The classical conversation is back in full swing for another week, and this time we’re shining the spotlight on one of the most distinguished pianists of the romantic era – Clara Schumann is our girl!
This lady managed a 61-year career (yes, you read that right!). How, you might ask? Well, being born into a family of musicians, Clara’s father – a professional pianist himself – was teaching her the ropes from the age of 4, using his own methods (his book was called “Wieck’s Piano Education for a Delicate Touch and Singing Sound”!). Turning out to be quite the child prodigy, Clara performed her first gig at 9 years old, to a full house in the Gewandhaus Concert Hall, Leipzig.
You might call her the T-Swift of the 1800s, as she continued to perform to sell-out crowds all over Europe, touring by the time she was 11 - and to an audience full of stars! Clara had the likes of Schubert, Chopin and Liszt attending her concerts, and giving fantastic reviews of them too. She became such a popular act in Vienna that she received the Königliche und Kaiserliche Österreichische Kammer-virtuosin (that’s the Royal and Imperial Austrian Chamber Virtuoso Award) - their highest honour!
Wise (and hilarious) Words
Clara first toured England in 1856, and we find her commentary on English society quite hilarious – she once voiced her displeasure in how little time was spent in rehearsals, stating that “they call it a rehearsal here if a piece is played through once”. Now who can still relate to that?!
Being a true freelance queen, Clara balanced her teaching career with her amazing performance schedule. She chose a position at Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium because it allowed her the freedom to take four months of vacation to go on tour! Being the only woman on the department, and of course her European fame, students travelled from all over the world to study with her, and most of these were women! It is through this teaching position that Clara Schumann would truly contribute to the development of classical piano technique.
She composed a huge body of work in her lifetime, often saying that:
“There is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.”
We’re with you, Schaz. But unfortunately, despite her hundreds of piano creations, her music was rarely played by anyone else, and sadly they were largely forgotten - that is, until the 1970s happened, and there was a Clara Schumann revival! This renewed interest in her work has kept its momentum, and her compositions are still performed more and more each year. Woo!
And you too can be a part of the Cla-revival, with RSL’s Classical Piano syllabus. As you might expect, considering her child genius and international performance career, you can find her in Grade 8, with her piece “Impromptu (Le Sabbat)”. A stunningly beautiful, and stunningly difficult piece of music to master, but channelling your inner prodigy seems like the only thing to do when Clara Schumann is involved!
If you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about one of the most successful women in classical music and want to get stuck in to some more, we’ve featured an incredible set of female composers on this blog, including Zenobia Powell Perry, Germaine Tailleferre, and Florence Price.