October 2017 Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

            Clara Weick (1819-1896) was born in Germany Leipzig, Germany. Her father, a noted pianist and teacher in his day, wished to create a world-class pianist out of his daughter – which he did. Clara began lessons at age five and, by age nine, she was concertizing. Her talent was notable and she played with a beauty that was mesmerizing. Clara’s talent was compared to Franz Liszt who has been considered by many the best virtuoso pianist to have ever lived. Clara successfully concertized as a solo pianist for six decades, making a full career as a woman in the 1800’s.

            Clara met composer Robert Schumann when he, as a young and aspiring pianist, began taking lesson with her father. Clara and Robert fell in love; however, when a hand injury proved terminal for Robert’s piano playing, Clara’s father turned on Robert and forbade her to see him. Clara’s father purposefully scheduled endless concert tours for Clara to separate and drive a wedge between the young lovers. After five years of angst and struggle, when Clara became of age, they married, but without her father’s consent.

            Clara and Robert had a strong marriage. Together they had eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Clara and Robert were a cornerstone of musical life in the Romantic Era. Clara’s continued concertizing earned the family their main income while Robert’s compositions and acclaimed magazine earned them prestige and a genuinely authoritative voice in the musical world. To know the Schumann’s was to have networked almost to the top!

            In the winter of her life, Clara continued to perform, was the primary teacher of piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, and edited the bulk of her husband’s piano music, a gift to all pianists worldwide. 


Listening as an Event

Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 17    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzF3C-GZkSo

            Clara Schumann had a genuine interest and talent for composition. She composed a plethora of music, mostly piano solos, but also chamber works and lieders (German songs). The works are masterful, artistic, and definitively romantic. The Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 17, composed in 1846, is a selection of chamber music called a piano trio. Chamber music refers to a piece composed for a smaller group (better suited for a small room or chamber) in which there is one instrument per part. This is in contrast to orchestral music in which multiple instruments play each part. A piano trio specifically has a piano, a violin, and a cello. Clara’s Op. 17 is in G minor spans just over 30 minutes and showcases four movements:

            allegro moderato

            scherzo and trio



At various points of each movement, each instrument functions both as solo and ensemble, sometimes having the spotlight individually, other times taking a secondary roll, but, all the while, creating a whole greater than the parts.

            As you listen, watch the interaction between the musicians: it is clear that they are consciously listening to each other and at one with the artistic heart of the piece. They look at each other as a theme passes from one instrument to the next; they move in sync at melodic, dynamic, or rhythmic high points; they listen for nuances and subtle musicality, knowing, when, for example, to enter and at exactly what dynamic level, after a ritardando. Such active listening is essential for chamber work. In fact, such active listening is essential for any musician, whether in performance, practice, or as an audience member! Music is a subjective and living entity that comes to life in performance through the performer, to the audience. The whole experience involves everyone at the performance, and requires, for full affect, the active listening of each person. No two performances are the same and each requires the musicians to be 100% focused on the music every moment! A performance is, in and of itself, an experience of engaged listening as an event.

            When you sit down to listen to this piece, decide if you are going to listen to one movement, two, three, or all four. Are you going to do it all at once, or one movement now and another later?  However you choose, when the time comes, make sure you have enough uninterrupted time allotted. Challenge yourself to stay in the heart of the sound every moment. If you find your mind has drifted, pull it back to the sound; to the music. As Daniel Barenboim stated in the video sitedin the first blog entry, art music can only be truly experienced if you give yourself fully to it, one hundred percent. The more you give, the more you get. When you allow yourself to be at one with a piece of music, you feel as though you have been on an epic journey upon its completion – like a great movie. You are captivated and changed by the experience and it does not wear off for a while. When you finish listening, allow yourself to stay in the experience and welcome the change.


Giere, J. (1835). Clara weick. [Digital image]. Retreived from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clara_Wieck_im_Alter_von_15_Jahren.jpg

Greenberg, R. 23 Great masters: Robert and clara schumann—their lives and music. The Teaching Company, Chantilly, Virginia. Lectures 1-8. 2002. CD.

Suggestedlisteing (Clara Schumann). (n.d.). Retrieved from