September 13, 20127:11 a.m.
In the world of classical music, Clara Schumann's husband, Robert, is widely known. Yet Clara was not just wife and mother, but a virtuoso pianist. Clara is getting worldwide attention Thursday, on the occasion of her 193rd birthday, with a Google Doodle.
Though Robert was 10 years older than Clara, her career started flourishing before his.
She was born Clara Josephine Wieck in Leipzig, Germany. Her music-teacher father taught her to play piano and she was performing by age 9.
Around that time, Robert Schumann was in the early stages of a musical career and took piano lessons from Clara's father. But Robert became so obsessed with developing his playing technique that he damaged a finger badly enough that he had to give up playing and turn to composition. At 19, Clara became infatuated with him.
Even before it began, their marriage wasn't easy. Believing an unknown composer unfit for his talented daughter, Clara's father tried to keep them apart; when they wanted to marry he refused to give permission. They ultimately wed a day before she turned 21 and settled in Leipzig.
As he became musically proficient, she continued to perform both alone and on tour with Robert. She had their first child a year after they married and became pregnant nine more times, bearing eight children over the next 14 years.
In the mid 1940s, Robert was suffering from bouts of depression that would continue to plague him and their marriage. In 1854 he attempted to drown himself in the Rhine river and was committed to an asylum, where Clara could not visit him. She finally saw him once before he died two years later at 46.
Clara lived for 40 more years, outliving several of her children.
She continued a long career as a concert pianist and editing her husband's works. In her later years she taught piano in Frankfurt, where she died following a stroke at age 76, in 1986.
Why Clara Schumann would still be one of today's sassiest musicians
Why Clara Schumann, a Victorian pianist and composer, was way ahead of her time. Google paid tribute to Schumann on what would have been her 193rd birthday.
Were she alive today, Clara Schumann would be one of the hippest female artists around. A gifted concert pianist, Schumann’s biography busts open the corseted restrictions of the Victorian era with vibrant modern-day detail. Her innovative passion for music crumbled compositional boundaries with poetry, technical wit, and startling live performances, resulting in a career that spanned over six decades.
Not only did she defy the divisions separating work, performance, art as love, and family, she managed to do it all as a 19th century woman. Schumann's legacy was hot enough for Katherine Hepburn to play her in the 1947 flick, “Song of Love.”
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Born in Clara Josephine Wieck in 1816, Schumann was raised by a working, divorced mother and debuted as a concert pianist at age 9. She was deemed a child prodigy to nobodies’ surprise. She even sued her own father in order to marry composer Robert Schumannand won in 1840, when she was 21 years old.
According to musicologist Nancy B. Reich, author of “Clara Schumann: The Artist and Woman,” Schumann not only made more money than her piano-playing husband but she also fought to fulfill the roles of performer and wife. Before they were married, Mr. Schumann tried to coax her away from her love of music, writing: “And if you were to be forgotten as an artist, would you not be beloved as a wife?... The wife stands even higher than the artist,” according to theNew York Times. Evidently, Clara could not relinquish her love of music and continued to play.
Thanks in part to Ms. Reich’s biographical research, Clara Schumann’s musical legacy is far from forgotten.
Slide on a recording of Schumann and you’ll be listening to a symphony that splashes scores of real perspective on our continued musical evolution.
The Schumann marriage has long been romanticized by the public and mystique continues to shroud the two musical giants. However, only hypothesis can be surmised from their personal correspondence.
Factual evidence paints an altogether different picture, with four of their eight children dead before adulthood, one institutionalized, and Mr. Schumann’s mental deterioration and eventual death from syphilis.
Schumann’s extraordinary dedication to her craft continues to inspire today: “How had she succeeded in overcoming a lost childhood, an absent mother, a dominating father, a bitter battle with her father over her love for Robert Schumann?” asks Reich, “how had she achieved this position as a great concert artist who performed for over sixty years, probably longer than anyone else in 19th century Europe?”
Schumann’s primary testimony can be found in the remnants of her diaries and in the echoes of her music.
Despite being widowed at 36, Schumann continued to act as her own agent. She independently supported the surviving children, refused all loans, and somehow still found time to hang out withJohannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, and Felix Mendelssohn. No wonder she was known as the “Priestess.”