(September 13, 1819 - May 20, 1896)
Schumann is probably the best known of women classical composers, having
achieved during her lifetime a considerable degree of fame both as piano
virtuoso and composer -on her own merits and despite the odds, certainly
not by virtue of having a famous last name. Hailed by critics and students
of her day as one of the greatest pianists of the century, she also saw
most of her works published and acclaimed - a feat even by today's standards.
Although she is still a relatively neglected composer, perhaps it will not
be for much longer as her works are steadily gaining a bigger presence in
the concert repertoire.
She was born Clara Wieck, the lovely and musically talented daughter of Friederich Wieck, a piano teacher in Leipzig with whom Robert Schumann took piano lessons while studying law (which he soon abandoned for music). Schumann who knew Clara as a child eventually fell in love with her; they married the day before she turned 21 over the long-held vehement objections of her father. Thus was born one of the most successful unions in classical music.
Clara Schumann was trained for the concert stage by parents who were convinced their daughter was a child prodigy. She did not disappoint, making her first public appearance at age 9 and her first solo piano recital at 11. Throughout her life, she was in demand as a performer and a teacher, travelling on concert tours to 38 countries outside her native Germany. Her compositions include, among others: 29 songs, 4 pieces for piano and orchestra, 20 pieces for solo piano. She set to music poetry by Goethe, Heine, Rückert, Burns and others. Although she stopped composing after Robert's death in 1856, she continued with her career well into her later life. It is difficult to imagine how she could do all that and raise a family of 8 children at the same time. A fete for any woman, or man!
Clara's close friends included Felix Mendelssohn, the singer-composer Pauline Viardot and the violinist Joseph Joachim who introduced the Schumanns to Johannes Brahms. A deep friendship developed between the Schumanns and the young Brahms of whose works Robert Schumann was the most ardent champion. Brahms became Clara Schumann's most devoted friend and confidante to her death, a soul-mate by any definition.
Toward the end of her life, Clara Schumann settled in Frankfurt where she died in 1896.