of their marriage, Clara and Robert lived on the second floor of today's Schumann house in Leipzig. Clara used her long-awaited detachment from her father to further develop herself, both in general, and in terms of her music. However, Robert tried to restrict and influence Clara's creativity too. She was expected to curb her piano playing and to focus instead on the composition side, with the ultimate aim of matching her style with Robert's. His wish was for a "musically unified togetherness". During this time, Clara composed a piano concert, among others, which was premiered in the Gewandhaus.  

Meanwhile, Clara had been composing since 1835: among other works, she wrote the Piano Concerto No. 1 opus 7, which premiered in the Gewandhaus. During her marriage she wrote many other works, including several piano pieces dedicated to her husband. Shortly after their wedding, Clara and Robert composed the song cycle "Der Liebesfrühling" ("The Spring of Love") together. 

The Schumann's also kept a marriage diary, which was supposed to further support the exchanging of their thoughts. During her time in Leipzig, two of her daughters were born.

Clara, however, followed her heart and very quickly went back to playing the piano and at concerts. The income she earned from concerts could and had to support the married couple and their children. Moreover, Clara spread her husband's name across Europe by premiering many of his works.

Clara's immense fame was demonstrated by the fact that she was received by the Russian Tsar's family during a tour of Russia. Robert, however, was not a fan of his wife's success. When she was celebrated, he was often in the background of the event.

Clara continued to perform as a pianist and went on concert tours into old age. She celebrated her 50-year stage anniversary with a festival concert in Leipzig's Gewandhaus in 1878.

Her success as a pianist, as well as her being a mother to eight children, was rather exceptional in the 19th century, and even today, she is worthy of the title "superwoman"!

Eine junge Frau stellt die Leipziger Komponistin Clara Schuhmann am Klavier im historischen Salon im Schuhmann-Haus dar.
Schumann House piano concert © Andreas Schmidt

The life of a powerful woman

“What?! You can't just do that!" Well, some of you know these words all too well. Words that tell us, that we aren't allowed to do something, that we can't or shouldn't. We shouldn't, can't, or aren't allowed to because we are not experienced enough, talented enough, or just not right for the job. And the only correct answer to such a quick judgement is - you can guess - "Oh yes, I can!"

How do you think such a power statement was received 150 years ago? Especially from a woman? As part of the colourful Clara19 project, Leipzig presented an exhibition in honour of her 200th birthday that blossomed with expressiveness: Clara Schumann! But does she really deserve all this praise? Decide for yourself! Today we will introduce you to the famous composer and pianist and her eventful time in Leipzig - but above all we want to show you how strong the woman is behind the musical talent...

Portrait of the composers Clara and Robert Schumann, who lived together in Leipzig, the City of Music, culture
Musical history's exceptional couple. © Sepp Beck