Clara Wieck Schumann was a renowned pianist and composer who lived from 1819—1896. She was the wife of Robert Schumann.
She was born in Leipzig, Germany, as Clara Wieck. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a piano teacher, music critic, and voice teacher. He also owned a piano store. Clara’s mother, Marianne Wieck née Tromlitz, was a very famous singer in Leipzig who gave many solo performances and recitals at the well-known Gewandhaus. Clara’s parents divorced in 1824 due to her mother’s affair with another gentleman. Marianne Wieck married her lover and Clara remained in her father’s custody.
Clara Wieck was recognized as a child prodigy by her father, who was a strict teacher. Her days were planned carefully and fully by Friedrich. Each day, she had hour long lessons in piano, violin, voice, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint. Then, she would have 2 hours of practicing, in each, using her father’s methods. The practice paid off, as she performed at 8 years of age at the home of Dr. Ernst Carus, the director of a well-known mental hospital. It was there where she met her future husband, Robert Schumann, who was so impressed with her playing that he asked his mother to quit his law studies so that he could learn piano under Friedrich Wieck. For a year, Schumann lived with the Wiecks and formed a bond with Clara. He sometimes pranked her by dressing as a ghost and scaring her. This strengthened their bond.
In 1830, Clara had a concert tour that started in her home city of Leipzig and ended in Paris, France. She had a solo concert at the Gewandhaus at Leipzig, the very venue where her mother used to perform often. In Weimar, she played for Goethe, who presented her with a medal in admiration of her talents. In Paris she had the opportunity to perform with Niccolo Paganini. Unfortunately, the Paris concert was not well attended, due to an outbreak of cholera. She had a very brilliant piano career up until her marriage to Robert Schumann when she was eighteen. Her father strongly opposed the match, not believing Robert to be worthy of his daughter. The couple was forced to take the case to court, and the judge ruled that they could marry. They married in 1837. She had seven children with Robert, and continued her career as a pianist and a composer and she became very famous throughout Europe. It is because of Clara, mainly, that her husband’s works became so well-known and renowned. Because of her husband’s depression, Clara was mainly in charge of household finances. She earned money mainly by performing, something her husband disliked for her. She loved performing while he did not. In 1853 she met the 20 year old Johannes Brahms, and remained friends with him until her death.
Robert Schumann died in 1856, after which Clara devoted herself to the interpretation of his music. She performed his music in many tours and concerts throughout Europe and the British Isles. In 1878 she was appointed to be teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, a post she kept until 1892, four years before her death. While in this position she contributed to the improvement of modern piano technique.
1891 marked her last public concert, and five years later in 1896 she died from a stroke.
Legacy: Clara Wieck Schumann was one of the most brilliant performers of her day. She was one of the first performers to play a piece by memory in concert, solidifying a standard for classical musicians that is even practiced today. She was not recognized as a composer until much later after her death, perhaps because she worked mostly in the shadows of her husband, Schumann, and her friend, Brahms. Her pieces are now widely performed in concert. The recognition of Robert Schumann’s work can be owed mostly to her, as she was almost obsessed with having him recognized as one of the greats. The only other great performer of her time to play Schumann exclusively was Franz Liszt.