When we think of the great love stories of history and literature the names of Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Tristan and Isolde come to mind. But what about Robert and Clara? Robert and Clara you ask? Who were they? Robert and Clara Schumann’s love story rivals that of any of the before mentioned couples. Theirs was a love that persevered through time, distance, family objections and even death. Robert first met Clara when she was but nine years old, the daughter of the famous piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, with whom he had come to study. He was then nineteen. Of course he had no interest in a nine year old “kid” but she grew up and he kept in touch with the family and when she was older their friendship developed and deepened. Papa Wieck did not approve at all. He didn’t want his talented daughter, destined for a concert pianist career to throw her life away by marrying a penniless unknown composer! But in spite of the obstacles their love continued to grow and the day after Clara’s 21st birthday they married. They were devoted to each with Robert finding much of his inspiration for composition springing from his love for Clara, and Clara championing the music of her talented husband by performing his works at her concerts. Even Clara’s father eventually softened in his attitude toward Robert and accepted their marriage.
But while they shared many happy years together, tragedy struck when Robert was in his forties, and Clara was in her thirties. He began having mental disruptions, with depression, multiple personalities and suicidal tendencies. Finally, at Robert’s request he was placed in an insane asylum where he died at age forty-six. Clara was then left alone with eight children to raise and her husband dead. She began anew her concertizing and played all across Europe being one of the most sought after pianists of her day. She would always wear black in remembrance of her husband and continued to champion his music. She also supported and promoted the music of Johannes Brahms who became a good friend to her family. In addition to being a concert pianist, Clara Schumann also composed music and this week’s listening assignment feature a few of her compositions.
Piano Concerto in a minor by Clara Schumann
Quatre Visions Fugitives by Clara Schumann played by Michael Ponti