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In Search of Clara Schumann

Interviews with Biographer Nancy B. Reich
by John C. Tibbetts

Note: Dr. Reich is the author of Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman (2002). The following has been excerpted from several interviews with Dr. Reich, held over a period of time from November 1985 to the present. Portions of it have been previously published in Helicon Nine: The Journal of Women’s Arts and Letters, No. 16 (Winter 1986).

Even though Clara Schumann remains one of the most formidable women of the 19th century, she may still be one of the least understood. Until recently, biographers have either idealized her as the “Dedicated Spirit” whose lifetime was devoted to her husband, Robert Schumann; or regarded her primarily as an eminent piano virtuoso of the second half of the century, a veritable concertizing machine.

However, in the pages of Nancy Reich's Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman, published in 1985 by Cornell University Press, I found a portrait less insistent upon either extreme, but more balanced (although not without its controversies). I also found biographer Nancy Reich to be a woman of likewise considerable energies and accomplishments. Biographer and subject, I was to learn, perfectly suited each other.

"How had this woman survived so much and gone on to do so much?,” Dr. Reich asked rhetorically when we first met. “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? And how had this woman, who had suffered so much, and who had really been a dedicated wife and mother—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?"

Dr. Reich was recovering from surgery when she responded to my first request for an interview in November 1985. Of course, she wrote, come on over, although would I please understand that she was only just now recovering…and…etc.? Well. The woman who greeted me in her comfortable home in the New York suburb Hastings-on-Hudson possessed the bright eyes and brisk manner belying any recent illness. All about her reposed hundreds of volumes on music and the Schumanns. Photostats of music manuscripts, xeroxes of scribbled diary entries, photos and drawings lay about in a comfortable clutter. A piano was open within easy reach. In short, it was a home where work and music-making were perpetually in progress.

At that time we first talked of her ongoing research into Clara Schumann and of the impact the new book was having on its author's life. That conversation has since led to other discussions that seemed to have resumed without a break—whether conducted in her home, the New York Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri, Duesseldorf, Germany, or in a comfortable pub in Manhattan’s Chelsea district run by her businessman son. Her energies are unflagging. Although now in her senior years she is eager in this new century to continue what she has started more than twenty-five years ago.

Clara Wieck’s story is indeed a fascinating and eventful chronicle. She was only nine years old when she first met Robert Schumann in 1828 and already a piano prodigy and the star pupil of her demanding father, the pedagogue Friedrich Wieck. Within two years Robert had moved in to the Wieck household to study. By 1837 he and Clara were confessing their love for each other. And by September of 1840 they married, despite the grimly persistent efforts of her father to obstruct the union. Robert's composing and Clara's concertizing continued unabated for the next fourteen years, although the growing family would number seven children. In 1854 Robert attempted suicide during a psychotic episode and was institutionalized in a private asylum near Bonn where he died in 1856. Clara was left with a large family and many debts. She embarked on an exhaustive concert and teaching career that would span the next forty years until her death in 1896.

Dr. Reich's book confronts many troubling questions: What were the psychological bonds between Clara and her father? How much did she understand about Robert’s chronic emotional and mental disorders? Were there serious schisms in their marriage? Did Clara ignore her children for the sake of her ongoing concert career? Why is she an absent figure during the crucial period of Robert's institutionalization? And precisely what was her relationship with the young Johannes Brahms, newly arrived in the household during Robert's collapse? Concerning musical matters, was Clara a composer of significance?

Background of Dr. Reich

Looking back on such questions, Nancy Reich realizes that this was a project that had to wait its proper time. “It seemed inevitable that I wouldn't write about Clara until I myself had become older,” she says. “I spent my childhood in upstate New York in Ithaca. I went to high school in New York, to Music and Art High School, which was a marvelous school—was and still is. I took my Bachelor’s degree and my Master’s when I was young, in my 20s, got married and, while my husband was getting his doctorate in physics, taught music appreciation and theory at Queen’s College. I was forty, with children in high school and in college, before I decided to go back to graduate school. I understood a lot more then about being a woman, being a mother, being a musician, trying to have a family and a career. And I don't think I could’ve written with this kind of perspective when I was a young woman just starting out. I didn't have that kind of understanding.

“I received my doctorate when I was 47. I must have seemed like an old lady, you know, compared to the others. Even when I was a graduate student years ago, my peers were young women usually twenty years younger than I. They would say to me, ‘Oh, Nancy, you're a real role model,’ and I would sort of resent it. I didn’t want to be a role model; I just wanted to go ahead and do my work. And I keep hearing this all the time. But there were advantages to being older. For one thing, I was able to concentrate better, even though I had all these family responsibilities and I was teaching at the same time to earn additional money. I really wanted to do it. I wanted to do it more than I wanted to do anything before. It’s all doubly important to me now. We know women live longer than men; that women are often widowed in their forties or fifties and sixties. And I always felt (and this partly my mother’s influence) that you really had to do something constructive; that you really had to contribute in some way to the world. My mother was a woman of great energy, probably like Clara Schumann. She was determined that her daughters would be well-educated and have careers. I never knew, for example, that girls didn’t have the same opportunities for education that boys did, because my mother, who was a widow very early, insisted on this. Anyway, that Doctorate opened many doors to me and I really hope to continue working into my seventies and possibly into my eighties.”

I knew that Nancy Reich’s husband, Haskell, had passed on some time before the appearance of the Clara Schumann biography. Did not this unfortunate event suggest a bond between her and Clara Schumann, herself a widow for many years after 1856?

“It is a link with Clara which deepened my understanding of her as a person. While I was writing the book, my husband, who had chronic leukemia for many years but who had actually been my greatest support, died three days after I received the contract from the publisher. And so I lived through a period that was not unlike what Clara had to live through: she was in the middle of her career, I was in the middle of a great project. A project to which I had devoted a great many years. And then I had this blow, which in a sense really strengthened me, because I plunged into the writing of the book, working night and day actually; and it was a great help in getting over this crisis in my life; and I could understand even more how much Clara’s career meant to her after Robert’s death. My work, like Clara’s concert career, became a great solace to me.”

For both women that regimen involved much traveling.

“I marvel at Clara Schumann’s stamina because traveling was not easy in her time. I at least have the advantage of airplanes and I don’t have to make concert appearances as she did, which must have taken a great toll. She would be exhausted and she'd be tired and she'd say, ‘I don’t think I can get through this’; and then, she would play and she’d sit later and write in her diary: ‘I think I played better than ever.’

“She was used to this kind of strenuous life, however. She had traveled extensively with her father when she was a little girl. Then he would run the whole show—he was her manager, her teacher. He collected the money, sold engravings of her pictures, collected the tickets at the door. He put up the ads, got permission to play in each city, often had to have the concerts approved, because in many cities in Europe in that time there were censors who had to pass on the program. That is why later in her life she knew exactly what to do. As a widow, she spent her summers making arrangements for the following seasons. She never had a manager except in England. She rented the pianos, rented the halls, had to make sure the halls were heated, had the programs printed, distributed, put up the ads, put the notices in the newspapers.”

Female Musicians and Composers in the 19th Century

Clara may have been the most famous female musician of her day, points out Dr. Reich, but there were also many other women eking out a precarious existence in the field of music.

“There were a number of very talented women who made their living as she did. They were working women who made their living, supported their families, working as professional musicians. And not just as singers—but of course there were more singers than any other kind of musician. But as pianists, as violinist and composers, as editors, and certainly as teachers. And most of these women, I would say 95 percent of them, were women who had to work. They were professional musicians just as the men were. And they had to go out and meet the competition and face the public. And this was their job. And they took it very seriously. And for most of them it was a family tradition. It wasn’t merely a matter of being supported by a man. The myth was that musicians or creative figures in the arts always had to have a male mentor as supporter. That wasn’t the case with most of these women musicians. Most of them were from families—not only were their mothers musicians, but their fathers were musicians. That was certainly true of Clara Schumann. Her mother was more skilled than her father, who was primarily a teacher. It was very true of Pauline Viardot Garcia, whose mother and father were musicians, whose sister was a musician, whose brother was a musician, whose children were musicians. These were families. It was true of Louisa Reichardt, rather an unknown composer of lieder of the early 19th century, whose father was Johann Friedrich Reichardt and whose mother was Juliana Benda Reichardt, also a composer. Her aunts were performers of the court in Weimar. In fact, one of the beefs I have is that critics were often more interested in the physical appearance of the woman musician than in her talents as a musician. And I can cite many reviews where the women are described as presenting ‘a beautiful view of her figure from all sides,’ and so on. And yes, ‘her playing was quite admirable, too.’

“This was a tradition that was carried on for generations throughout the 18th century, as women were employed, usually in the court orchestras, often as singers, sometimes as instrumentalists, violinists—mainly as keyboard artists if they were instrumentalists…. Now there were women harpists in the Vienna Court Orchestra in the 18th century. So there had always been what I called a ‘class,’ a professional class of artists-musicians who worked at music for a living.”

At the same time, these women labored under a decided prejudice.

“The prejudices were against them mainly as composers. This was partly because of the whole Romantic theory that the creative genius was always a male figure and that women’s role was a more submissive one, a more supportive one. To be as a helpmate and so on. It was much harder for a woman who attempted composition. There was real prejudice against women as composers. And so when her father put Clara on the concert stage—he was a combination stage father and manager—he allowed her to perform her own works. Most of them were very flashy, virtuoso works which showed off her technique. She was very well schooled and had studied with the best people in Leipzig and Berlin and Dresden, where she studied orchestration. Later when she broke with her father while she was in Paris, Robert asked her to write a piece for his journal. She said, ‘Oh, I just can’t compose. Women have never done it and I’ve only done it because my father made me and women really shouldn’t.’ But Robert kept encouraging her, because he thought she had something to say. She went ahead and did it. Although I must say she did stop composing when Robert died in 1856. She never composed again after that. I think there were several reasons. One, she devoted herself to concertizing because she had to support the family. Two, she loved to concertize and got her greatest gratification from playing in public. And three, because I think she needed Robert’s encouragement….

Dr. Reich On The Road

It only follows that in pursuing the career of this remarkable woman, Dr. Reich herself has logged a lot of miles. When we first met, she had only recently returned from a speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand. For five and a half weeks she had lectured at a number of campuses on the role of women in 19th century music. Between 1977 and 1984 while researching the book, she made several trips behind the Iron Curtain to Leipzig (Clara's birthplace), Dresden (where the Schumanns lived after leaving Leipzig in 1845), Duesseldorf (where Robert suffered his final collapse in 1854), Bonn (where she made some important discoveries in the Music Library) and Zwickau (where Robert was born and an important museum and archive is located). She's even visited Norderney, an island in the North Sea, the site of a spa that the Schumanns visited in 1846.

”You have to actually visit these places to know the contexts of Clara Schumann's life,” she explains. “Did you know that the Music Library in the city of Bonn is situated in the building which was formerly the mental hospital where Robert Schumann died in 1856? The rooms in which he lived there are the very rooms now housing the books? And then there was the discovery I made in the East Berlin Music Library. I had asked for Clara Schumann's works, whatever they had, and they brought out a number of things. Among them were two most remarkable documents. The first was the manuscript of Clara’s Piano Concerto, written when she was only fourteen. At the time she called it a ‘Concertsatz,’ and what I had later became the third movement. But the manuscript was definitely in Robert’s hand. Apparently, he himself had orchestrated the third movement. Sure enough, entries in her diary confirm that out of friendship for her he was going to orchestrate the work. The second discovery was the ‘Liederheft,’ a collection of Clara's songs. These songs were written down in her own hand but were obviously written at Robert’s request. He had written the title page and had urged her through some entries in their joint Marriage Diary to do this, to put everything down. She was very careless about keeping her own compositions. So Robert had written everything out—the table of contents, too, is in his hand. They were all her songs. There was Opus 12, Opus 13, and Opus 23. She didn’t feel, I don’t think, that her things were worth keeping. They probably would have been lost if he hadn’t brought them all together. She had doubts about her composing but none about her performing.”

I ask Dr. Reich to relate the genesis of her book.

"I was invited to give a lecture at the Music Library Association in 1976. As I prepared a lecture on ‘Women and Music,’ I realized there was a book to be written which would look at Clara Schumann in a way that had not been done, which would look at her personality, her career, and her composing. I really felt at this point, as I’ve already mentioned, that everything in my life had led up to it. I was a musician, a musicologist, I knew German, I was very aware of the feminist movement and what was happening in current interests in women’s history. And I was fortunate enough to have the collaboration of an old friend from Music and Art days, Dr. Anna Burton, M.D., a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New Jersey, who helped me gain a fuller psychological understanding of Clara Schumann.

“As a result of those years I now have a whole network of friends all over Europe and they’re always sending me notices of books, materials, concerts, exhibits. But you know, research in East Germany, that’s a different story. By 1985, I had gone there many times and it’s always a problem. You had to let the travel bureau know well in advance exactly where you’re going to be every night. But when you got there, nobody could tell you what you’re allowed to do and what not to do. No official was going to take that responsibility. I mean, my heart was in my mouth most of the time.”

She has visited the Robert Schumann-Haus in Zwickau (his birthplace) several times before and after the reunification of Germany. In the former GDR the smoky, dirty modern city of 100,000 people was tied to an automobile factory and a uranium mine. But at least the Marktplatz had been preserved as an old market place, appearing much as it did in the 19th century. In one corner is the house where Robert Schumann was born.

“Over the years the town has spent a great deal of money in restoring this area,” Dr. Reich continues. “No automobiles are allowed; it’s a footzone, a walking zone. The Schumann-Haus has been restored and renovated and a small concert hall added to it. It houses all the Schumann materials and archives. Downstairs is a reception hall and the concert hall, while up a marble staircase with a gleaming brass handrail, kept polished by an assiduous ‘Hausmeister,’ is a small exhibition area with a room, for example, where you find the piano where Clara Wieck first played in a concert in 1830. There’s one room devoted to her and portraits of all the children. And then in two or three very small, crowded offices are all the archives, hundreds, thousands of Schumann letters, the diaries, the household books, etc. The musicologists there are particularly helpful, courteous and cooperative. Which only proves again that there need be no political divisions when it comes to the arts and scholarship.”

I think about this modern woman treading in the footsteps of another woman who lived a hundred years ago; of the growing sympathetic bonds between biographer and subject. Could we see it as a feminist from our time reexamining the life and accomplishments of another, prototypical feminist?

“I didn't plan or think about being a feminist myself, but I guess I am because I’m very interested in women and what women are doing and the fact they should have the opportunities to do it. And I’m also very interested in seeing the changes taking place between men and women. I mean, the young men I know are really encouraging their wives, just as my husband did me, to work and to go ahead and travel if it’s necessary and to lead interesting lives generally. These young women become so much more interesting as people, and their husbands appreciate it!”

Would she have ever thought of herself as a “feminist?”

“I think I said in the introduction of my book that she was not a feminist because she didn’t think of herself as battling for women’s rights. She just sort of assumed that her place in the world was as an artist, and couldn’t conceive of the fact that some women might have a harder time. She felt very inadequate as a composer, but not as a performer. And I think this was due to that strong ego-building she had as a child along with her father’s great conviction that she was going to be a great artist. So, she didn’t think of it as a struggle. She wasn’t an intellectual and was totally unaware of any movements which were already taking place in Germany during her lifetime concerning women's rights. I think Clara would not have thought of herself as a feminist and I don’t think of her that way.”

Certainly not in the sense of another woman composer of her time, Ethel Smyth, who wrote a song for suffrage and got thrown into jail.

“Yes, well, of course, Ethel Smyth was really two generations after Clara. But she did know Clara because she went to Leipzig to study with Heinrich von Herzogenberg, who was a good friend of Clara’s and they met. Ethel Smyth had to fight for her right to study music and to be a musician; Clara never did. And so Smyth was very aware of the problems that women faced and her music was not performed because she was a woman. And people always said, ‘How could a girl compose?’ But Clara took her own place in the world as if by right and she did it very early.

“On the other hand, the Romantics generally kept women in their place. You remember how Fanny Mendelssohn was always squelched by both her father and her brother. They said, ‘A woman’s first duty is to provide a beautiful home’; and Goethe said, ‘A woman has to provide the solace a man needs.’ Some men—and Robert Schumann was one—may have deliberately encouraged their own ‘feminine’ side, but the women were not encouraged to develop their own ‘masculine’ side.”

What about the balance of these things in Clara and Robert's marriage?

“In many ways for his time Robert was a remarkably sensitive husband and father. He loved the children, he loved being the head of the household. I’ve always been impressed with the care and support he showed Clara, too. This is clear, not only from his diaries but from the household books. I think he was a much more loving and tender parent to the children than maybe Clara was. He did feel, of course, that his composing came first; and he made some comments in the diary to the effect: ‘Clara has done some vary nice songs and I wish she could do more but with children and a husband and a husband who composes, it’s difficult.’ By the way, after she was married, she always wrote her compositions for Robert, for his birthdays or anniversaries, or as Christmas gifts. And they were always presented to him with a little note—those notes still exist on the manuscripts—in which she said, ‘Please have a little forbearance for this weak effort.’ Really sad inscriptions. She really didn’t have much confidence in her own composing. At that point she was married to a great genius and it must have been intimidating.

“She was formed from a hard school. She was a tough lady and believed very much in discipline and hard work. I’m sure she was by far the more severe of the parents in terms of discipline and control. She always thought of their welfare, their physical welfare, not their emotional welfare. People were generally just not that aware of that sort of thing at the time.”

I suggest that she may have been more of a mother figure to Robert than she was to her own children.

”Well, in some sense, she never had been a child herself. By the time she was thirteen she had already concertized and traveled with her father to Paris and through all of Germany. She had traveled far more than Schumann had, experienced so much more, met so many more different kinds of people, knew so much more music. By the time she was fifteen or sixteen, she was a very mature adolescent.”

Recent Developments

Interest in Clara Schumann has increased apace since the publication of Dr. Reich’s book in 1985. A German film, Spring Symphony, directed by Peter Schamoni, was released that same year. It starred Nastassya Kinski as Clara. Two novels about Clara have appeared in recent years, J.D. Landis’ Longing, and Janice Galloway’s Clara. And Dr. Reich’s daughter, Susanna Reich, has written Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso, for younger readers.

“Yes, there have been numerous performances, editions, recordings, films, radio and television programs, dissertations, articles in popular and specialty magazines, more biographies, even a Clara Schumann Piano Competition in Dusseldorf, Germany,” adds Dr. Reich. “All of which attests to the fascination and significance of the woman. The team of researchers has grown. When I was in Zwickau the first time, there were just a few people researching there—maybe four or five. Now Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau has became a real place to visit. It always was a national monument, because it was the house where Schumann was born. But there are twenty-one on the staff now. The centenary of Clara’s death in 1996 occasioned many festivals and conferences and new publications. Meanwhile, I have kept returning for several reasons. After my first book, I compiled a discography of her own compositions, more than fifty works. The revised edition of my book came out in 2001 and contained not just a catalogue of the complete works, including published and unpublished arrangements, but new information I gleaned from Clara Wieck’s girlhood diaries and from the Briefwechsel of Robert and Clara. In general, the new edition was an enlarged and more enlightened picture of Clara Schumann.”

Dr. Reich has also been tracking recently unearthed news: The notes that Schumann’s doctor in Endenich took about Robert Schumann’s condition during the last years of his life have been excerpted and published [see especially Judith Chernaik, “Guilt alone brings forth Nemesis,” in the Times Literary Supplement, 31 August 2001]. “It was long thought that they had been destroyed,” she explains. “Dr. Richarz—a man who didn’t believe in restraints, force-feeding or strait-jackets—was the director of this institution and evidently a very progressive psychiatrist. He kept these notes, and when he left the institution he did not leave them there, because he felt they had to be handled discreetly. Also I think he felt something of the confidential nature of these, because of the relationship between doctor and patient. Because it turns out his diagnosis was syphilis and because of the stigma attached to that he was concerned they not be published. He took them with him and left them with a relative—I believe it was a nephew who was also a psychiatrist. This nephew was an uncle, or great-uncle of Aribert Reimann, the contemporary German composer. Reimann inherited these when the uncle died, and he’d been asked not to publish them, either; to keep them confidential, even though the people involved had died. On the other hand, Reimann, who said he spent many sleepless nights over it, felt that it was important to have this information made public—if only to stop the many false legends that had sprung up about Schumann’s last years. The excerpts I have seen of these notes makes it clear that Schumann was a very, very sick man indeed. The stories that he was sent to the institution by his wife so she could carry on with Brahms—stories I hate even to repeat—have now been proven to be totally false. I always suspected they were, but now there’s clear evidence.”

Dr. Reich explains the conclusions derived from Richarz’ notes make for dismaying reading.

“Well, for one thing, they indicate Schumann was really much sicker than we thought. There’ve always been stories that when Brahms visited him, or Betina von Arnim visited him, he seemed fine, and he was able to hold an articulate conversation. In fact, the story was spread recently that von Arnim said there was nothing wrong with Schumann; he had just had a nervous breakdown and should return to his family. It was the doctor who was ill! Well, it turns out Schumann was much sicker than we had thought. He probably should have gone to the institution at least six months earlier, but Clara had tried in every way to keep him at home. He had asked several times—we knew this—that he be sent to a hospital because he was really afraid he would hurt Clara and the children. He realized he was almost out of control, because he had aggressive moments as well as very depressed moments. As you know, finally, in a moment of desperation during Carnaval of 1854, he slipped out of the house, when the watcher had turned his back—the watcher was probably like a male nurse, or orderly—and attempted suicide. In my layman’s sense, this seemed like a cry for help. And after that, he was sent to Endenich and hospitalized.”

But what about the illness?

“Dr. Richarz says there’s no doubt that it was syphilis. Richarz wrote that Schumann told him he had contracted syphilis in 1831 and had been cured. Schumann thought he had been cured, but what happened was that it was in a latent period. So, for some twenty years, he was not infectious, because neither Clara nor the children had it…. Richarz saw him daily. This was a progressive way of handling the patients. Schumann had a nurse or an orderly with him all the time, who even slept in the room with him to watch him. There were times when they had friendly conversations, and Schumann was able to talk. But one of the symptoms was increasing speechlessness, inarticulateness—he was unable to control his tongue. Richarz describes this deterioration over the two-and-a-half year period. Schumann wrote notes because he knew they couldn’t understand what he was saying. He couldn’t control the muscles of his mouth.

“The main question that is always asked, is why didn’t Clara visit him in the institution for two and a half years? Richarz’ papers make it clear, now: The doctor saw him every day, reporting on his pulse and digestion, and so on, and there were many periods when Schumann was very aggressive and would scream for hours. He would be hoarse the next day. His behavior was deteriorating into total insanity. It would have been impossible to have his wife visit him. She was told this. She was simply forbidden to visit him. People ask me, why didn’t she go anyway; if she loved him? Well, she was a woman who was very conscientious and followed the doctor’s orders. And I think she was also afraid to see him, afraid to see him in his condition, afraid that he might harm her. He had no control over himself. It was a terrible situation. There were times when he was more articulate, and it was usually at those times that the doctor permitted visitors, like Brahms, Joachim, von Arnim. At a time when he could speak and was relatively calm. The other thing I learned was he didn’t really die of self starvation. His physical condition had deteriorated so much he couldn’t eat; he could just swallow some wine and jelly and some other very light things. Even so, he had difficulty swallowing. The doctor speaks of paralysis in the muscles of the throat as well as of the legs.”

Did Schumann write any music in the asylum?

“He had a piano at his disposal. The Richarz family had a piano and Schumann heard it. I don’t know if it was the same piano he was permitted to play. But he did play the piano and he did write down a few things during that time and he wrote letters to the publishers. But the letters he wrote from the institution were quite different from what he wrote earlier. First of all, in terms of the handwriting, they were easier to read, more clear. It indicates he may have been trying very hard! And they have a kind of simplistic expression. Clara treasured those letters and they were later published. Now, it’s clear he was in another state of mind. Later, when she wanted to do a complete edition of his works, she said she intended to discard some of the works of his later years. Dr. Richarz had said he thought some of the alterations in Schumann’s mental state began in 1852, about two years before he went to the institution. And this period included some of the works we hear today and some of the works we’ll never hear because they were destroyed by Clara. She wrote to the publisher and said she felt it was important not to publish the things that ‘were unworthy of him.’ She didn’t say it was because he was in another world—just that it was unworthy of him. Plus, she was trying to protect his reputation. We know there were some Romances, I believe, for cello. Brahms and Joachim and she went over these and I suppose they must have been destroyed. My friend, Stephen Isserlis, the famous cellist, has made a very imaginative film about this episode, Schumann’s Lost Romance. I was interviewed on camera for that. And there was a great reluctance to publish the Violin Concerto. It wasn’t published until Eugenia Schumann gave it to the Berlin Library in 1938. It was up to them and they had it published. She was angry at what she thought was a betrayal of her trust.”

At this writing, Dr. Reich is translating for publication Clara Wieck’s youthful diaries.

Clearly, the subject of Clara Schumann is inexhaustible.

“She was the outstanding woman pianist and certainly one of the outstanding two or three pianists of the 19th century,” sums up Dr. Reich. “She had a very long career and played a decisive role in changing the concert scene at the time. If you look at the programs when she started in 1828 and compare them with the programs she and other pianists were performing in 1891, you’ll see that the whole concept of the piano recital has changed—from a mixed bag of works like variations based on popular tunes to a very serious program including Bach and her contemporaries. She also played her own works. As a girl, she played some of her early opus numbers; then after 1853 or 1854 she played her Trio a great deal and her Variations, Opus 20, as well as some of her songs. And, of course, she was a profound influence in the music of her husband, Robert Schumann. In all, she was a seminal figure in 19th century musical life.”

 

© John C. Tibbetts 2004

 

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