Remembering the Schumanns’ Love Through Letters

Portrait of Robert Schumann, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! As this blog has revealed to us over the last 14 months, the Music Division holds a plethora of materials in its collections including manuscript scores, correspondence, business papers, iconography, and yes – even love letters. There’s not a romance in the history of classical composers that has received more attention than that between the Romantic composer and critic Robert Schumann and piano virtuoso and composer Clara Wieck. The two met in 1828 when Robert sought the tutelage of Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck. When Robert moved into the Wieck household in 1830, he was 20 and Clara was only 11. It’s difficult to know exactly when their friendship blossomed into romance, though Robert does indicate that they shared their first kiss in 1835 just months after Clara’s 16th birthday.

Robert and Clara’s relationship was not well received by Friedrich who had provided and enforced Clara’s strict piano study so that she might fulfill the future career he envisioned for her. As a result, Robert and Clara’s courtship was forced to endure distance, uncertainty, and even court proceedings. Before they were married, the romance was sustained via secret meetings and love letters, one of which we hold in the Heineman Collection (call number ML31.H43i S38). The letter to Clara, handwritten by Robert, is dated June of 1838. By this time, Robert had already insisted that he and Clara commit to marrying by Easter of 1840 (although it wouldn’t actually happen until September of 1840). The letter we hold, composed weeks after Robert’s 30th birthday, is full of anguish and longing as Robert announces, “I’m so desperate to see you, to press you to my heart, that I am awfully sad – and sick, too. I don’t know what’s wrong with me – and yet I do; I miss you. I see you everywhere; you walk back and forth with me in my room; you lie in my arms, and nothing, nothing is true. I’m sick.”

The Schumanns persevered, having left us with not only an invaluable repertoire of evocative, introspective, and deeply personal music, but also documentation of a significant portion of their intimate relationship and marriage via their correspondence and marriage diaries. You can look up several films that have dramatized the turbulent courtship of this musical and historical power couple including Frühlingssinfonie (1983), Song of love (1947, featuring Katharine Hepburn as Clara Wieck), and Geliebte Clara (2008).

A Happy Valentine’s Day to all of our readers! May those of you celebrating romance today enjoy a less tumultuous relationship than the Schumanns’ – but one, perhaps, infused with the passion that Robert and Clara shared.

2 Comments

  1. R Samawicz
    February 17, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Thanks so much, Cait. I’m going to mention this today on the tour today (Thurs Feb 17). We have Special Topics Tours in the Jefferson, and today is my turn to give the Performing Arts at LC tour. So romantic–the LC is sizzling!

  2. D Steadman
    February 18, 2011 at 11:01 am

    So passionate! Great post Cait – thanks!

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