When the name Schumann is mentioned, most people, if they even recognize the word, would think of Romantic composer Robert Schumann. That’s what I want to change, regardless of how few people I educate.
Clara Wieck, born 1819, was the daughter of famous music teacher Friedrich Wieck. He had always wanted a prodigy to call his own, which translated into training his two children to the point of virtuosity. It certainly worked, as Clara became a piano prodigy in her youth. In 1830, Robert Schumann, a young pianist and one of the most prominent composers of the Romantic Era, moved into her house to further pursue music lessons with her father. She would marry this man, have 7 kids, and be left essentially widowed when his mental illness put him in an asylum.
Clara lived her days as a performer, composer, and all-around music talent (BONUS: she was a woman in a heavily male-dominated time!), so why doesn’t anyone know her name?
One word: Robert (if you haven’t been listening, that’s her husband). This man, who is also one of the required composers to study in music history, was a performer before a strange condition struck his hands. He moved on to become one of the most influential composers and music journal writers of his time.
Yes, piano prodigy Clara’s skill were greatly underestimated simply because of her more famous husband (and the tragic tale of his life, including his hand ailment and mental illness leading towards his death). Her compositions were amazing, but her husband basically told her to stay home and watch the kids as he lived his glamorous life, basking in the glory of his successful compositions and music articles.
So how and why did I choose Clara Schumann as my eminent person?
All my life (or at least half of it) I have been dedicated to music. Performing, competitions and exams are all part of my regular schedule, but they don’t come without the music theory courses, which, ultimately, helped me make my decision. There I was, 3 weeks ago, thinking that I would dig up my old music history notes to help me research my original eminent person, Claude Debussy. However, while sifting through 3 years worth of notes, I came across Robert Schumann’s. For some reason, I had a hunch about this and re-read them. Only then did I realize that Clara Schumann, who appeared a mere 3 times within his biography, was the right person for me. She was a female icon: in a time riddled with male composers, she created such beautiful music. Both of us were/are female musicians, advanced pianists at a young age. I’m worried however, about the fact that I can’t empathize with the situation Clara was in at the end of Robert’s life: she was left to take care of her 7 kids while her husband slowly went insane, and she was the subject of another composer’s (one of Robert’s closest friends) affection. Clara also died 200 years ago, totally separating our generations; she also lived in a lower-middle class status in the 19th century with an ill husband and 7 kids, so it would be hard for me to relate to that.
What do I hope to achieve by studying Clara Schumann? That’s a good question. In switching eminent people, I realized that I needed a new goal, a real reason I chose Clara Schumann. I then realized that, although I knew I wanted to study a composer, Clara was a female prodigy who introduced her composition ideas to the world, but gave up her position to take care of her family. This is why I was so drawn to her. In completing this project, I will focus on not only her composing skills, but how she lived her life as a female composer, how she managed to keep her fidelity even as Johannes Brahms proclaimed his love for her, and how, above all, she dealt with the various struggles she did at the end of her husband’s life.