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Clara Schumann 1838 - Lithograph by August Kneisel

Clara Schumann

March 15, 2024

Creators, performers, teachers, leaders, and trailblazers. In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, and continuing through the entire month, Noteworthy is profiling some of the groundbreaking and influential women composers whose extraordinary works and other accomplishments are only just beginning to receive the recognition they so richly deserve. 

When most people hear the name “Schumann”, they first picture Robert, one of the most important composers of the Romantic era—but they likely wouldn’t think of him at all if not for the formidable talents and efforts of his wife, Clara Schumann (1819–1896). Born Clara Wieck, she was instructed in piano and composition at a very early age by her severely demanding father, and began performing publicly at age 9. Robert, who was nine years older than Clara, attended one of her performances and was inspired to give up studying law and instead devote himself to music. In the 1830s, Clara toured a number of European cities including Paris and Vienna—regularly selling out houses, and performing for the likes of Goethe, Chopin, and Liszt. Her concert repertoire was wide-ranging, and she regularly performed her own compositions. At the age of 21, Clara wed Robert, and they would have eight children together. The task of supporting the family, including Robert’s artistic pursuits, fell largely to Clara whose primary source of income was touring. In 1854, Robert attempted suicide and subsequently admitted himself to a mental institution that he would never leave—dying two years later at 46. For the next several decades, Clara continued to tour—becoming one of the most celebrated pianists in Europe—and compose. She died at the age of 76, following a stroke, and she left behind a catalogue of more than 50 piano works that were essentially overlooked until the 1970s. They’ve been included on concert programs with increasing frequency ever since.

Clara completed her most famous composition—her Piano Concerto—when she was just 15, and she gave the première in 1835 under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn. Your Toronto Symphony Orchestra first performed the work in January 1995, as part of an educational concert for GTA students led by Boris Brott, and it was most recently presented in June 2022, with Tony Siqi Yun on the piano and TSO Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian on the podium. A lesser-known piece by Clara Schumann, the lieder Lorelei, was also performed by mezzo-soprano and 2023/24 TSO Spotlight Artist Emily D’Angelo as an entrancing encore during our Mahler’s Fifth concert last November.

Tony Siqi Yun performing Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in June 2022.
Photo by Jag Gundu

Composing gives me great pleasure…. There is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation.

Clara Schumann