Clara Schumann was both one of the most sought-after piano soloists of the Romantic era and a composer of note as well. Even though we have no recordings of her legendary playing, over 1,300 programs of hers and her husband Robert Schumann have been preserved.
Frederic Chopin: Variations on
La ci darem la mano
At times striking and often virtuosic, the music of Chopin was well suited to the talented Schumann. As she toured this particular work at the age of twelve, Chopin wrote that Schumann was “the only woman in Germany who can play my music.” This piece was a favorite for both Clara and Robert Schumann to perform in their younger days. Once, when Robert was 23 and Clara 14 he wrote to her:
Tomorrow at precisely eleven o’clock I will play the Adagio from Chopin’s Variations and at the same time I shall think of you very intently, exclusively of you. Now my request is that you should do the same, so that we may see and meet each other in spirit.
Clara Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor
Schumann wrote her first and only piano concerto at the age of 14, and performed it on tour at 16. The piece blends sweeping romanticism along with youthful optimism. As you watch the sheet music, note the size her hands must have been as the teenage girl could reach these extended intervals.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23,
On tour Clara Wieck (at the time) was so compelling in her performance of this sonata that poet Franz Grillparzer wrote a poem and dedicated it to her.
Clara Wieck und Beethoven includes the following lines:
The spirits ascend/ Then drop and bow/ To the lovely innocent mistress/ Whose white fingers guide them as she plays.
Clara Schumann: Three Romances for Violin and Piano
Schumann performed extended tours with violinist Joseph Joachim, even when the violinist was at the young age of 14. While much has been written and speculated about Schumann’s companionship with Johannes Brahms, it should also be known that her friendship with Joachim lasted forty years. These three Romances, while inspired by her husband Robert’s birthday, were dedicated to Joachim.
Clara Schumann: Variations on a theme by Robert Schumann
This set was created as a gift to Robert for his 43rd birthday – just before the start of his noticeable mental decline.
Schumann made the decision to stop composing in her mid thirties, just after Robert’s hospitalization. Critics and historians have speculated as to the reasons why she made have chosen to focus on performing. While the stress of her husband’s illness may have taken a toll, and raising eight children is a career unto itself, we will never know the true reason behind her decision. While she is often quoted referring to the lack of women as noted composers, she also wrote about the enjoyment she had found in composing.
“There is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.” -Clara Schumann
Johannes Brahms: Variations on a theme by Haydn
Schumann gave the premiere of this piece in its two-piano version alongside the composer Johannes Brahms. It was also the last piece she ever played in public, performing in 1891 with James Kwast.
91Classical is celebrating the 200th birthday of pianist Clara Schumann with a festival of events both on and off-air. For more, information,
visit our Clara Schumann Festival web page.