Clara Schumann, seemingly, could do it all. I'm the type of person who gets tired after a full week of work, happy to relax on the weekend and enjoy some downtime. On the other hand, Clara was an extraordinarily busy woman. Not only did she raise eight children, but additionally gave frequent piano concerts, composed, taught, and maintained the Schumann family finances as the main provider for the household. This hectic lifestyle came after a childhood spent under her extremely strict father, with her first concert given at age nine. Reading about her accomplishments and work ethic alone feels exhausting!
Some of Clara's lasting impacts on the music world are related to performing: she toured relentlessly for most of her life, championing contemporary composers Chopin, Brahms, and her husband. She also performed recitals and concertos from memory, one of the first pianists to do so, setting a standard that lasts to this day.
I wholeheartedly love Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto, composed by her at an astonishing 14 years old, and which I occasionally catch playing here on WNED Classical. It's a beautiful piece and the early work of an exceptional musical talent.
Clara herself was ambivalent about composing, often taking on some of the beliefs of her time about women in the field, but husband Robert and friend Johannes Brahms both encouraged her in her creative expression. Robert lamented how little time she had for it: "...to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out."
Sadly, we only have 23 published works by Clara. Given the circumstances of her life, I am grateful that we have her music to enjoy now at all. Still, one wonders, as her husband did, if the world did not miss out on more masterpieces by a brilliant musical mind.