Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Born on this day 200 years ago, Clara Schumann has moved slowly but decisively from the periphery to the centre of the music history canon, now included in music history survey courses alongside composers such as Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Robert Schumann of the Romantic generation. A brilliant virtuoso pianist, as famous in her day as Franz Liszt, she performed her own compositions in concert and premièred almost every composition with piano by her husband Robert. Clara’s relationship with Robert provided her with an intense, generous, and, at times, conflicting musical partnership. Even as she continued honing her compositional technique to produce several exceptional instrumental works, such as her op. 17 Piano Trio or her op. 22 Drei Romanzen, she expressed ambivalence about her own creations. Although she stopped composing after Robert’s death in 1856, she remained active as a musician for decades, maintaining a demanding performance and teaching schedule in order to provide for her seven surviving children and her grandchildren.

Clara Schumann, age 35. Daguerreotype by Franz Hanfstaengl (1854). Wikicommons.

Lithography of Clara Wieck by Andreas Staub, c. 1840. Wikicommons.

Through the work of many dedicated musicologists, music theorists, and performers, Clara Schumann’s legacy as a composer, pianist, editor, and pedagogue is emerging more clearly. Nancy Reich’s meticulous biography, which sensitively explores Schumann’s struggles and successes as a professional musician, remains a foundational text. Clara and Robert’s complete correspondence edited by Eva Weissweiler allows us to better understand the relationship between these two artists, their influence on one another, and their historical context. Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers and Michael Baker have recently published insightful analyses of Schumann’s compositions. Several new recordings have been released this year: Isata Kanneh-Mason’s debut album Romance is entirely devoted to Clara Schumann’s piano compositions, while Ragna Schirmer’s Madame Schumann reproduces two of Schumann’s concert programmes to provide a better sense of her presence as a concert pianist.

To celebrate Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday, we have curated a playlist on Naxos Music Library featuring some of her most cherished compositions.

Please note: Access to Naxos Music Library is restricted to the McGill community; be sure to authenticate using EZproxy or VPN when off-campus.