Clara Schumann

 Composing gives me great pleasure... 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

Clara Schumann was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. She exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was the composer Robert Schumann. Together they encouraged Johannes Brahms. She was the first to perform publicly any work by Brahms.

Clara Schumann had a brilliant career as a pianist from the age of 13 up to her marriage. Her marriage to Schumann was opposed by her father. She continued to perform and compose after the marriage even as she raised seven children.

In the various tours on which she accompanied her husband, she extended her own reputation further than the outskirts of Germany, and it was thanks to her efforts that his compositions became generally known in Europe. Johannes Brahms, at age 20, met the couple in 1853 and his friendship with Clara Schumann lasted until her death. J. Brahms helped Clara Schumann through the illness of her husband with a caring that bordered on love. Later that year, she also met violinist Joseph Joachim who became one of her frequent performance partners. Clara Schumann is credited with refining the tastes of audiences through her presentation of works by earlier composers including those of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven as well as those of Robert Schumann and J. Brahms.

Although for many years after her death Clara Schumann was not widely recognized as a composer, as a pianist she made an impression which lasts until today. She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making that the standard for concertizing. Trained by her father to play by ear and to memorize, she gave public performances from memory as early as age thirteen, a fact noted as something exceptional by her reviewers.

She was also instrumental in changing the kind of programs expected of concert pianists. In her early career, before her marriage to Robert, she played what was then customary, mainly bravura pieces designed to showcase the artist's technique, often in the form of arrangements or variations on popular themes from operas, written by virtuosos such as Thalberg, Herz, or Henselt. And, as it was also customary to play one's own compositions, she included at least one of her own works in every program, works such as her Variations on a Theme by Bellini (Op. 8) and her popular Scherzo (Op. 10). However, as she became a more independent artist, her repertoire contained mainly music by leading composers.

Clara Schumann, "one of the most soulful and famous pianists of the day", according to Edvard Grieg

Clara Schumann's influence also spread through her teaching, which emphasized a singing tone and expression, with technique entirely subordinated to the intentions of the composer. One of her students, Mathilde Verne, carried her teaching to England where she taught, among others, Solomon; while another of her students, Carl Friedberg, carried the tradition to the Juilliard School in America, where his students included Malcolm Frager and Bruce Hungerford.

Clara was also instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognized, appreciated and added to the repertoire. She promoted him tirelessly, beginning when his music was unknown or disliked, when the only other important figure in music to play Schumann occasionally was Liszt, and continuing until the end of her long career.

A Violin Concerto Back From Beyond The Grave

Schumann Violin Concerto, a work buried for nearly a century and recovered — or so the story goes — by a message from the beyond.

In the summer of 1853, the young violinist Joseph Joachim asked a friend, pianist, composer and conductor Robert Schumann, to write a violin concerto for him. Schumann, though suffering from depression, went into a frenzy of activity, completing the Violin Concerto in D Minor (fully scored for all the different musical parts) within 13 days in late September and early October. Within months, however, the composer attempted suicide and was confined to an asylum until his death two years later at the age of 46.

Neither Joachim nor Schumann's wife, Clara, nor their young friend Johannes Brahms, thought the piece was good enough. In fact, Clara didn't like much of what Schumann wrote in those last years, according to Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. She was a famous pianist and musical personality and, Eschenbach maintains, she used her influence with the younger Joachim and Brahms to bury the Violin Concerto.

"Brahms was easy to convince that she was right, and there is also the story of the love affair between Clara and Brahms," says Eschenbach, who notes speculation that the alleged love affair might have caused Schumann's suicide attempt.

The concerto was not performed or published, and it would end up in the Prussian State Library in Berlin, with the proviso that it not be performed for 100 years after the composer's death. But a grandniece of the violinist for whom the concerto was written had an interest in the occult — as did the Schumanns. Her name was Jelly d'Arányi and she too was a violinist. At a seance, she is said to have received word from the beyond urging her to find and perform an unpublished work for the violin. Who, she asked, is the composer of this work? The dial on the Ouija board is said to have pointed to the letters spelling out the name: Robert Schumann.

Maestro Eschenbach treats all of this with a grain of salt, but the fact is d'Arányi somehow tracked down the concerto in the Prussian State Library. "Because she wanted to play it," Eschenbach says, "but Berlin said no, no, no, no, no."

The year was 1933, and Hitler's Germany wanted a German to play the debut performance. The honor went to Georg Kulenkampff, who played the premiere four years later. "He was unfortunately not so good a violinist," Eschenbach says, "but a terribly good Nazi."

Famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin loved the piece, calling it the "bridge" between Beethoven and Brahms, and he played the American debut shortly thereafter. D'Arányi played the British debut. But only recently has the concerto been played more and more. Eschenbach's eyes sparkle when he talks about the piece, calling it "visionary" and "courageous for its time."

Of the beautiful and heart-wrenching second movement, Eschenbach says, "When you listen to this very simple theme, it is so from deep down and so heartbreaking." Schumann would write variations on this theme, which, like the Violin Concerto, were suppressed until the 1930s. They are now known as the Ghost Variations.

Reposted from NPR