Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Your 'hot spot' for all classical music subjects. Non-classical music subjects are to be posted in the Corner Pub.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
lennygoran
Posts: 14965
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by lennygoran » Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:29 am

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image



Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

September brings the 200th birthday of a composer whose name is familiar, but whose creative legacy deserves far greater recognition.


By Thomas May


Schumann is among the most celebrated names in the classical music canon — for most people conjuring the poetic and intense work of Robert Schumann, the Romantic master.

But when the Schumann in question is his wife, Clara, the name should remind us most of the frustrating lack of recognition still accorded female composers.

Not that she has gone ignored. Indeed, Clara Schumann — whose 200th birthday arrives on Sept. 13 — was a celebrity pianist in her own time; the music she wrote is a recognized part of the narrative of 19th-century musical Romanticism. But to this day, references to Clara are routinely centered on considerations of Robert’s life and music — not to mention gossipy speculation about her relationship with Brahms, a close friend of the couple — to the detriment of her own creative achievements.


“When I was growing up, I first learned about Clara from reading about Robert Schumann,” the pianist Lara Downes said in an interview. The experience immediately resonated, she added, because she had found a classical music figure who looked like her, and could be a role model. As a teenage virtuoso, Ms. Downes determined to track down Clara’s music and played her Piano Concerto in A minor with a small regional orchestra in Alabama.

That was considered unusual at the time, in the mid-1990s. “I was fortunate to have teachers when I was really young who let me explore repertoire off the beaten path,” said Ms. Downes. On her new album, “For Love of You,” which intertwines music by Clara and Robert Schumann, she again explores her early fascination. She’s one of a growing number of performers who are finding inspiration in Clara Schumann’s legacy — and bringing it before a wider audience.

Another is the gifted young British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. Having recently been signed to the prestigious Decca label, Ms. Kanneh-Mason boldly decided to devote her entire debut album, “Romance,” to music by Clara Schumann.

Since Schumann more or less stopped composing after Robert’s early death in 1856, when he was 46 and she was only 37, her oeuvre is relatively small — just 23 published works — and comprises almost exclusively solo piano pieces, chamber music and lieder. “Romance” offers an engaging overview of her style as an instrumental composer, starting with a warmly personal account of her Piano Concerto — the one Ms. Downes played — which Clara wrote as a teenager. That work also made a belated debut at the BBC Proms festival on Aug. 18, played by the young pianist Mariam Batsashvili.

“I was inspired by Clara’s music itself to read more about her as a woman and pianist. She was a great virtuoso and also a very passionate person,” Ms. Kanneh-Mason said, adding that she finds, even in Schumann’s early pieces, “an underlying sense of sadness — of grief from early on in her childhood — that becomes harmonically more complex as she gets older.”

For her part, Ms. Downes is intrigued by the reciprocity of Clara and Robert’s work. In her account of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto (also in A minor), a staple of the concert hall, on “For Love of You,” she said she wanted to elicit a sense of Clara’s “presence as a pianist, as the embodiment of his work.” Ms. Downes points out that in other pieces, Robert explicitly incorporated phrases of Clara’s music as a private code they shared.


“Their music is so profoundly connected that you really can’t separate the one from the other,” Ms. Downes said. “From the very beginning, they were so deeply enmeshed, always listening and sharing, consulting and collaborating. It’s like all of the music they produced carries both sets of genes, and that’s so beautiful.”

A child prodigy trained and strictly supervised by her father, Friedrich Wieck, Clara had already debuted at the Gewandhaus in her native Leipzig, Germany, and toured to Paris before her teens. Born in 1819, she became one of the 19th century’s foremost piano virtuosos — in the same league as her contemporary Franz Liszt, and over a much longer stretch, remaining active for more than six decades. (She died, at 76, in 1896.)

Clara also began composing early. In her youth, she “astonished audiences as much by her compositions as by her playing,” Nancy B. Reich wrote in her milestone 1985 biography “Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman.”

While Robert Schumann was a virtually unknown and deeply insecure composer, Clara commanded an international reputation; her advocacy helped his work circulate. Robert had first entered her life when he became a student of her father — who eventually waged a losing court battle to oppose their marriage, which went forward in 1840 — and his initial compositions focused on music for solo piano, her instrument. It was Clara who encouraged her husband to write his Piano Concerto, which she premiered and played often.

Roe-Min Kok, a musicologist at McGill University in Montreal, has studied the Schumanns’ relationship and its effects on their work, as well as Clara’s careful management of her husband’s legacy after his death, which followed a mental breakdown.

“Overall, Clara Schumann was a highly intelligent Renaissance woman who could do many things,” Ms. Kok said in an interview, pointing to her work not only as a composer and performer but also to her role in shaping generations of pianists as an influential teacher as well as her efforts in editing her late husband’s works. At the same time, Ms. Kok added, Clara was a highly efficient “micromanager of the household,” raising and financially supporting seven children; an eighth died as an infant.

Unlike Gustav Mahler, who frowned on the composing ambitions of his wife, Alma, Robert Schumann encouraged Clara. Ms. Kok, who has scoured their letters, diaries and musical manuscripts, believes that Clara “composed only when she felt she had something to say. She didn’t just churn things out. This was not her livelihood, so she did it because it was important to her.”

Thomas Synofzik, director of the Robert Schumann House in Zwickau, Germany, said the tendency to partition Clara’s career into what she composed versus what she performed is misguided. “She was a pianist first — and also a composer,” he said. “Since of course she made no recordings, her documented legacy is her composition. But I always think one shouldn’t see music history as merely the history of music which was composed but also the history of musicians who have performed it.”


Despite its name, the Robert Schumann House’s mission is equally devoted to Clara Schumann. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of materials documenting her career, including an immense array of playbills from her lifetime of concerts. The museum also has keyboards and artifacts relating to Clara; Mr. Synofzik recently delivered a paper illustrating the differences between the types of instruments she used and how they affected her own compositions.

The harpsichordist and pianist Byron Schenkman, who has interpreted Clara Schumann from the perspective of the early-music movement, has recorded a collection of her chamber music with colleagues. It includes the Piano Trio in G minor (Op. 17), from Clara’s final period as a composer — a piece which Nancy Reich, in her biography, deemed “probably her greatest achievement.” Clara’s decision to write a trio preceded her husband’s sudden interest in the genre.

“Clara studied and performed 18th-century composers like Haydn, as well,” Mr. Schenkman said. “She really was a Romantic Classicist, and wanted to continue that tradition. Hers is not the kind of Romanticism we associate with Wagner or even Mahler. We still have some of the lightness and sparkle and wit we find in Haydn in her music.”

Through her research, the cellist, gambist and musicologist Kate Bennett Wadsworth, who performs on the new album with Mr. Schenkman, has determined that the playing style practiced by Clara Schumann and her circle was, she said, “much freer with the score than written descriptions would lead us to believe.” Time, she added, was “much more multifaceted and elastic. The tempo could vary the way your heartbeat varies.”

This emphasis on interpretive freedom leads to improvisation, which was a bridge between Clara’s personalities as composer and pianist. The fortepianist and scholar Gili Loftus has been inspired by the work of the musicologist Valerie Woodring Goertzen to develop a “Clara Schumann Suite” that Ms. Loftus believes can bring us closer to how Clara’s audiences might have experienced her live music-making.

Using a rare example of transcribed improvisation from near the end of Clara’s life as a model, Ms. Loftus presents improvisations of her own to link together short character pieces. “Improvisation influences how you read a text,” she said. “It must have affected everything Clara was doing.”

Even before she gave up composing, Clara Schumann was championing the music of others over her own work. But her art of improvisation gave her freedom to insert ideas of her own.

“There’s a sense of sadness that Clara didn’t end up composing as much as she could have,” Ms. Loftus said. “But not as deep as regret. She had so many other things she was devoted to and believed in.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/arts ... umann.html

John F
Posts: 20912
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by John F » Sat Aug 31, 2019 11:40 am

Clara Schumann died in 1896, just too early to have made any recordings. However, several of her pupils did; Fanny Davies was the most important of them, and Adeline de Lara studied with her as well as Clara Schumann. De Lara's many recordings were made late and I haven't found them very rewarding to listen to. However, Fanny Davies's recording of the Schumann concerto, "Kinderszenen" and "Davidsbündler Tänze" are very fine.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ETFnpof3Xc


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSWpBtNnynY

John Brosseau thought Horowitz and other professional pianists were wasting their time playing "Träumerei" because any student could play it. With all due respect to John, he was wrong, as there's more to making music than just getting the notes right.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RmuTuVWXy4
John Francis

lennygoran
Posts: 14965
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by lennygoran » Sat Aug 31, 2019 3:29 pm

John I'm looking forward to hearing her piano concerto for the first time while in the kitchen tonigh thanks to Roku and Youtube. Regards, Len

barney
Posts: 3319
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by barney » Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:44 pm

I have the Isata Kanneh-Mason disc. The playing is very fine. The music, for the most part, is (to me) unremarkable. 3 violin romances are definitely good, a piano sonata is worth hearing, the piano concerto is a piece of juvenilia, begun when she was 13 or 14.
For all the fuss about opportunities denied to women - and I do not deny there is much truth to it - there is a gulf between the compositional abilities of Robert and Clara Schumann.
Clara was admired most of her life - justly. The ones I mourn are the women who had the gift and never the opportunity, and those we will never know. Of course there were also men similarly denied by life circumstances and lack of opportunity.

Belle
Posts: 2054
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by Belle » Sat Aug 31, 2019 7:41 pm

Clara Schumann was indeed a remarkable woman, especially in her loyalty to her husband the promotion of his work. Not to mention raising 7 children all alone and having 2 (or more) predecease her. That must have been terrible. And her last years were not especially healthy or happy. Brahms could easily have promoted her music but he chose to ignore it.

I've read rather a lot about the Schumanns and the excellent Swafford biography of Brahms (do read it, as it is excellent). I have one huge gripe with Clara Schumann and Brahms. Franz Liszt - ever the generous humanitarian - promoted the work of Robert Schumann and dedicated concerts to him. Despite this and actual financial help, neither Clara nor Johannes had a good word to day about Liszt or his music. Many of it was petty, vituperative and unworthy of both of them. And, to my knowledge, that criticism was not reciprocated towards either of them by Liszt.

John F
Posts: 20912
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by John F » Sun Sep 01, 2019 3:48 am

Women virtuoso solo pianists were not uncommon in the 18th century. Mozart's sister was one, and he wrote concertos for two others, including a Mlle. Jenomé with whose misspelled name ("Jeunehomme") the 9th concerto is associated. And he didn't make it easy for himself; the 9th concerto is an undisputed masterpiece.

Most solo performers composed music for their own concerts, it was expected of them in that time when audiences demanded new music. The race of composer/virtuosos seems largely to have died out after Bartók, though I've heard some piano music by Marc-André Hamelin that I like.
John Francis

barney
Posts: 3319
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by barney » Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:21 am

Yes, I own and have read (they don't always go together) Swafford's biography of Brahms. There are two stories that I find awe-inspiring, though again I tell them from memory a decade or more old.
1: He gave the premiere of a sonata by another composer that the audience didn't warm to. But they loved the rest of the recital and demanded an encore. He played the sonata again.
2: He arrived for a concert to find the piano a semi-tone out of tune. He played his own concerto, transposing on the spot to keep it in tune with the orchestra.

lennygoran
Posts: 14965
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by lennygoran » Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:23 am

barney wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:44 pm
the piano concerto is a piece of juvenilia, begun when she was 13 or 14.
Barney I got to listen to it twice last evening while in the kitchen-an enjoyable experience for me-I'll be back to it again tonight! Regards, Len

Rach3
Posts: 1325
Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:17 am

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by Rach3 » Sun Sep 01, 2019 8:41 am

Belle wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 7:41 pm
Clara Schumann was indeed a remarkable woman, especially in her loyalty to her husband the promotion of his work. Not to mention raising 7 children all alone and having 2 (or more) predecease her.
I have heard a lot of her own compositions, which I find not very memorable, most written when she was young, but as Belle notes, remarkable woman, putting up with her father, then Robert's illness, touring, teaching, raising 7 children and maintaining a household, managing finances, whew!! If I recall there is a solo cello part in the slow mov. of her piano concerto I suspect may have inspired Brahms' own use of cello in the slow mov. of his 2nd PC ?

barney
Posts: 3319
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by barney » Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:28 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:23 am
barney wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:44 pm
the piano concerto is a piece of juvenilia, begun when she was 13 or 14.
Barney I got to listen to it twice last evening while in the kitchen-an enjoyable experience for me-I'll be back to it again tonight! Regards, Len
That's good Len, it is certainly a tremendous achievement for a teenager. Very virtuosic.
And yes, the slow movement does have a cello obbligato. It would be interesting to know if Brahms was aware of it; he may well have been. Mendelssohn conducted the first performance.

Rach3
Posts: 1325
Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:17 am

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by Rach3 » Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:48 pm

Rach3 wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 8:41 am
If I recall there is a solo cello part in the slow mov. of her piano concerto I suspect may have inspired Brahms' own use of cello in the slow mov. of his 2nd PC ?
Here at 9:34 in : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt_X-t1mX40
As Barney notes, she was very young when composed Concerto , so Brahms may not have been aware unless she was playing the Concerto in her later life (?).

lennygoran
Posts: 14965
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by lennygoran » Mon Sep 02, 2019 5:11 am

barney wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:28 pm
That's good Len, it is certainly a tremendous achievement for a teenager. Very virtuosic.
Barney even though I find the work quite nice for me it won't replace her husband's piano concerto. Regards, Len

barney
Posts: 3319
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by barney » Mon Sep 02, 2019 5:16 pm

That's true for me too, Len, and I suspect for posterity in general.

Belle
Posts: 2054
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by Belle » Tue Sep 03, 2019 6:13 pm

I'm not really interested in listening to music composed by somebody just because she is a woman. On their many many music nights at the Schumann house there is no record of either Clara, Robert or Brahms playing any of her music - and I've read books on Brahms and the Schumanns as well as the diaries of Clara and Eugenie Schumann.

Clara was the concert pianist par excellence and I think that needs to be celebrated in the annuls of history - not least because she was a widow, mother of 7 and primary bread-winner. She had outstanding musical perception and made excellent judgment calls not only about Robert's music but also the music of Brahms (which led to their disagreements on multiple occasions). (She was wrong about Liszt, but I believe that was a matter of professional jealousy.) What I'm trying to suggest is that is entirely possible she well understood that her own music didn't measure up to those geniuses in her life.

And she loved Johannes Brahms beyond all others until the day she died; a love which was not reciprocated. It's one of the the enduring narratives of the 19th century musical world.

My husband is away in Perth until the end of the month so I've been using music to keep me company (who wouldn't!!?). I listened again yesterday to the Schumann Piano Concerto and, though I find it appealing, it isn't one of his major works for me because I don't especially admire the orchestration.

barney
Posts: 3319
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by barney » Tue Sep 03, 2019 6:31 pm

Belle wrote:
Tue Sep 03, 2019 6:13 pm
I'm not really interested in listening to music composed by somebody just because she is a woman. On their many many music nights at the Schumann house there is no record of either Clara, Robert or Brahms playing any of her music - and I've read books on Brahms and the Schumanns as well as the diaries of Clara and Eugenie Schumann.

Clara was the concert pianist par excellence and I think that needs to be celebrated in the annuls of history - not least because she was a widow, mother of 7 and primary bread-winner. She had outstanding musical perception and made excellent judgment calls not only about Robert's music but also the music of Brahms (which led to their disagreements on multiple occasions). (She was wrong about Liszt, but I believe that was a matter of professional jealousy.) What I'm trying to suggest is that is entirely possible she well understood that her own music didn't measure up to those geniuses in her life.

And she loved Johannes Brahms beyond all others until the day she died; a love which was not reciprocated. It's one of the the enduring narratives of the 19th century musical world.

My husband is away in Perth until the end of the month so I've been using music to keep me company (who wouldn't!!?). I listened again yesterday to the Schumann Piano Concerto and, though I find it appealing, it isn't one of his major works for me because I don't especially admire the orchestration.
I say this very softly because it borders on heresy, but I rather agree. The Schumann concerto is not that often in the CD player, especially compared with his solo piano music.

Belle
Posts: 2054
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

Post by Belle » Tue Sep 03, 2019 7:10 pm

The piano writing in the last movement is lyrical and very fine, but I feel the concerto is let down because the orchestra just 'strokes' the piano. Same with Chopin, though I think his orchestration is even less interesting than Schumann's.

I was thinking about this just now as I was eating my breakfast all alone (sob!); the Schumann Concerto is one of the very first pieces of serious music I heard in my life, at age 8-9, and it was repeated at fairly regular intervals thereafter. My mother, in trying to spark an interest in all her children, put little lyrics to those splendid phrases in the last movement and to this day I can remember them. The idea behind her doing this was that we should remember the 'tunes' from the work, as a starting point.

So, very fond memories of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 25 guests