September 13, 1819 - Leipzig (Germany) — May 20, 1896 - Frankfurt (Germany)
A piano prodigy praised by the public and her peers
Clara Wieck was born September 13, 1819, in Leipzig. At age five she began studying music with her father, Friedrich Wieck, a well-known piano teacher who saw his daughter's talent and decided to form her into a virtuoso. Clara's mother, Mariane Bargiel, was also a pianist and soprano, a regular performer at the prestigious Gewandhaus Leipzig—which is where the 9-year-old Clara first performed for an audience! This appearance began an international tour that made her name throughout Europe, winning over the public and the cognoscenti: Goethe praised her talent, Chopin compared her playing to that of Liszt, Paganini offered to perform with her in concert, and composers like Mendelssohn, Schubert, Liszt, and—a bit later—Brahms continued to sing her praises. Clara was named Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso in Austria, the highest honor for a musician in Vienna and one accorded to very few non-Austrians. It can be difficult today to fully realize the extent of Clara's celebrity, but in the course of her career she gave more than 1,300 concerts all across Europe while regularly giving the world premieres of piano works by her contemporaries, including her husband Robert Schumann.
Meeting Robert Schumann—an encounter that changed music history
In 1828, Clara met one of her father's most promising students: Robert Schumann, nine years her senior. Years later, the two prodigies fell in love, and in 1837, Robert asked her father for her hand. Friedrich vehemently opposed their union, and they were only married in 1840 following a protracted legal battle. After their marriage, Clara Schumann put her artistic career on hold to manage her household, her eight children, and the shaky physical and mental health of her husband. She nonetheless managed to give a number of concerts during these years, largely in order to provide for her family. After Robert's deterioriating condition led him to be confined in an asylum in 1854, Clara was able to visit him only once—just a few days before his death in 1856. She began touring Europe steadily for the ensuing decades, giving her final concert in 1891. She died in Frankfort in 1896.
A talented and long unsung composer
In addition to giving concerts and piano lessons, Clara Schumann composed numerous works throughout her life, having published her first opus, Four Polonaises for the Piano, in 1831 at the age of 12! It was especially her composing career that she put on hold during her marriage, finally writing only about fifty works, largely for piano, most of which have unfortunately been lost. Nowadays, it is thus rather rare to see Clara's work appear on the program, but here you will find a few masterpieces by this incredible artist whose contributions to classical music history are not limited to her own output—she was the inspiration behind many of the most beautiful pages in Robert's oeuvre as well…