Clara Schumann And Her Circle

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01Clara and Chopin2016052320190909 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, the young Clara meets Fryderyk Chopin.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

Clara first encountered Fryderyk Chopin in the early months of 1832. She was a seasoned virtuoso of 13, on a promotional visit to Paris; he, at 21, had put down roots in the French capital just a few months earlier – an accidental refugee from the failed Polish Uprising. Clara was in the audience for Chopin’s astonishing first public Parisian recital, at the Salle Pleyel. She had already learnt one of his works, and his music would be a mainstay of her concert repertoire for the next six decades. The respect was clearly mutual – when Chopin visited Clara in Leipzig a few years later, he was impressed enough to take several of her pieces away with him.

Clara Schumann
4 Polonaises, Op 1 (No 2 in C)
Suzanne Grutzmann, piano

Chopin
Variations on Mozart’s Là ci darem la mano, Op 2
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Kazimierz Kord, conductor

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 4, Ballade in D minor); 4 Pièces caractéristiques, Op 5 (No 4, Scène fantastique (Le Ballet des revenants))
Suzanne Grutzmann, piano

Chopin
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op 65 (3rd mvt, Largo)
Mischa Maisky, cello
Martha Argerich, piano

Clara Schumann
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 7 (3rd mvt, Finale. Allegro non troppo)
Lucy Parham, piano
BBC Concert Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth, conductor

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

02Clara and Robert2016052420190910 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and her husband Robert, the archetypally Romantic genius whose talents she served – to the detriment of her own.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

“Ah, if only he had taken me with him,” Clara confided to her diary after Robert’s death. Indeed, their lives had been so closely intertwined that sometimes she must have felt like the flip side of a single coin. They kept a joint marriage diary. They studied Bach together. They quoted each other’s music in their own. Much of Robert’s music is a love-letter to Clara, translating key events in their relationship into sound – and from the start, Clara became its principal advocate and most authoritative interpreter. She was severed from Robert not by his death but on his committal to the insane asylum at Endenich where he passed his final two years. She would spend the next 40 learning to live without him.

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 1, Toccatina in A minor)
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 2, Notturno)
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Robert Schumann
Novelletten, Op 21 (No 8, Sehr lebhaft (Stimme aus der Ferne))
Eric le Sage, piano

Clara Schumann
Am Strande; Warum willst du andre fragen, Op 12 No 11; Liebst du um Schönheit, Op 12 No 4; Er ist gekommen, Op 12 No 2
Christina Högman, soprano
Roland Pöntinen, piano

Robert Schumann
6 Etudes pour le pianoforte d’après les caprices de Paganini, Op 3 (No 1 in A minor; No 2 in E)
Mariya Kim, piano

Clara Schumann
Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op 20
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

03Clara, Felix and Fanny2016052520190911 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and the dazzlingly talented Mendelssohns – Felix and Fanny – whose untimely deaths within a few months of each other shook her deeply.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

Clara first encountered Felix Mendelssohn in 1835, on his arrival in Leipzig to take up the reins of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Ten years her senior, he held her in high esteem as a musician, and they performed together frequently, both privately and in public – including the première of Clara’s own Piano Concerto. Like Felix, his sister Fanny Hensel was a gifted pianist who had composed profusely from an early age. But she came from a rich Jewish banking family, and for a woman of her social standing a career as a professional musician – or indeed a career of any kind whatsoever – was simply out of the question. Despite her amateur status, though, Clara generously described Fanny as “undoubtedly the most distinguished woman musician of her time”.

Fanny Hensel
Piano Trio in D, Op 11 (3rd mvt, Lied – Allegretto)
The Dartington Piano Trio (Oliver Butterworth, violin; Michael Evans, cello; Frank Wibaut, piano)

Mendelssohn
Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op 5
Howard Shelley, piano

Fanny Hensel
Verlust (Loss); Fichtenbaum und Palme (Fir Tree and Palm); Italien (Italy)
Christina Högman, soprano
Roland Pöntinen, piano

Mendelssohn
Octet in E flat, Op 20 (4th mvt, Presto)
Academy Chamber Ensemble

Clara Schumann
Piano Trio in G minor, Op 17
Boulanger Trio

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

04Clara and Liszt2016052620190912 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and Franz Liszt – a man and musician she at first idolised but came to loathe.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

“Distintissimo!” – most distinguished! – that’s how the 19th-century piano superstar Franz Liszt described Clara Schumann after seeing her play in Vienna in 1838. And Clara, like most people, was absolutely bowled over by Liszt – “He cannot be compared to any other player – he is absolutely unique”, she wrote in her diary. But as a composer, she gradually came to detest him, and by the time of his death she could write that “his compositions lack those very qualities which he possessed as a virtuoso; they are trivial and tedious and will certainly soon disappear from the world in the wake of his passing.” Liszt, by contrast, paid Clara the compliment, late in life, of transcribing three of her songs for solo piano.

Clara Schumann
Loreley
Barbara Bonney, soprano
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano

Schubert, transcribed Liszt
Gretchen am Spinnrade (D118), S558 No 8
Yuja Wang, piano

Clara Schumann
Variations de concert pour le pianoforte sur la Cavatine du Pirate de Bellini, Op 8
Suzanne Grutzmann, piano

Clara Schumann
Impromptu in G, Op 9 (Souvenir de Vienne)
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Liszt
Grandes variations de concert (Hexaméron) sur un thème des Puritains, S654
Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov

Clara Schumann, transcribed Liszt
Warum willst du andere fragen?, Op 12 No 3; Ich hab’ in deinem Auge, Op 13 No 5; Geheimes Flüstern, Op 23 No 3
Leslie Howard, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

05Clara and Brahms2016052720190913 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and Johannes Brahms, whose friendship – and bickering – lasted over 40 years.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

When Clara Schumann recalled in her diary the day she met Johannes Brahms, she described him as “God-sent”. She was referring to his musical talent, but his arrival on her Düsseldorf doorstep in October 1853 turned out to be providential for entirely different reasons. Robert Schumann had been acting erratically for some time, but Clara couldn’t have imagined how quickly his situation would deteriorate. Just four months later he suffered a complete mental breakdown and was committed at his own request to the insane asylum at Endenich where he would die almost two and a half years later. Brahms, a young man of just 20, stepped into the breach as a sort of surrogate head of the household. He quickly became indispensable to Clara, offering much-needed practical as well as emotional support – helping to look after her seven surviving children, doing the household accounts and liaising with Robert’s doctors about the progress of his illness. After Robert’s funeral, Brahms took Clara and two of the children away for a break in Lucerne. No-one knows what transpired there – perhaps Brahms proposed marriage and Clara declined – but it was a major turning-point in their relationship. Brahms’s residency at the Schumann home was over. He returned home to Hamburg, and for the next 40 years he and Clara remained the closest of platonic friends, periodically falling out but always making up. Brahms never married. Thirteen years Clara’s junior, he survived her by less than 12 months.

Clara Schumann
Sechs Lieder aus Jucunde, Op 23 (No 5, Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag (This is a day of singing))
Gabriele Fontana, soprano
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Brahms
Scherzo in E flat minor, Op 4
Julius Katchen, piano
DECCA 455 247-2 CD 2 tk 6

Clara Schumann
3 Romances, Op 22
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Alice Sara Ott, piano

Clara Schumann
3 Romances, Op 21
Cristina Ortiz, piano

Brahms
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 15 (2nd mvt, Adagio)
Radu Lupu, piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Edo de Waart, conductor

Clara Schumann
Romance in B minor, Op posth
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201601Clara And Chopin2016052320190909 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, the young Clara meets Fryderyk Chopin.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

Clara first encountered Fryderyk Chopin in the early months of 1832. She was a seasoned virtuoso of 13, on a promotional visit to Paris; he, at 21, had put down roots in the French capital just a few months earlier – an accidental refugee from the failed Polish Uprising. Clara was in the audience for Chopin’s astonishing first public Parisian recital, at the Salle Pleyel. She had already learnt one of his works, and his music would be a mainstay of her concert repertoire for the next six decades. The respect was clearly mutual – when Chopin visited Clara in Leipzig a few years later, he was impressed enough to take several of her pieces away with him.

Clara Schumann
4 Polonaises, Op 1 (No 2 in C)
Suzanne Grutzmann, piano

Chopin
Variations on Mozart’s Là ci darem la mano, Op 2
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Kazimierz Kord, conductor

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 4, Ballade in D minor); 4 Pièces caractéristiques, Op 5 (No 4, Scène fantastique (Le Ballet des revenants))
Suzanne Grutzmann, piano

Chopin
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op 65 (3rd mvt, Largo)
Mischa Maisky, cello
Martha Argerich, piano

Clara Schumann
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 7 (3rd mvt, Finale. Allegro non troppo)
Lucy Parham, piano
BBC Concert Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth, conductor

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201602Clara And Robert2016052420190910 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and her husband Robert, the archetypally Romantic genius whose talents she served – to the detriment of her own.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

“Ah, if only he had taken me with him,” Clara confided to her diary after Robert’s death. Indeed, their lives had been so closely intertwined that sometimes she must have felt like the flip side of a single coin. They kept a joint marriage diary. They studied Bach together. They quoted each other’s music in their own. Much of Robert’s music is a love-letter to Clara, translating key events in their relationship into sound – and from the start, Clara became its principal advocate and most authoritative interpreter. She was severed from Robert not by his death but on his committal to the insane asylum at Endenich where he passed his final two years. She would spend the next 40 learning to live without him.

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 1, Toccatina in A minor)
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Clara Schumann
Soirées musicales, Op 6 (No 2, Notturno)
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Robert Schumann
Novelletten, Op 21 (No 8, Sehr lebhaft (Stimme aus der Ferne))
Eric le Sage, piano

Clara Schumann
Am Strande; Warum willst du andre fragen, Op 12 No 11; Liebst du um Schönheit, Op 12 No 4; Er ist gekommen, Op 12 No 2
Christina Högman, soprano
Roland Pöntinen, piano

Robert Schumann
6 Etudes pour le pianoforte d’après les caprices de Paganini, Op 3 (No 1 in A minor; No 2 in E)
Mariya Kim, piano

Clara Schumann
Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op 20
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201603Clara, Felix And Fanny2016052520190911 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and the dazzlingly talented Mendelssohns – Felix and Fanny – whose untimely deaths within a few months of each other shook her deeply.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

Clara first encountered Felix Mendelssohn in 1835, on his arrival in Leipzig to take up the reins of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Ten years her senior, he held her in high esteem as a musician, and they performed together frequently, both privately and in public – including the première of Clara’s own Piano Concerto. Like Felix, his sister Fanny Hensel was a gifted pianist who had composed profusely from an early age. But she came from a rich Jewish banking family, and for a woman of her social standing a career as a professional musician – or indeed a career of any kind whatsoever – was simply out of the question. Despite her amateur status, though, Clara generously described Fanny as “undoubtedly the most distinguished woman musician of her time”.

Fanny Hensel
Piano Trio in D, Op 11 (3rd mvt, Lied – Allegretto)
The Dartington Piano Trio (Oliver Butterworth, violin; Michael Evans, cello; Frank Wibaut, piano)

Mendelssohn
Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op 5
Howard Shelley, piano

Fanny Hensel
Verlust (Loss); Fichtenbaum und Palme (Fir Tree and Palm); Italien (Italy)
Christina Högman, soprano
Roland Pöntinen, piano

Mendelssohn
Octet in E flat, Op 20 (4th mvt, Presto)
Academy Chamber Ensemble

Clara Schumann
Piano Trio in G minor, Op 17
Boulanger Trio

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201604Clara And Liszt2016052620190912 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and Franz Liszt – a man and musician she at first idolised but came to loathe.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

“Distintissimo!” – most distinguished! – that’s how the 19th-century piano superstar Franz Liszt described Clara Schumann after seeing her play in Vienna in 1838. And Clara, like most people, was absolutely bowled over by Liszt – “He cannot be compared to any other player – he is absolutely unique”, she wrote in her diary. But as a composer, she gradually came to detest him, and by the time of his death she could write that “his compositions lack those very qualities which he possessed as a virtuoso; they are trivial and tedious and will certainly soon disappear from the world in the wake of his passing.” Liszt, by contrast, paid Clara the compliment, late in life, of transcribing three of her songs for solo piano.

Clara Schumann
Loreley
Barbara Bonney, soprano
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano

Schubert, transcribed Liszt
Gretchen am Spinnrade (D118), S558 No 8
Yuja Wang, piano

Clara Schumann
Variations de concert pour le pianoforte sur la Cavatine du Pirate de Bellini, Op 8
Suzanne Grutzmann, piano

Clara Schumann
Impromptu in G, Op 9 (Souvenir de Vienne)
Jozef de Beenhouwer, piano

Liszt
Grandes variations de concert (Hexaméron) sur un thème des Puritains, S654
Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov

Clara Schumann, transcribed Liszt
Warum willst du andere fragen?, Op 12 No 3; Ich hab’ in deinem Auge, Op 13 No 5; Geheimes Flüstern, Op 23 No 3
Leslie Howard, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201605 lastClara And Brahms2016052720190913 (R3)

This week, Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and the extraordinary circle of composers and musicians she moved in. Today, Clara and Johannes Brahms, whose friendship – and bickering – lasted over 40 years.

Clara Schumann was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 19th century. Hot-housed by her pushy and ambitious piano-teacher father, Friedrich Wieck, she made her concert debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of nine and published her first opus – a set of four mazurkas – only two years later. Friedrich’s Grand Plan for Clara would ultimately be knocked off course, however, by the arrival on the scene in autumn 1830 of Robert Schumann, who became the Wiecks’ live-in student. In time, a relationship blossomed, leading eventually, a decade later – when Clara had reached the age of majority – to marriage, whereupon her career very much took a back seat to looking after Robert and the eight children they would produce together. After Robert’s death in 1856, Clara resumed her concert career in earnest – it was, after all, her principal source of income – but more or less stopped composing for good. Her oeuvre, some 50 works, mainly piano miniatures and songs, poses one of the most tantalizing what-ifs in music history – what if her family commitments and the social mores of her day had not constrained Clara Schumann’s development as a composer? Her Piano Trio in G minor, one of less than a handful of large-scale works she was able to complete, suggests one possible answer: that she might perhaps have become one of the leading composers of the second half of the 19th century.

When Clara Schumann recalled in her diary the day she met Johannes Brahms, she described him as “God-sent”. She was referring to his musical talent, but his arrival on her Düsseldorf doorstep in October 1853 turned out to be providential for entirely different reasons. Robert Schumann had been acting erratically for some time, but Clara couldn’t have imagined how quickly his situation would deteriorate. Just four months later he suffered a complete mental breakdown and was committed at his own request to the insane asylum at Endenich where he would die almost two and a half years later. Brahms, a young man of just 20, stepped into the breach as a sort of surrogate head of the household. He quickly became indispensable to Clara, offering much-needed practical as well as emotional support – helping to look after her seven surviving children, doing the household accounts and liaising with Robert’s doctors about the progress of his illness. After Robert’s funeral, Brahms took Clara and two of the children away for a break in Lucerne. No-one knows what transpired there – perhaps Brahms proposed marriage and Clara declined – but it was a major turning-point in their relationship. Brahms’s residency at the Schumann home was over. He returned home to Hamburg, and for the next 40 years he and Clara remained the closest of platonic friends, periodically falling out but always making up. Brahms never married. Thirteen years Clara’s junior, he survived her by less than 12 months.

Clara Schumann
Sechs Lieder aus Jucunde, Op 23 (No 5, Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag (This is a day of singing))
Gabriele Fontana, soprano
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Brahms
Scherzo in E flat minor, Op 4
Julius Katchen, piano
DECCA 455 247-2 CD 2 tk 6

Clara Schumann
3 Romances, Op 22
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Alice Sara Ott, piano

Clara Schumann
3 Romances, Op 21
Cristina Ortiz, piano

Brahms
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 15 (2nd mvt, Adagio)
Radu Lupu, piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Edo de Waart, conductor

Clara Schumann
Romance in B minor, Op posth
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano

Producer: Chris Barstow

Donald Macleod explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann and her circle.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.