Clara Schumann - Leipzig's most extraordinary artist
Clara Schumann, née Wieck, in Leipzig
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 1819 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 the Inselstrasse. They spent four happy and productive years there.
Would you like to walk in Clara and Robert Schumann's footsteps?
The Schumann House has an interesting exhibition on the life and work of this musical couple.
Which influences shaped her 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.
In 1839, the enamoured couple finally submitted a request to the court in Leipzig and were granted the right to get married. 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. 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 performing 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. Nonetheless, Robert was displeased by the success of his wife. Whilst she basked in the limelight, he was often confined to the sidelines.
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"!