Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann (September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896) was a German musician, one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era, as well as a composer. Her prestige — she became known as "the high priestess of music" — exerted over a 61-year concert career, changed the format and repertoire of the piano concert and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was composer Robert Schumann.
Clara Wieck had a brilliant career as a virtuoso pianist from the age of thirteen. In her early years her repertoire, selected by her father, was showy and popular, in the style common to the time, with works by Kalkbrenner, Henselt, Thalberg, Henri Herz, Pixis, Czerny, and her own compositions. As she matured, however, becoming more established and planning her own programmes, she began to play works by the new Romantic composers, such as Chopin, Mendelssohn and, of course, Schumann, as well as the great, less showy, more "difficult" composers of the past, such as Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.
In 1853 Johannes Brahms, age twenty, met Clara and Robert in Leipzig and immediately impressed both of them with his talent. Brahms became a lifelong friend to Wieck-Schumann, sustaining her through the illness of Robert, asking for her advice about new compositions, even caring for her young children while she went on tour. It is clear that they developed a deep and life-long love for each other, although there is no indication that it was ever consummated physically.
Clara Wieck-Schumann often took charge of the finances and general household affairs due to Robert's mental instability. Part of her responsibility included making money, which she did by giving concerts, although she continued to play throughout her life not only for the income, but because she was a concert artist by training and by nature. Robert, while admiring her talent, wanted a traditional wife to bear children and make a happy home, which in his eyes and the eyes of society were in direct conflict with the life of a performer. Furthermore, while she loved touring, Robert hated it.
After Robert's death (July 29, 1856), Wieck-Schumann devoted herself principally to the interpretation of his works. But when she first visited England in 1856, the critics received Robert's music with a chorus of disapproval. She returned to London in 1865 and continued her visits annually, with the exception of four seasons, until 1882. She also appeared there each year from 1885 to 1888. In 1878 she was appointed teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, a post she held until 1892, and in which she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique.
Wieck-Schumann played her last public concert in Frankfurt in March 1891. Five years later, on March 26, 1896, she suffered a stroke, dying on May 20, at age 77. She is buried at Bonn's Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery) with her husband.
As part of the broad musical education given her by her father, Clara Wieck learned to compose, and from childhood to middle age she produced a good body of work. At age fourteen she wrote her first piano concerto, with some help from Robert Schumann, and performed it at age sixteen at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Mendelssohn conducting.
As she grew older, however, she lost confidence in herself as a composer, writing, "I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?" In fact, Wieck-Schumann composed nothing after the age of thirty-six.
Today her compositions are increasingly performed and recorded. Her works include songs, piano pieces, a piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, and three Romances for violin and piano. Inspired by her husband's birthday, the three Romances were composed in 1853 and dedicated to Joseph Joachim who performed them for George V of Hanover. He declared them a "marvellous, heavenly pleasure."
Wieck-Schumann was the authoritative editor of her husband's works for the publishing firm of Breitkopf & Härtel.
"Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out."—Robert Schumann in the joint diary of Robert and Clara Schumann.
"Composing gives me great pleasure...there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound."—Clara Schumann.
"I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?"—Clara Schumann at 20.
This is a partial list of recordings in the WorldCat database.