Out of the Shadows: Clara Schumann
Part I: 1819 - 1840


(Sounds of practicing . . .fade . . . ) "Mama would tell us of the cucumber sandwiches which she kept in the cupboard when she was a girl, and ate from time to time to refresh her from long hours of practicing." (from Eugenie Schumann memoirs) (crossfade to her music . . . )

"Even in her first piece, the artist who is still so young reaped thundering approval and indeed the great skill, assurance and strength with which she plays even the most difficult music so easily is highly remarkable. Even more remarkable is the spirit and feeling of her performance; one could scarcely wish for more . . . . "

"We heard the little Wieck of Leipzig; she's a veritable marvel; for the first time in my life I caught myself admiring with enthusiasm a precocious talent: perfect execution, irreproachable measure, force, clarity, difficulties of all sorts successfully surmounted . . . she is a musician; she feels what she plays and knows how to express it."

"It was especially pleasing to hear the young, musically talented Clara Wieck, just nine years old, perform . . . to universal and well-earned applause. We may entertain the greatest hopes for this child who has trained under the direction of her father, who understands the art of piano playing so well and teaches with devotion and great skill."


(music under)

NARRATOR (Nar): Clara Wieck Schumann's first and only teacher was her father. Friedrich Wieck groomed her virtually from infancy to be the ultimate example of what his piano teaching methods could accomplish.

Throughout her young life, Clara kept a diary, into which she dutifully copied what her father dictated....

FRIEDRICH WIECK (FW): June 8, 1831 Chopin's Variations on la ci darem la mano Op. 2, which I learned in 8 days, is . . . (Clara takes over)

CLARA SCHUMANN (CS): . . . the hardest piece I have seen or played 'til now. This original and inspired composition is still so little known that almost all pianists and teachers consider it incomprehensible and impossible to play.

MUSIC: Chopin Variations on La Ci Darem La Mano Op. 2

FW: February 24: Triumph, triumph, Clara created a furor last night. Clara is the talk of the town and the other artists are butting their heads together in despair. Even Paganini did not have such accolades.

Nar: Friedrich Wieck, the devoted stage father. A man who not only taught his daughter Clara, but wore the mantle of concert impresario for his brilliant protg. He rented the halls, the pianos, arranged the publicity. Wieck complained that the amount of work was frightful. Frightful, perhaps, but profitable from ticket sales and the boosts to his retail piano business. He knew a gold mine when he saw one.

His first wife, Clara's mother, was a talented singer and pianist. Every time Marianne Tromlitz Wieck performed his reputation as a piano teacher improved and sales in the piano shop went up. Marianne Wieck ran a household, maintained a concert career and bore five children to Friedrich Wieck. Clara was the oldest surviving child. She caused additional anxiety for her mother. For the first four years of her life, Clara didn't speak a word which led her parents to believe that she was deaf. When she did begin to speak she seemed oblivious to the world around her. Despite this, her father began to teach her little pieces of music by ear. It came to her easily. Speech remained a problem for her until Clara was eight.

Friedrich Wieck's personality and the burdens of career and home took its toll on his wife. In May 1824 she left him for Adolf Bargiel, taking Clara and her infant son with her. A few days before Clara's fifth birthday, Wieck took custody of Clara as was his right under Saxon law. A divorce was granted to the Wieck's in 1825. This was not Clara's only personal loss. Soon after , Friedrich Wieck dismissed Clara's beloved nursemaid.

Clara's visits with her mother were rare and limited. Wieck imposed strict conditions.

FW: November 7 1825: Madam! I am sending you the dearest thing in life still left to me, with the proviso, however, that you say nothing if possible, about what has happened, or that you express yourself simply, truthfully, and at the same time clearly, so that this guiltless, innocent, and natural creature hears nothing that could arouse her suspicions. Furthermore, you will give the child little pastry and make sure you do not condone any naughtiness...When she practices, do not allow her to rush. I expect the most rigorous adherence to my wishes; if not, my anger will be incurred.

Nar: Friedrich Wieck was blunt and demanding. Yet he earned the affection and respect of many very talented musicians through his progressive teaching method. For example, he believed in efficient practicing rather than long hours of practicing. And Wieck had specific ideas about performing style:

FW: I warn my piano players against all inappropriate and conspicuous mannerisms. Just play beautifully and musically and comport yourself modestly and decorously. Give your entire attention to the matter at hand, to the performance, and try to hold the interest of the easily distracted public in that and nothing else. Mad geniuses should no longer play in public. (piano magazine)

Nar: Noble as his intentions were, he was prone to fits of rage, even toward his prize pupil, daughter Clara.

CS: Oct 20 1828: My father, who had long hoped for a change of disposition on my part, observed again today that I am just as lazy, careless, disorderly, stubborn, disobedient, etc. as ever, and that I am the same in my piano playing and my studies. And because I played so badly, he tore up the music before my eyes, and from today on he will not give me any more lessons, and I may not play anything but scales, Cramer's Etudes and Czerny's trilling exercises.

Nar: Wieck saved his greatest abuse for his sons. Wieck's new student, Robert Schumann, recorded one incident in his diary

ROBERT SCHUMANN (RS): August 21, 1831 Am I among humans? Yesterday I saw a scene whose impression will be indelible. Wieck is surely a wicked man. Alwin had not played well: You wretch, you wretch is this the pleasure you give your father How he threw him on the floor, pulled him by the hair, trembled and staggered, sat still to rest and gained strength for new feats, could barely stand on his legs any more and had to throw his prey down. How the boy begged and implored him to give him the violin -- he wanted to play, he wanted to play -- I can barely describe it -- and to all this, Clara smiled and calmly sat herself down at the piano with a Weber Sonata.

MUSIC: Carl Maria von Weber

Nar: Friedrich Wieck encouraged Clara to perform the newest and finest music of the 1820s and 1830s including Carl Maria von Weber's piano sonatas, and Frederic Chopin's latest works. In and around Leipzig, she would play them in the salons of the rich and famous. Felix Mendelssohn and the poet Goethe were among her admirers. Goethe was so taken with her that he honored Clara with the gifts of an embroidered pillow and a medal.

The concerts continued with tours to Dresden, to Paris, to Berlin and to Vienna. It was in Vienna that Clara received what was, for her father, the highest possible validation of his efforts; the Emperor honored Clara with the title of Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuosa, a singular distinction for a woman, a Protestant and a foreigner. Wieck gloried in the success...

FW: What a lesson to the envious pianists who have made a public spectacle of all my aspirations. We have borne it humbly and continued to strive -- here is the reward. It is the greatest guarantee of safe- conduct in all of Europe. Would we be in Vienna if I had not battled the boors?

Nar: While Wieck crowed about his triumphs with Clara in the capitals of Europe, back in Leipzig Robert Schumann was dealing with a different set of emotions. For years Schumann had been a hopeful piano student of Wieck's, had lived in his home, played with his children and, in time had fallen in love with the young Clara -- a relationship that developed into a clandestine engagement. Wieck was opposed to the match and he had good reason: Schumann had a history of drinking and depression, no visible means of supporting a spouse and had had other unsuccessful relationships with women. Schumann admired Clara's brilliance but had ambivalent feelings about her career...

RS: Sept 9 1838: You are too dear, too lofty for the kind of life your father holds up as a worthy goal. He thinks it will bring true happiness. No, my Clara will be a happy wife, a contented, beloved wife. I consider your art great and holy. I hardly dare think of the happiness you will give me with it; but if we don't consider it necessary you won't lift a finger if you don't want to, for people who aren't even worth playing scales for, isn't that so, my girl?

Nar: As much as she loved Robert, Clara had her own reasons to be ambivalent:

CS: I have also considered the future very seriously and I must tell you one thing: I cannot be yours until circumstances have entirely altered...I require much, and I realize that much is needed for a proper life. Robert, test yourself. Are you in a position to offer me a life free from care? Consider that though I have been brought up simply, I have never had a care. Must I bury my art now? Love is all very beautiful, but , but---.

RS: Since you value my ring so little, I care no longer for yours, since yesterday, and do not wear it. I dreamed that I was walking by deep water -- and an impulse seized me and I threw the ring into the water- and then I was filled with a passionate longing to plunge in after it.

Nar: To complicate matters, Wieck would not allow them to see each other or to communicate openly. Sympathetic friends delivered letters that were addressed in code. It was hard to know from one letter to the next what emotions these two secret lovers would express. At one time despair, and at another...

CS: May 1838: You are so near and yet I cannot see you...I am suspended in heaven and immediately afterward so unhappy because I cannot embrace you right away. you who are everything to me, you who have opened another world to are the ideal of a man an ideal I have always carried in my heart.

RS: June 1838 I have such an urgent desire to see you, to press you to my heart, that I am sad -- and sick as well. I don't know what is absent in my life, and yet I do know; you are absent. I see you everywhere, you walk up and down with me in my room, you lie in my arms and nothing, nothing is real. I am ill. And how long will this all endure?

Nar: A crucial decision lay in front of Clara Wieck: to choose between two men devoted to her. Her father, Friedrich, the driving force behind her career as a piano virtuoso, or Robert Schumann, the music critic and aspiring composer. Wieck's objected to Robert as a potential son-in-law but not as a composer. It was Wieck who gave Schumann's piano piece Papillons to Clara to learn.

MUSIC: Papillons

Nar: One of the things that defined Clara's career was her promotion of Robert Schumann's music. The Papillons was one of the first of his pieces she performed.

Clara and Robert had many obstacles to overcome. They withstood about a year and a half of almost total isolation from each other. Clara initiated contact through a mutual friend despite her father's objections. The deep love and the difficulties were all still there. To Robert, Clara was still the dearest in the world but Clara was still torn between the two men who loved her.

RS: October 24 1838 You and your father are, forgive me, like a pair of children. You cry, he scolds, and it is still the same as ever. You can't belong to him and to me at the same time. You will have to leave one. Him or me.

Nar: And then she wrote to Robert,

CS: November 25 1838: For your sake, I will give up my father, whom I love more than anyone except for you. I will follow you without my father's consent...that is a great deal for a feeling heart to do, difficult, but I trust you. My life will lie in your hands and you will make me happy.

Nar: Friedrich Wieck was not going to give up his daughter so easily. The law was on his side. Clara could not marry without his permission until she was 21. Robert Schumann was equally determined and filed a lawsuit to set aside the need for the father's consent. Clara came back from a solo concert tour in France undertaken without her father. Her mother came from Berlin as her ally. Attempts at arbitration failed; he would either come late to the hearings or not show up at all and Wieck made impossible financial demands for his consent. In court, he slandered Schumann, and even Clara. At one point, Wieck completely lost control of himself and had to be silenced by the president of the court. The proceedings took over a year.

It was a turbulent time for both Clara and Robert. Robert contemplated suicide and yet composed furiously. Clara too, expressed herself, with her own music.

MUSIC: Romance op 11

Nar: Romances by Clara Wieck, passionate music that reflected Clara's emotional state while she waited for the outcome of the legal battle for her right to marry Robert Schumann.


Part II - Part III - Playlist

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