History has never witnessed a more perfect
union of two similar natures,
both endowed with rich mental gifts, and each filled with a perfect
sympathy for the other, than the marriage of Robert Schumann and Clara
Wieck. It holds a place in the story of music similar to that occupied
by the romance of Abelard and Heloise in poetry. The lives of both
composers afford an example of the most unselfish devotion and depth of
affection, combined with the highest idealism in an art that poets
themselves have admitted to be even nobler than their own.
The birth of Clara Wieck, on
September 13, 1819, took place at Leipsic.
That city had not yet entered upon the period of musical greatness that
it was soon to enjoy. The day of Beethoven and Schubert was apparently
passing, and only the lighter and more trivial styles of composition
held sway. Her father, however, Friedrich Wieck, was a piano teacher of
extensive reputation and most excellent qualities, and did his best to
raise the standard of the place. From him, and from her mother as well,
the young Clara inherited her innate musical taste. But the maternal
influence was not of long duration, for domestic troubles soon caused
the separation of Wieck and his wife, the latter marrying the father of
Woldemar Bargiel, while the former also entered into a second union,
with Clementine Fechner at Leipsic. A daughter of this second marriage,
Marie Wieck, won some fame as a pianist, but was far surpassed by her
Clara did not at first show signs of
becoming a child prodigy, but in
her fifth year she gave indications of possessing musical talent, and
her careful father proceeded at once to develop her powers. So
successful were his individual methods that in four years she was able
to play Mozart and Hummel concertos by heart, and ready to sustain her
part in public. Her first appearance was in conjunction with Emilie
Reichold, one of her father's older pupils, with whom she played
Kalkbrenner's variations on a march from "Moses." One important paper
the time spoke of her success as universal and well deserved, and did
not hesitate to predict a great future for
her under her honoured
father's wise guidance.
Wieck has been the subject of much
criticism on account of his supposed
harshness and severity. In the matter of Clara's musical training,
however, these charges cannot be sustained, as one of her own letters
will show. "My father has come before the world in an entirely false
light," she writes, "because he took art earnestly, and brought me up
regard it earnestly. People have no idea how utterly different from the
usual standards must be the whole education and career of any one who
wishes to accomplish something worth while in art. In connection with
artistic development, my father kept the physical development
in view also. I never studied more than two hours a day in the earliest
times, or three in later years; but I had also to take a daily walk
him of just as many hours to strengthen my nerves. Moreover, while I
not yet grown up, he always took me home from every entertainment at
o'clock, as he considered sleep before midnight necessary for me. He
never let me go to balls, as he judged I could use my strength for more
important things than dancing; but he always let me go to good operas.
In many free hours I used to grow enthusiastic over piano arrangements
of operas and other music. One cannot do
that when one is tired out.
Besides that, I had, even in earliest youth, intercourse with the most
distinguished artists. They, and not dolls, were the friends of my
childhood, though I was not deprived of the latter. Those people who
have no comprehension of such a serious bringing up ascribed it all to
tyranny and severity, and held my accomplishments, which may indeed
been more than those of a child, to be impossible unless I had been
forced to study day and night. As a matter of fact, it was wholly my
father's genius for teaching that brought me so far, by cultivation of
the intellect and the feelings united with only moderate practice."
"To my pain," she continues, "I must say
that my father has never been
recognized as he deserved to be. I shall thank him during my entire
lifetime for the so-called severities. How would I have been able to
live through a career of art, with all the heavy difficulties that were
laid upon me, if my constitution had not been so strong and healthy
because of my father's care?"
About this time there came upon the
scene a youth named Robert Schumann.
Born in 1810, of a family that was literary rather than musical, he had
obtained some knowledge of the art with his father's consent. After the
death of the latter, his mother would not
hear of his choosing a
musical career, but insisted on his studying law. This he did at
Heidelberg, in a rather original manner,—taking long walks, reading
Jean Paul's works, and practising piano nearly all day. In the summer
met Wieck, whom he adopted as a teacher, and in this way he came to
the learned pedagogue's talented daughter.
Her musical education was now beginning
to bear fruit. In the concert
tours that she began soon after her first triumph, she never allowed
herself to be carried away by the fondness of the public for mere
display, but always aimed at something higher. Instead of making a show
of her technical attainments, she consecrated her powers to the cause
true art. It required great courage to uphold her standard, for she
upon the scene at a time when only phenomenal playing, bristling with
seemingly unconquerable difficulties, won the public homage and the
public wealth. Herein both she and her future husband showed themselves
actuated by the very highest motives.
Unfortunately for the romantic side of
the story, theirs was not a case
of love at first sight. No less than five years after their first
meeting, we find Schumann deeply interested in a certain Ernestine von
Fricken, another pupil of Wieck. It is stated
that the beautiful
numbers of the "Carneval" were due largely, if not wholly, to her
inspiration, which at that time reached its highest point. The
letters A, S, C, and H (the German way of notating B) represent the
Bohemian town of Asch, where she was born, and are also the only
letters in Schumann's own name. He himself noted this coincidence in a
letter to Moscheles, and built the themes of the various numbers almost
wholly upon them.
However this may be, he certainly had a
great admiration for Clara even
in her early years. He took piano lessons of her father, and became for
a time an inmate of their house. He owed much to the teaching, but
more to the stimulating artistic society of the Wieck family.
In 1829 he left his teacher, and made a
final effort to prepare for the
legal career that his mother had planned for him. It was of little
avail, however, for in the next year we find him writing home that his
entire life had been "but a twenty years' strife between poetry and
prose,—or music and law,—and it must now cease." So earnestly did he
plead his case that his mother at last yielded to his wishes, though
with fear and trembling, and the final
decision was referred to Wieck.
That artist, who had by this time fully recognized Schumann's great
gifts, gave his decision in favour of music, and the young enthusiast,
after having his affairs duly settled, returned to Leipsic and devoted
himself altogether to art.
It is probable that he would have given
himself wholly to the career of
a successful pianist, but for an accident. After a year of painstaking
practice, he invented a contrivance by which the weaker fingers were
allowed to gain strength by usage, while the third finger was held
This mechanism was altogether too successful, for, after using it some
time, he found his third finger so badly crippled that he was forced to
give up hope of ever winning fame on the concert stage. What seemed a
catastrophe to him has proven a blessing to the world, for, if he had
spent his life in executing the works of others, he would never have
the leisure to create his own immortal compositions.
Meanwhile Clara was steadily improving
her already remarkable powers.
Besides keeping up her playing, she now began regular study in
composition. In later life the two were to labour together in many
pieces, but even at this time Schumann's interest in her work was
and in one of his early compositions (Impromptu, Op. 5) we find him
using a theme of hers as the basis of his own piece.
The eleven-year-old girl was now started
upon a series of tours by her
father, who wished to give her some idea of the world, and to let the
world gain some knowledge of her attainments. From Dresden he writes
home joyfully to his wife: "It is impossible to describe the sensation
that your two little monkeys from the Leipsic menagerie have made
But the fatherly care and wisdom were not lacking, for he continues: "I
am anxious lest the honours and distinctions should have a bad
upon Clara. If I notice anything of the sort, then I shall travel
further at once, for I am too proud of her modesty, and would not
exchange it for any decoration in the world." In the next year the
triumphs were continued at Weimar, Cassel, and Frankfurt. After winning
the approval of Spohr and other competent judges who were above all
envy, she proceeded to Paris, where her father had the proud privilege
of exhibiting her talents to Chopin. In Weimar, Goethe took a deep
interest in the wonderful child, and sent his picture to the "Richly
endowed (Kunstreichen) Clara Wieck," as a token of the pleasure
playing had given him.
As the result of her Parisian meeting
with Chopin, she became one of
the best interpreters of that master's works, and gave them to the
in much the same manner that she did those of Schumann soon afterward.
Usually her work in educating the public was successful. But critics
not all safe guides, and even to-day we find many unmusical men in
responsible newspaper positions, so it is not surprising to find an
occasional misunderstanding occur. In Vienna, for instance, we find the
influential but self-important Rellstab writing that it is "a shame
she is in the hands of a father who allows such nonsense as Chopin's to
be played." These strictures did not extend to the performance,
and the writer does not fail to acknowledge her marked talent.
bears witness to the "lively sensation" she created on the banks of the
Seine, while along the Danube she won victory on victory. The
aristocracy were eager to admit her to their circle, and the Austrian
Empress named her court virtuoso, an honour never before bestowed on a
Some time before this, she had won the
attention and interest of the
young Schumann, if nothing more. He had been at work on a symphony in G
minor (which, by the way, proved a failure and was never published),
the performance of the first movement in his native Zwickau took place
at a concert given there by Clara, then only thirteen. Even then her
performance was astonishing, and, as Schumann put it, "Zwickau was
with enthusiasm for the first time in its life." Schumann was no less
excited than the rest of the town. His letters of that time are full of
expressions that seem to betray a deeper feeling, though he himself did
not become conscious of it until later. "Call her perfection," he
to a friend, "and I will agree to it." In a Leipsic tribute, he
inquires: "Is it the gifted child of genius (Wunderkind), at
stretch of a tenth people shake their heads, but admire? Is it the
hardest of difficulties, which she throws off to the public as if they
were wreaths of flowers? Is it perhaps mere pride, with which the city
looks upon its daughter; or is it because she gives us the most
interesting things of the most recent times with the least delay? I do
not know; but I do feel, simply, that she has the spirit that compels
The great poets, too, gave her their
tributes of praise. "They
recognized in this inspiring vision," says Liszt, "a true daughter of
their fatherland. They strewed their pearls of song before her, and
glorified this Benjamin of their race, who, gazing about with inspired
glances and wondrous smiles, seemed like a
silent Naiad, who felt
herself a stranger in the land of prose."
Meanwhile the love that had been growing
in silence between her and
Schumann began to take tangible form. His unspoken passion found
expression in the written rhapsodies addressed to "Chiarina" in his new
music journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. In a more
musical manner, his feelings took shape in such works as his
"Daidsbündler" Dances, the "Chiarina" of the Carnival, the F-Sharp
Sonata, the Kreisleriana, the Humoreske, the Novelettes, and the
Nocturnes,—truly an offering of rare beauty, and well worthy to express
the feelings of the inspired lover. They bore witness of his adoration
to all who knew him, and all who were able to listen with understanding
ears. And Clara, too, in spite of high honours and higher friendships,
had already given her heart to the silent man endowed with the deep
spirit of romance and poetry. She was his, in spite of the opposition
her father, who guarded his treasure with a jealous eye, and would hear
of no marriage unless in the distant future.
It was in 1836 that the two lovers came
to an understanding. In the next
summer Schumann made formal mention of his suit to her father. Wieck's
refusal may have been due to his entertaining
higher hopes for his now
famous daughter, but at any rate the father found an adequate reason in
the vague and unsubstantial prospects of the young composer. This was a
sad blow, but Schumann tacitly acknowledged its justice, for he soon
began making efforts to better his condition, instead of working only
for the glory of art. Although he tried to resign himself to give Clara
up, he could not do so, and with her consent he left for Vienna in
of giving his music journal a broader field. The effort was not a
success; Schumann found Vienna no less trivial in its tastes than many
other places, and wrote home that people could "gabble and gossip quite
as much as in Zwickau." His sojourn there had one important result in
his discovery of Schubert's beautiful C major Symphony, which he sent
Mendelssohn for performance at the Leipsic Gewandhaus.
Disappointed in material prospects, he
tried to obtain a more honourable
position by getting a Doctor's degree from the University of Jena. "You
know, perhaps, that Clara is my betrothed," he writes to an influential
friend. "Her high rank as an artist has often led me to consider my own
humble position, and, although I know how modest she is, and that she
loves me simply as a man and a musician, still I think it would please
her to have me seek a higher position in
the civic sense of the word.
Let me ask you: Is it very hard to get a Doctor's degree at Jena?"
Apparently it was not hard when a man of Schumann's fame applied, for
another letter he writes: "Everything combined to fill the measure of
joy. The eulogy is so glorious that I certainly owe you a large share
thanks for it. It gave me and my friends most sincere pleasure. The
first thing I did was, of course, to send a copy into the north to a
girl who is still a child, and who will dance with glee at the idea
she is engaged to a Doctor."
But Wieck's refusal to sanction the
marriage could not be altered. In
fact, his opposition became even stronger and more determined. Finding
any direct appeal of no avail, Schumann was forced to have recourse to
law, and Wieck was compelled to give reason for his refusal before a
legal tribunal. Although Schumann was not rich, yet he possessed some
income from his paper, and his other work brought him enough reward to
enable him to make a home for Clara. Besides these receipts, he had a
small property that gave him an annual return of 500 thalers, and as he
himself wrote: "We are young, and have hands, strength, and
reputation.... Tell me now if there can be real cause for fear."
Nevertheless the case dragged on, and a nature
as sensitive as his must
have been deeply mortified by the legal wrangling and the publicity of
the affair. At last a favourable decision was reached, and after a year
of doubt and suspense the marriage took place on September 12, 1840.
Henceforth their life was one perfect
union. There could be no happier
marriage in the world than this one, where a man of creative genius was
mated with a woman gifted with the ability and the wish to interpret
works earnestly and faithfully. They regarded art from different
but with the same ideas and ideals. Both were wholly devoted to all
was true and noble, and both felt the same antipathy to whatever was
trivial or superficial. Together they moved along the pathway of life;
together they won their laurels. "To admire one or the other was to
admire both," says Liszt, "for, though they sang in different tongues,
their life music made but one noble harmony. The annals of art will
never divide the memory of these two, and their names can never be
And now Schumann's happiness began to
take tangible form and show itself
to the world. Hitherto his compositions had been chiefly for the
pianoforte, but now his genius burst forth in song. Cycle followed
during the next few years, and the
fortunate lover sang of his
happiness in strains of such romantic beauty that their charm can never
fade while love and music have power to sway the passions of mankind.
The warm feeling and emotion in the poems of Rückert, of Chamisso,
Heine, were echoed and intensified by the choicest melodies of the art
that is said to begin its expression where language ends. That Clara
some direct share in these songs, besides publishing many of her own,
there can be no manner of doubt. She certainly formed their
and must have assisted in the task of preparing them.
These works placed Schumann in the
foremost rank of song composers, and
he is now held equal to Schubert and Franz in this form, if not
the greatest song-writer in the world. Franz is more delicate, Schubert
more simply melodious, but Schumann's songs are endowed with a warm
vigour of strong emotion that has never been equalled. His
contemporaries felt their force, but hardly realized their full power,
for one of the writers on Schumann's own paper accorded them only a
secondary rank. "In your essay on song-writing," the composer replies,
"it has somewhat distressed me that you should have placed me in the
second rank. I do not ask to stand in the first, but I think I have
pretensions to a place of my own."
Posterity has been proud to place
him with the foremost.
In other matters besides those relating
to art, the marriage was
perfectly happy. Both husband and wife possessed simple domestic
and both were endowed with the innate modesty that prevented their
harmed by the continual praise of the world. They lived for each other,
and for their children. He modelled his compositions on lines to suit
her artistic nature, and she threw herself ardently into the task of
giving these works to the world. Her days were spent in winning fame
him, or in shielding his sensitive and irritable nature from too rude
contact with the world. Now that his life was one of perfect
tranquillity, he withdrew more than ever from intercourse with
strangers, and became wholly absorbed in his domestic felicity and his
creative work. The complete happiness of his married life was bound to
produce its effect on his nature, and not only in the songs, but in the
larger works also, his most beautiful music is due to the inspiring
influences of this part of his life.
After a time his wife was able to entice
him from the quiet home (first
in Leipsic, then Dresden, and finally Düsseldorf) that sheltered
scene of domestic harmony. Sometimes her tours were
taken alone, but at
last she was able to draw him with her into the world. In Germany, in
the Netherlands, in Austria, even in Russia, constant triumphs awaited
them. There were a few exceptions, chief among them being Vienna, the
city where Mozart struggled so long in vain, and where Gluck was unable
to produce more than a passing impression by his great operatic
But nearly all the places they visited offered admiration and incense
the faithful pair of artists. Through Schumann's genius, that of his
wife was influenced, and Clara Schumann became far greater than Clara
Wieck had ever been. She became a true priestess of art. She did not
rest until she gave the world a clear understanding of the depth of
thought in his great works. She made her fame serve his, and considered
the recognition of his qualities her own reward. Yet it still happened
at times that this recognition came slowly, and in Vienna, as late as
1846, he was spoken of merely as the husband of Clara Wieck, and after
the court concert given by her, some one turned to him with the
question: "Are you musical, too?"
Gradually the perfect happiness was
marred by the growing sickness of
Schumann. Always extremely nervous and excitable, he had on one or two
earlier occasions been forced to forego work.
In 1851 the disease
became evident again. By degrees his conduct grew more and more
eccentric, and he became a victim of actual delusions. He often
that he heard one particular note, or certain harmonies sounding, or
voices whispering messages of hope or of sorrow. One night the spirits
of Schubert and Mendelssohn seemed to reveal a theme to him, upon which
he tried to complete a set of variations. At times he would work calmly
and sensibly, but one day, in a fit of mental anguish, he left his
house, alone, and threw himself into the Rhine. Rescued by some
he went home to experience a few more lucid periods, but insanity
gradually mastered him. His last two years were spent in a private
asylum near Bonn, where he died July 29, 1846. His wife, who had been
a tour in London, returned just in time to witness his end. He was
buried in Bonn, near the tombs of Beethoven and Schubert.
As widow, Clara Schumann continued
faithfully the work of her married
life. Her many tours were still a means of performing her husband's
music, and she was able to know that her life-work was successful in
Germany at least. Soon after his death, the name of Schumann became
immortal, and the very peculiarities of his work were recognized as
essentially national in character. His
widow found a home with her
mother in Berlin, where she stayed for four years, and whither she
returned after twelve years in Baden-Baden. In 1878 she became chief
teacher of piano in the school founded by Doctor Hoch at Frankfort, and
there for ten years she lived and worked with the most complete
In 1892 she retired from her labours, and on May 19, 1896, her long
of usefulness came to a quiet end. Five days later she was laid at rest
with her husband in the peaceful little cemetery at Bonn.
In private life, as well as in public
performance, her personality
remained one of earnest simplicity and nobility of thought. She was
admired and loved by all who knew her, and when failing health
her to give up her teaching, their affection showed itself in the
substantial form of a large subscription.
Her compositions, according to the
foremost critics, are not numerous,
but show the sincerity of purpose that marks all her work. Even her
earliest pieces, chiefly short dance forms for piano, are redeemed from
triviality by interesting rhythms and fresh, almost abrupt,
They are mostly delicate rather than forceful, with frequent ornaments
and staccato passages that require a light and skilful touch. Among her
later and more serious works, the G
minor trio is musicianly and
interesting; the three cadences to Beethoven concertos are charming
examples of their kind, and the preludes and fugues (Op. 16) form an
excellent legato study, and are eminently successful in construction as
well. A piano concerto, Op. 7, dedicated to Spohr, is short and poorly
balanced, the first movement being a single solo leading into the
andante. The later works, especially the songs, show plainly the
influence of her husband's great genius. The list of her published
compositions is as follows:
Op. 1, Quartre Polonaises, piano.
Op. 2, Caprices en Forme de Valses, piano.
Op. 3, Romance Variée, piano.
Op. 4, Valses Romantiques, piano.
Op. 5, Four Piéces Caracteristiques, piano.
Op. 6, Soirées Musicales, 6 pieces, piano.
Op. 7, Piano Concerto in A minor.
Op. 8, Variations de Concert (Pirate de Bellini), piano.
Op. 9, Souvenir de Vienne, Impromptu, piano.
Op. 10, Scherzo for piano.
Op. 11, Three Romances, piano.
Op. 12, Three Songs from Rückert's "Liebesfrühling."
Op. 13, Six Songs.
Op. 14, Second Scherzo, piano.
Op. 15, Four Piéces Fugitives, piano.
Op. 16, Three Preludes and Fugues, piano.
Op. 17, Trio, G minor, for piano, violin, and 'cello.
Op. 18 and 19 did not appear.
Op. 20, Piano variations on a theme of Robert Schumann.
Op. 21, Three Romances, piano.
Op. 22, Three Romances, piano and violin.
Op. 23, Six Songs from Rollet's "Jucunde."
Without opus number, Cadenzas to
Beethoven's concertos, Op. 37 and 58;
Song, "Liebeszauber," Geibel; Andante and Allegro for piano; Song, "Am
Strand;" and a march in E flat, composed in 1879 for a golden wedding.
Clara Schumann edited Breitkopf and
Härtel's edition of her husband's
works, and issued a volume of his early letters.