Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Better Know a Composer: Clara Schumann

Her husband gets more attention today, but back in the 19th century Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was the star in the family.

With a performance career spanning six decades (she made her solo debut in Leipzig at the age of 11), Clara was Germany's reigning "Queen of Pianists" throughout most of the 1800s. Chopin, Liszt, and Mendelssohn dedicated works to her, and no less a cultural kingpin than Goethe was an enraptured fan of her playing.

She also served as Brahms's confidant, musical adviser, and muse from the time they met in 1850, when Brahms was an up-and-coming twenty-year-old, until her death.

She was a first-rate composer, although she was personally insecure about her skill at writing music. Clara's most popular piece during her lifetime was the Piano Trio, which she wrote in 1846. Only months later, her husband completed his inaugural work in the genre, and she often paired the pieces in concert. Here's the last movement, which includes a fugato section much admired by Mendelssohn: