Muses: Clara and Robert Schumann ... and Brahms



She was an eight-year-old Wunderkind; he was an aspiring composer in his teens who saw her at a concert and so admired her playing that he sought piano lessons from her father. When Clara turned 18, Robert Schumann asked Herr Wieck for his daughter’s hand in marriage, but he was vehemently opposed to the union: so began years of agonizing separation and tender correspondence, with many sheets of manuscript exchanged, including some of Schumann’s most affecting Lieder and piano miniatures. He wrote to his yearned-for beloved, “You appear in the Novelletten in every possible circumstance, in every irresistible form... They could only be written by one who knows such eyes as yours and has touched such lips as yours.”



The lovers eventually took Clara’s domineering father to court after he threatened to disinherit her and confiscate her concert earnings. They won love’s battle and were at last married in 1840, the day before her 21st birthday. In celebration of their joyous union, Robert presented his bride with the song cycle Myrthen as a wedding gift – a bouquet or “myrtle of flowers”. He also gave her a marriage diary, in which the couple wrote regular entries for four years (often about their sex life). They settled into a routine: while Robert spent most of his time composing, Clara managed to give concerts and compose a thing or two herself in between running the household and wrangling eight children. 



Brahms

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One of the most frustrated love triangles in Romantic music was formed when Clara began to champion the music of the young composer Johannes Brahms – like her, a piano phenomenon. He quickly became a great friend of the Schumann family. When Robert’s mental health deteriorated, leading to his institutionalization and untimely death in 1856, Brahms moved in with his older mentor Clara to help look after her children while she coped with the loss of her husband.

Brahms, who was mentored by composer Robert Schumann,  launched himself into an extended period of work on his First Symphony shortly after declaring his love for Schumann’s wife Clara. A letter survives in which he declared, “I can do nothing but think of you … What have you done to me? Can’t you remove the spell you have cast over me?

So, did they or didn’t they? Schumann’s biographers frown at the suggestion. But this is the story that Brahm’s letters tell; they start formally “Honored Lady”, a bit later; “Cherished Friend”; finally “Most Adored Being- Every day I greet and kiss you 1000 times” or “Please go on loving me as I go on loving you always and forever”. Living under one roof in Dusseldorf for several months and hiking together along the Rhine valley. Platonic? If you wish. In later life Brahms, secretive and aware of posterity, threw into the Rhine a bundle of Clara’s letters. Platonic correspondence? If you wish. And Clara writes her children, protesting her innocence “I can truly say, my children, that I have never loved a friend as I loved him…( his role during the crisis…) Believe all that I, your mother, told you and do not heed those petty and envious souls who grudge him my love and friendship, trying to bring up for question our relationship, which they neither understand nor ever could.”  Brahms never married and as Clara was lying, crippled with stroke, waiting for the end, he was finishing his 4 Serious Songs “O death how welcome is thy call”. He almost missed the funeral and as he watched Clara being lowered into the grave, where 40 years earlier he had watched Robert being placed, he lost his composure and was sobbing behind the bushes. A few months later he died as a result of a chill he caught while trying to arrive for Clara’s funeral in time.

Piano Quartets in E flat minor, Opus 47 (Robert Schumann) G minor, Opus 25 (Johannes Brahms) were both premiered with the participation of Clara Schumann, guiding muse and one of the most distinguished pianists of the day.




Source: Limelight Magazine.com


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