On Clara Schumann’s 199th Birthday: The Countdown Begins!

Any other Clara Schumann fanatics out there? I’ve been a personal devotee of Clara the composer ever since I first listened in college to Barbara Bonney and Vladimir Ashkenazy’s recording, Robert & Clara Schumann Lieder. I was a Music major and voice student exploring new repertoire for upcoming recitals; while I already loved Robert Schumann’s famous Lieder, Clara’s music stopped me in my tracks, influencing me for years to come. I celebrate her birthday every September 13th, and we’re now approaching a very special one!

Schumann’s cadenzas for movements from Mozart’s D minor piano concerto, K. 466. Whittall Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

As we now start our official one-year countdown to Schumann’s bicentennial, I had to take a moment to highlight at least a peek at what Clara Schumann materials we have digitized, waiting for you to study and enjoy with a simple click. The Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Collection includes Clara Schumann’s manuscript cadenzas for the first and last movements of Mozart’s D minor piano concerto, K. 466. In fact, the Collection features two copies of her cadenzas: one rough copy, and one fair copy. Schumann first performed this particular concerto in Leipzig in early 1857, about half a year after Robert Schumann died in a sanatorium. This early 1857 performance at the Leipzig Gewandhaus marked the renewal of her performance career, a new means of supporting her family. She wrote of the experience:

I played Mozart’s D minor Concerto, for the first time in my life, and Beethoven’s Eroica Variations. I was terribly agitated! When the audience received me with a wqrmth as if every heart grieved with mine, I had to respond with all that was in me. I played well, except for the beautiful cadenzas of Johannes, which showed anxiety. (John N. Burk, Clara Schumann: A Romantic Biography, 344)

So it appears that Schumann borrowed Brahms’ original cadenza in her first performance of that concerto. Sometime during her more mature solo performance career, she would have composed her own cadenzas – though her own feature strong similarities to Brahms’ cadenzas. The strong ties did not escape Schumann, however. Nancy Reich describes in her book, Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman:

In 1891, when Clara was preparing an edition of her cadenzas, she was suddenly overwhelmed by guilt when she realized that the cadenzas to the Mozart D Minor Piano Concerto that she had been playing as her own had been borrowed largely from Brahms. She wrote to ask if she shouldn’t put his name on it too. Brahms answered that in that case, he would have to put her name on all his loveliest melodies, for “I owe more melodies to you than…passages you could take from me.” (Reich, 184)

Brahms’ cadenza for Mozart’s D minor piano concerto, K. 466. Whittall Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

And, wonderfully enough, we also hold Brahms’ manuscript copy of his cadenza for the first movement of Mozart’s D Minor Concerto, K. 466, which includes a note from Schumann in which she identifies the passages she used in her own cadenza (see images 13-15 in the digitized book of cadenzas).

We have so much more Clara Schumann material to share, from published sheet music, to manuscript music and correspondence, to extensive published literature about the Wunderkind, virtuoso and composer. I look forward to future blog posts and displays highlighting this magnificent musician!

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