Birthday: September 13, 1819
Died At Age: 76
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Leipzig
Famous as: Musician & Composer
Spouse/Ex-: Robert Schumann
father: Friedrich Wieck
mother: Marianne Wieck
children: Elise, Emil, Eugenie, Felix, Ferdinand, Julie, Ludwig, Marie
Died on: May 20, 1896
place of death: Frankfurt, German Empire
City: Leipzig, Germany
Clara Wieck Schumann was a distinguished German musician and composer of the Romantic era. She lived during a time when female musicians of her caliber were extremely rare to find and despite being one of the few women in a male-dominated field, she enjoyed a productive career that spanned six decades. An accomplished pianist, she changed the format and repertoire of the piano over the course of her long career and left behind an important body of compositions. Born to a highly ambitious musically inclined father, she was trained for success from a young age. Her father had decided even before her birth that he would make his child a performing artist of the highest rank. As a little girl she received training in piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint, and started performing at the age of eight under her father’s watchful eyes. She fell in love with one of her father’s students, Robert Schumann, and married him despite her father’s disapproval. She continued her career as a performing artist and composer after marriage and skillfully juggled her responsibilities as a professional, wife, and mother. She played a major role in getting the works of her husband recognized and herself produced a small, but significant body of musical compositions.
Childhood & Early Life
Clara Josephine Wieck was born on 13 September 1819 into a middle-class family in Leipzig, Germany. Her father Friedrich Wieck was a piano teacher and music dealer and her mother Marianne was a concert pianist.
Her father had lofty ambitions for Clara and ensured that she received training in piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint from the time she was a little girl. She was influenced by both of her musically inclined parents and proved to be a child prodigy.
Her parents separated when Clara was around five years old and she went to live with her father. She received an extraordinary music education along with her regular schooling. She received training in theory and composition from Christian Theodore Weinlig, Cantor of St. Thomas Church, and Heinrich Dorn, director of the Leipzig Opera.
She gave her first solo concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1830, at the age of 11. Her program included bravura works by Kalkbrenner, Herz, and Czerny, and two of her own compositions. Her performance earned considerable praise from the critics.
Delighted by the attention his young daughter was getting, Friedrich Wieck took her on several performing tours over the next few years. She also began composing by the early 1830s, and by 1835, Clara was famous throughout Europe.
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As a child prodigy, Clara Wieck Schumann had become quite a sensation in Europe by the time she reached her mid-teens. She travelled extensively and performed before sold-out audiences and received extravagant praise from the critics. When she was 18, she performed a series of recitals in Vienna from December 1837 to April 1838.
Meanwhile she had fallen in love with one of her father’s students and desperately wanted to marry him. However her father forbade her marriage as he felt that it would curb his daughter’s successful career. Nonetheless, the couple got married in 1840.
She continued performing and composing even after her marriage—a rare feat for a woman living in mid-19th century Europe. Motherhood followed soon after as she gave birth to eight children in quick succession between 1841 and 1854. She somehow juggled her domestic duties with her professional career though she did not receive much support from her husband.
She went to England for the first time in 1856 and was invited to play in a London Philharmonic Society concert by conductor William Sterndale Bennett, a good friend of Robert's. She also played Robert's ‘Piano Concerto in A minor’ with the New Philharmonic Society. She would return to England many more times over the next few years.
In 1857, she, along with her friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, went on recital tour to Dresden, Leipzig, and Munich. By this time her husband had died and Clara resumed travelling and performing in order to earn money to support her family. She achieved great success as a performing pianist and earned a reputation as one of the elite musicians from Germany.
She travelled along with Joachim and some other musicians to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland, in early 1867. Health problems forced her to slow down during the early 1870s though she continued travelling well up to the late 1880s.
She accepted an appointment as a teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in 1878, and held this post until 1892. As a music teacher she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique. She played her last public concert in Frankfurt in 1891.
Clara Wieck Schumann was more popular as a concert pianist than as a composer as she herself did not have much confidence in her ability to compose. Nonetheless, she left behind a significant body of compositions that include ‘Quatre Polonaises pour le pianoforte’ (1831), ‘4 Pièces caractéristiques for piano’ (1836), ‘Piano Trio in G minor’ (1846), and ‘Drei romanzen für pianoforte und violine’ (1855).
Awards & Achievements
In March 1838, she was named a ‘Königliche und Kaiserliche Kammervirtuosin’ ("Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso"), Austria's highest musical honor.
Personal Life & Legacy
She became acquainted with Robert Schumann, an aspiring musician, when he started taking musical lessons from her father. Robert was nine years her senior and despite the age difference, the two fell in love. Her father however disapproved of her marriage to Robert and the young couple went to the court where the judge permitted them to get married. They got married in 1840 when Clara was 21 years old. She gave birth to eight children in quick succession between 1841 and 1854.
Her husband suffered from severe mental issues and attempted suicide in 1854. He then had to be committed to an asylum due to his deteriorating mental and physical health. He died of syphilis in 1856.
Clara Wieck Schumann had a long and productive career but her personal life was plagued with numerous tragedies. Even though she gave birth to eight children, four of them predeceased her. In addition to raising her own large family, she was also saddled with the responsibility of raising some of her grandchildren.
She suffered a debilitating stroke in March 1896 and died after a few weeks on 20 May 1896, aged 76.