Born in Leipzig in 1819, Clara Schumann, as she later became, was the first surviving child of Friedrich Wieck, a music-teacher who has perhaps suffered unduly through his opposition to her marriage to his former pupil, Robert Schumann. Wieck himself had first studied theology before turning to music and spent the earlier part of his career as a private tutor in various families. After his marriage in 1816, he settled in Leipzig, where he combined his activities as a musicteacher with those of a piano-dealer, hiring and selling pianos. With his daughter Clara he was able to pursue single-mindedly his strict but relatively enlightened principles of musical training. His concentration of attention on his eldest daughter became all the greater after his separation in 1824 and subsequent divorce from a woman who had her own career as a singer and pianist and later married Wieck's earlier friend and possible mentor, the piano-teacher Adolf Bargiel. Clara Wieck was trained as a musician and pianist and was able, by stages, to embark on a career as a performer. She made her first public appearance in 1828 at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig, playing a piano duet, Kalkbrenner's Variations on a March from Moses. She continued to play privately to friends, making her public debut as a solo artist at the Gewandhaus in 1830. The following years brought the first development of a brilliant career. In tours to Paris and throughout Germany, and in 1837 to Vienna, where she was feted and received the title of Royal and Imperial Virtuosa from the Emperor, she remained dependent on her father, who saw to all the practical details of such tours, acting both as teacher and manager.
It was in 1830 that Robert Schumann had first become involved in the Wieck circle in Leipzig. He had undertaken, at his widowed mother's behest, the study of law, but persuaded her, with the help of Friedrich Wieck's guarded recommendation, to allow him to study music with Wieck in Leipzig, lodging in the latter's house. As Clara Wieck grew older and more independent in spirit she found herself attracted to Schumann. Her father, however, was well aware of the latter's strengths and weaknesses, his unsteadiness of purpose and his underlying ability as a composer, if not as a pianist. For a time Schumann turned his attention to another of Wieck's pupils, Ernestine von Fricken, but this association was soon ended in favour of Clara, leading to their secret engagement in 1837.
In the months and years that followed, Wieck's opposition to Clara's proposed marriage grew in vehemence. Whatever his views of the suitability of Schumann as a husband, and here his paternal doubts might have been justified, he saw his daughter's marriage as an obstacle to a splendid career in which much had been invested. Increasing bitterness and a long, enforced separation led to an application by the young couple to the court for permission for Clara to marry without her father's consent. In 1839 she undertook a concert-tour to Paris without her father and the following year a decision was given in their favour and they were able to marry.
Robert and Clara Schumann remained, at first, in Leipzig. There were obviously conflicting interests, since she was at the outset of a very distinguished career and was practical and determined enough to manage her own life as a concert-artist. Schumann, on the other hand, had other needs. As a composer he demanded some limits on her necessary practice and would at times, it seemed, have been happy to have kept his young wife to himself. Nevertheless she found herself gradually able to overcome the difficulties that presented themselves, to cope with her husband's depressive moods and with the demands of child-birth in a succession of pregnancies that only ended with the birth of her eighth child in 1854. While giving her husband what encouragement she could as a composer and writer, she did her best to continue her own career. This stood her in good stead when, after some six years in Dresden, they moved to Dusseldorf, where Schumann took up a position to which he was in many ways unsuited, as director of music, obliged to deal regularly both with performers and with the demands of the city council, his employer.
Schumann's attempted suicide and breakdown in 1854 was followed by a final period in a private asylum at Endenich. Clara Schumann, supported by many friends, continued her concert career, the only practical means of supporting her young family and of meeting the hospital bills for her husband. She returned from a concert-tour to England in early July 1856, in time to see Schumann for the first time since his breakdown, two days before his death. By October she had resumed her work.
In the following years Clara Schumann showed remarkable resolution. There were, over the years, problems and tragedies to cope with, as her children grew up and suffered their own vicissitudes. Brahms, who had first met the Schumanns through the violinist Joachim in 1853, remained a loyal friend, in some ways taking the place of a father and of a husband in his advice and moral support. She dedicated herself, with a drive inherited, perhaps from her father, to the very practical matter of her family and to the further promotion of her husband's music, which she introduced gradually into her programmes, aware, always, of the practical needs of programming, if she was to retain her leading position in the concert world. In 1878 she settled in Frankfurt, coupling her continuing career with teaching at the Hoch Conservatory. Ten years later she undertook her final concert tour, to England and in 1891 gave her last concert in Frankurt. In 1896 she suffered a stroke and died on 20th May.
Clara Schumann's compositions were necessarily limited in number, but reflect the care her father had taken over her general musical education, supported by lessons in counterpoint in Berlin from Siegfried Dehn, who included Glinka and Anton Rubinstein among his pupils, and instruction from others in theory and composition in the course of her travels with her father. She wrote the first sketch of her Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7, her only extant orchestral composition, at the age of fourteen, in 1833, planning at first a singlemovement work. This she completed in November, leaving the orchestration to Schumann, which he duly finished in February 1834. This movement was to form the finale of what was to become a three-movement concerto, and formed part of her own concert repertoire. She tackled the first movement in the summer of 1834 and a year later was preparing the work for publication, having orchestrated it and written out the parts herself. The concerto was performed at the Gewandhaus in November 1835, with the composer as soloist, conducted by Mendelssohn. Further revision of the work was followed by publication of the piano part, with the orchestral parts as a supplement, in January 1837, with a dedication to Louis Spohr.
The three movements of the completed concerto are linked, like those of Mendelssohn's Concerto in G minor that he had performed in Leipzig for the first time in 1835. The opening movement, marked Allegro maestoso, starts with an orchestral tutti, announcing the first theme and leading to the entry of the soloist with ascending octave scale passages, punctuated by the orchestra, before the piano takes up the principal theme. Passage-work leads to the second subject and the modulations of the development, before a transition that proceeds directly to the second movement, an A flat major Romanze for piano and solo cello, with characteristically Brahmsian cross-rhythms. Timpani rolls are heard, as the slow movement draws to a close, assuming greater prominence as a trumpet call introduces the final Allegro non troppo and the entry of the soloist with the octaves of which Clara Wieck seems to have been so fond. Here there is more interplay between the soloist and the orchestra in a work of some virtuosity, ending in a rapid coda.
The Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17, was written some ten years later during the summer of 1846. Clara Schumann's fourth child, Emil, had been born in February and was to die a year later, and a summer holiday with her husband at Norderney on the North Sea brought a possible miscarriage, although her musical activities, geographically more circumscribed, continued. The form was one with which she was familiar as a performer, and her achievement seems to have provoked Schumann to his own Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 63, which he completed in 1847. She herself had organized a piano trio ensemble in Dresden and embarked on a series of chamber music recitals.
The first movement of the Piano Trio allows the violin the first statement of the principal subject, then taken up by the piano, duly leading to a secondary theme, a central development and a recapitulation. The B flat major Scherzo, with its perky rhythms within the restraints of a Tempo di Minuetto pace, frames an E flat major Trio, and the G major Andante allows the piano music of greater technical complexity than hitherto. The final Allegretto traditionally finds a place for an episode of fugal treatment of the principal theme, which shapes the coda, shared by violin and cello, with more elaborate piano accompaniment.