Clara Schumann was a composer from Leipzig whose musical studies began with piano lessons from her mother at the age of 4. Her parents divorced when she was 5, leading her father, a music supplies merchant and pianist pedagogue, to take over her education. Clara gave her concert debut at the age of 9, going on to meet 18-year-old Robert Schumann at another performance the same year; hearing her play, he sought to study piano with her father. In 1837, Robert proposed marriage and Clara accepted, but her father strongly opposed the arrangement due to fears it would damage her musical career. Clara gave her first concert tour apart from her father’s influence in 1839, but the tour had to be cut short due to legal battles with her father over Robert’s marriage proposal. As a wedding gift, Robert presented Clara with a diary, intending to keep joint entries on their life experiences and musical growth. During their marriage, Clara had less time for practicing and composing, and understandably so, considering she would go on to raise 8 children of her own as well as the children of one of her sons. During this time she still managed to maintain an active performance career, which led to her meeting violinist Joseph Joachim, to whom the 3 Romances—of which you will hear one in this program—were dedicated, and who additionally introduced the Schumanns to young Johannes Brahms, who became a close family friend.
Robert Schumann, who struggled with mental illness throughout his life, attempted suicide in 1854 and requested entry to a mental ward. This caused further stress in the family, particularly for Clara, who was not permitted to see her husband, though Brahms was able to visit Robert during his two years in the ward. Already the main source of income for the family, Clara became the sole provider. She gave many performances during this time and was eventually allowed to be with Robert again just days before his death in 1856, becoming a widow at age 37.
Clara outlived half of her eight children. In 1878 she became the first piano teacher at Dr. Hoch's Konservatorium in Frankfurt -- the only female faculty member at the school during her lifetime. She had offers to teach at several other conservatories, but the director at Frankfurt was the only one who accepted all of her conditions to retain personal freedom in her lifestyle choices and needs, as well as to make provisions for two of her daughters to teach as well. She primarily taught young women and her daughters taught beginners, further building her reputation as a prestigious instructor and musical influence. She held this teaching position until 1892, and passed away four years later, leaving behind a legacy as a pianist, composer, and inspiring teacher, and despite receiving somewhat minimal recognition during her lifetime, today her work is highly regarded by many and takes an important role in romantic era literature. -- By Emily Singleton