September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896
Clara Wieck Schumann, one of the most prominent German pianists of the 18th century, was born on this day in Leipzig. She is described as a very dedicated, responsible artist, guardian of traditional values. Her musical giftedness was recognized and nurtured by Clara’s father Friedrich Wieck, who had a great influence on her with his arrogance and authority until she met Robert Schumann, whom she married on December 12, 1840, with fierce opposition of her father, from whom she never got a blessing for that marriage. After the wedding, old Wieck leaves Clara’s life forever, which then begins to be filled by Robert, and later by their children: Marie, Elise, Julie and Emil (who died at fourteen months), Ludwig, Eugenie, Ferdinand and Felix. Whilst taking care of her family, she didn’t have much time to perfect her piano technique. She missed public performances, but she felt that she should remain a firm supporter of her husband, who had a great influence on her when it comes to musical taste, aesthetics and the selection of musical works, thus contributing to the fact that the traditional approach will be present forever in Clara’s life. During her marriage she had several tours throughout Europe; in those years, the Schumann family met Johannes Brahms, with whom they became friends and developed long-term mutual trust. Later in 1854, Robert Schumann became mentally ill, was hospitalized, and Clara, at the age of thirty-five, was forced to return to playing concerts in order to feed her family. She performed difficult works, including the Hammerklavier Sonata. At the concerts, she performed in a black dress – as a sign of memory of Robert, she played completely bent over, her head almost touching the keyboard. In her piano performance, she never changed the technique she acquired from her father; while playing, she avoided any intensity or excitement, as well as excessive physical movements. She kept her fingers very close to the keyboard, and more so pressed the keys than hit them. She played chords from her wrist, not with her whole hand and elbow; she had a large hand and could easily cover a decima. She conquered Europe very quickly, and after Schumann’s death, the audience completely accepted romanticism and his works, which Clara performed regularly and had in her concert repertoire. Although she preferred Robert’s compositions, she also often performed the works of Johannes Brahms, with whom she remained a close friend. In her youth, like everyone else, she admired Franz Liszt, however, over the years she changed that opinion to such an extent that her intolerance towards Liszt reached pathological proportions. She was the first pianist to publicly perform works by heart, without sheet music. In 1878, she began teaching as head of the piano department at the “Dr. Hoch” Conservatory in Frankfurt, where she remained until 1892. In the meantime, her hearing began to fail her so that in 1890 she played her last concert. She died in Frankfurt in 1896, a year before Brahms. Her most famous pupils were: Fanny Davies, Adela Verne, Leonard Borwick, Natalie Janotha and Clement Harris. Music critics of the time rewarded Clara’s performances and performances with very positive reviews, starting with George Bernard Shaw who wrote: “… a pianist of poetic sensibility and noble beauty… an artist of this kind is a true refreshment for critics”, and all the way to the Austrian critic Eduard Hanslick: “She always tried to perform each piece in her own unique musical style.” It could certainly be said that she is the greatest contemporary pianist, that her physical strength is not limited by the fact that she is a woman. Everything in her playing is determined, clear, sharp like a drawing”. The non-musical public may remember her from the 100 German mark banknote, which featured her image.