Clara Wieck Schumann
Image: Clara Wieck as a young woman.
Clara Wieck was born in Leipzig (now part of Germany) in 1819. Although she was born with the last name "Wieck," she's more commonly known by her married name of "Schumann."
Clara Schumann was famous in her lifetime for being perhaps the best pianist in all of Europe. She started performing publicly at age 9 and continued performing until she was 72 years old!
Throughout her life, she also composed music. Here is one of the movements from her Piano Sonata called "Scherzo." Scherzo means "joke" in Italian, and movements called "Scherzo" are usually light-hearted and fun. Do you hear anything in this music that sounds like a funny joke?
Unfortunately, Clara Schumann is often remembered not for her own music, but for her connection to 2 famous male composers of the 1800s. She was married to Robert Schumann, a famous composer of piano music and symphonies (among other things), and she was a good friend of/inspiration to Johannes Brahms. In honor of all the love and friendship in her life, here is a song she composed for voice and piano. The words are in German, but you should be able to hear that it's a love song, even if you don't speak German!
What musical characteristics make this music sound like a love song? What would you have to change in this music to make it sound angry/sad/scary instead?
Clara Schumann was known to be one of the most talented pianists in all of Europe. Listening to this piece she composed for piano, it's easy to imagine how good of a pianist she was! This piece is also called "Scherzo." (Do you remember what that word means?)
Can you follow along with the sheet music as you listen?
Since Clara Schumann was a pianist, it's no surprise that the piano plays an important part in a lot of her music! In addition to chamber music, she wrote music for large ensembles, too! ("Chamber music" is music that can be performed by just a small group of musicians, like duets, trios, quartets, or quintets).
Here is part of her Piano Concerto, for piano and full orchestra, performed by the same pianist you saw in week one. This pianist, Isata Kanneh-Mason is in her early 20s and is rapidly becoming famous as one of the great pianists of her generation!
(The full concerto goes on for about 23 minutes; you can find many recordings of it on YouTube!)
As Clara Schumann grew older, she composed less often. In fact, she composed most of her music before the age of 40. This was partly due to that fact that she was busy performing concerts and to the fact that she had 8 children! Her husband, Robert Schumann, got more time to focus on composing while Clara took care of the family. Because she was mostly remembered as a pianist, many of her compositions were forgotten for a long time. For almost 100 years, her music was performed infrequently, but now many people have rediscovered how wonderful her music is.
Listen to this "Romance" for violin and piano. Do you notice how the two musicians are communicating with each other while they play by the way that they move?
In addition to chamber music and symphonic music, Clara Schumann also liked to compose for choir. Have you ever sung in a choir? Many choirs group singers into 4 different parts depending on how high or low their voices are. Women usually have higher voices, and they are divided into soprano (higher) and alto (lower) voice. Men typically have lower voices and are divided into tenor and bass parts.
Most choirs read music with all four parts written on it. Each singer just reads their line of music throughout the piece. Try reading this music two different ways when listening: follow one voice line throughout the whole song (the soprano line is probably easiest to follow), or let your eyes bounce back and forth to different lines as you follow along!
Clara Schumann studied a lot of music written by great composers of the past. (She learned how to play a lot of music by Mozart and Beethoven, for example!) She sometimes took music by other famous composers and composed her own versions of the music, too.
She wrote this piece using part of a melody by J.S. Bach (a composer whose name you should remember!). She started with his melody, and composed the rest of the music by creating ideas that expanded on the original theme. As you can see from the sheet music, she wrote this music for piano, but in this video it's being performed by a string quartet. Do you remember which instruments play in a string quartet?
Clara Schumann performed in over 1,300 concerts throughout her life! She often performed chamber music with other musicians. She was especially good friends with the famous violinist Joseph Joachim (the two of them gave over 200 concerts together!). As Clara Schumann grew older, she also gave more performances of lieder. (Lieder means "songs" in German. It is specifically music for voice and piano in which the meaning of poetry is highlighted.)
Listen to this video and watch how the singer "acts" while she sings. Even without understanding German, can you understand the feelings she's singing about?
Image: Clara Wieck Schumann as an older woman
You've completed the March 2020 Composer of the Month Club!
I hope you've learned a lot about Clara Schumann!