200 Years of Clara Schumann

Portrait of Clara Schumann by Carl von Jagemann. Wien, 1866. Inv.-Nr. 99.91, 16-B2. Aus Clara Schumanns Photoalben, ML417.S4 S96 2006

One year ago, I published a blog post declaring my excitement about a one-year countdown to Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday and highlighted Schumann’s manuscript cadenzas from the Library’s Whittall Foundation Collection, material that is digitized and available online. Now, finally, Clara’s big day has arrived!

200 years ago, in Leipzig, Germany, Marianne Tromlitz gave birth to her second of five children, a girl named Clara.  Tromlitz, a singer and pianist, had been married to piano teacher and businessman Friedrich Wieck for three years at the time. Wieck named his daughter “Clara,” meaning “brilliance,” in hopes of raising a virtuosa. Ultimately, through strict discipline and rigorous instruction, Wieck accomplished his goal in Clara, his Wunderkind. Clara’s formal musical training started when she was five years old and Wieck structured her daily routine and schooling so as to prioritize her artistic training. There was little socialization for Clara, though she enjoyed membership in her father’s music circle by the time she was nine years old. At 11 years old, Clara was preparing for her solo debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Shortly before her anticipated debut, her father welcomed a new boarder who had sought out piano study with Wieck – a 20-year-old former law student by the name of Robert Schumann. The two students followed Wieck’s rigorous regimen, and Clara found a companion in Schumann; he was nine years her senior, but Clara’s technique and musicality outshone Schumann’s and, as time went on, Robert would see Clara as a vehicle for performing his original music. Ultimately, by the time Clara was 16, the relationship shifted to one of romance. In a 2011 blog post I highlighted their courtship with a love letter from our Heineman Collection. Wieck was furious at the courtship and even more enraged at their engagement. Despite paternal vitriol and Friedrich Wieck’s smear campaign against his former student, the Schumanns married in 1840, inspiring Robert’s famous Year of Song.

Of course, Clara’s accomplishments extended beyond performance – she, too, composed stunning music. The Music Division is fortunate to hold a holograph manuscript for one of her last published works: her setting of the Hermann Rollett poem “An einem lichten Morgen,” the second song from her Sechs Lieder aus Jucunde, op. 23, composed in 1853. That year, Schumann wrote to her half sister, Marie, and commented that “To my great joy, all the pieces [opp. 20-23] were so well done that there was nothing that Robert wanted to change. So you see, as one gets older there are also many pleasures that only a more mature mind and feelings can bring.” (Nancy Reich, Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman, p. 215) It was reported that Rollett enjoyed the songs immensely and wrote to Robert Schumann, assuming that he had penned the music; Robert confirmed that the music was by Clara and, even if the composer wasn’t his wife, he would still very much recommend the songs. After writing op. 23, Clara asserted that “There is nothing that surpasses the joy of creative activity, even if only for those hours of self-forgetfulness in which one breathes solely in the realm of tones.” (Reich, Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman, p. 215) It is well documented that Schumann’s diary includes many self-deprecating remarks about her value as a composer; however, her enthusiasm for her op. 23 is unmistakable.

Holograph manuscript for Clara Schumann’s An einem lichten Morgen, op. 23 (Page 2 of 2). October, 1872. Call number ML96.S4148 no. 1

I’m thrilled that the Library’s 2019-2020 concert series will feature multiple Clara-centric events this December in celebration of her 200th birthday:

  • Screening of Twin Spirits on Thursday, December 5, 2019
    Sting and his wife Trudie Styler give life to the letters of Robert and Clara Schumann alongside performances of their music by Iain Burnside, Natalie Clein, Rebecca Evans, Simon Keenlyside, Sergei Krylov, and Natasha Paremski.

 

  • Concert devoted to Clara Schumann’s Works on Friday, December 6, 2019
    Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Kerry McDermott, cellist Maureen McDermott, and soprano Susanna Phillips perform a program of Clara Schumann’s works, including her Romances, Piano Trio, Lieder, and more.
    (Note that there will be a pre-concert lecture at 6:30pm in Whittall Pavilion as well as a post-concert “Nightcap” conversation with the artists onstage.)

 

Take some time today to celebrate Clara! And, of course, it is my sincere hope that any special attention the composer is paid during her bicentennial inspires a lifelong appreciation and enthusiasm for her distinctive voice. More questions about Clara Schumann or Schumann-related material in our collections? Contact a music reference librarian using our Ask A Librarian service.

Announcing the 2019-2020 Season

Concerts from the Library of Congress returns for a 95th season, packed with an impressive and richly diverse roster of more than 95 free events, including concerts, lectures, films, panels, conversations with artists and more. 2019-20 is a year of visionary legacies. In February we begin an adventurous and in-depth Beethoven at 250 festival that […]

Aaron Diehl’s Jazz Scholar residency at the Library of Congress

The following is a guest post by Library of Congress Jazz Scholar Aaron Diehl My visit to the Library of Congress in March was not my first introduction to its collections. In late 2016, jazz curator Larry Appelbaum kindly welcomed me to the Library in advance of a program I was creating featuring the music […]

Summer Concerts on the Lawn

The following is a guest post by Claudia Morales, Music Division THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS and WASHINGTON PERFORMING ARTS PRESENT FREE SUMMER CONCERTS ON THE LAWN Thursday evenings at 7pm, July 11 through August 15 Bring your dancing moves because our Concert Series is going to make you swing! The Library of Congress and Washington […]

Happy 95th Birthday to Max Roach

Today marks the 95th birthday of jazz drummer, bandleader and educator Max Roach (1924-2007). His papers are among the most heavily researched jazz archival collections in the Music Division revealing much about jazz and the intersection of modernism and the development of Black political consciousness in 20th-century music. And though the collection includes a draft […]

The Musical Life and Legacy of Artur Schnabel

Renowned pianist Artur Schnabel is best known for his recordings of a complete cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonatas, which he recorded from 1932-1935. His recording, the first ever made of the complete cycle of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas, to this day places him at the forefront of interpreting the composer’s piano works. Schnabel’s son […]