Clara and Robert Schumann: A love affair with obstacles
"I’ll be playing the "Ada" Adagio from Chopin’s Variations tomorrow at 11 a.m. sharp, and I’ll be thinking very strongly of you. Now the request that you would like to do the same, that we see and meet spiritually." (Robert Schumann)
What a romantic declaration of love! Because Robert Schumann is not allowed to meet his beloved Clara, they meet each other in thought. And serving as a link to them – the music! Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, himself a musician and at the same time music teacher of the two, forbids any meeting, no matter how short it may be. He does not want to give Clara away. In the end, the 13-year-old girl is much more than his daughter: he considers her his musical work of art.
But he does not think much of Robert. The ban puts the two lovers to a hard test. For years. They almost never see each other, they seldom manage to send each other letters. But one thing remains for them: Music binds them tightly together.
Robert Schumann finds his love for music at an early age
Robert Schumann arrives in Leipzig exactly 200 years ago, on the 8th of March. June 1810, in the city of Zwickau in Saxony to the world. Even as a small boy, he is almost magically attracted to art and has no other desire than to play the piano. In art, he feels, lies his talent, his genius. Robert’s father fulfills his wish, buys a grand piano and commissions the organist of the Marienkirche in Zwickau to teach his son.
Robert is blessed! His feelings resonate in every note he strikes, often sad, longing, sometimes rapturous. Nevertheless, Robert can’t decide for a long time which art he loves more – music or literature. He writes just as passionately. What moves him, he entrusts to his diary, which he will keep throughout his life; expresses it in plays and poems.
Robert and Clara Schumann get to know each other during piano lessons
Clara, on the other hand, nine years younger, senses from early childhood that tones are her language, notes her writing. She learns conspicuously late to speak first words and sentences. The girl turns 13. Born in Leipzig on September 1819, he lives with his father after his parents divorce. When Clara’s little fingers just manage to press the keys of the grand piano, her father gives her her first piano lessons. Every day she practices scales, soon learns pieces. At the age of eleven she gives her first concert.
In the same weeks she gets to know Robert. He moved into the Wieck family home in Leipzig after dropping out of his studies – as a pupil of the master of the house. Robert is impressed by the young girl’s playing, the fast runs, the complicated chords. Sometimes the two make music together, play four-handed on the piano, and now and then Robert reads bedtime stories to Clara.
She is still a child. Robert enjoys these cheerful moments. For otherwise he seldom felt really well and satisfied. Sometimes he practices obsessively, then again he drinks the nights away in pubs and then spends whole days depressed in bed.
Robert knows no measure. He stretches his fingers to the utmost so that he can improve their independence from each other and grasp chords even better. For this purpose he builds a special apparatus to stretch his fingers. They should become more nimble and supple. But the student takes it too far, he hurts himself. A finger becomes stiff and remains so throughout his life.
Robert decides to become a great composer
The 22-year-old reproaches himself. However – to think up music, one does not have to be able to play it perfectly. Robert decides to become a great composer and to write a real symphony. He also founds the "Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik", in which he discusses the works of other artists, criticizes and praises them. Friedrich Wieck also criticizes – Robert, that is. The teacher has no understanding for the fact that he stays up all night. Finally Robert moves out.
But he misses Clara. The now 13-year-old wrote Robert Schumann letters, increasingly frequently. At some point, the word "love" appears on the page on the paper. And Clara? The girl has long admired the composer. The mere thought that he might love her makes her blush.
Two years pass before they become closer: Clara celebrates many successes as a pianist. Now she travels to Zwickau, Robert’s birthplace, where she is to give a concert. Her father is not there this time.
The artist couple is married in 1840
For this Robert followed her – secretly. They meet, and for the first time since they have known each other, Robert dares to give Clara a kiss. "I never forget this kissing. You were too sweet that evening", Robert Schumann later wrote in his diary. The two never want to part again. But Friedrich Wieck forbids a wedding.
Only in 1840, five years after their first kiss, Robert notes: "Happy day and end of the fight." The two finally get married – even against their father’s will.
The licentious artist Robert transforms himself into a righteous husband in the following years. While he used to compose rapturous songs and lively piano pieces on a whim, he now regularly sits at his desk or at the piano, almost like a civil servant. Point by point, note by note, he writes down great orchestral symphonies, string quartets and a stage play.
He must earn money. After all, Clara has hardly any time left to give concerts and thus contribute something to the household budget. She has to take care of her children. There will be seven in the end. She has her first child, Marie, at the age of 22. Robert soon presents the girl with music. "I wrote the first pieces in the album for our oldest child for his birthday", he notes in his diary. Meaning the pieces he eventually collected as an "Album for Youth" published.
Clara outlives Robert Schumann by 40 years
But then a bad time begins. Shortly after his 43rd birthday. Robert suffers a stroke on his 200th birthday. When he feels a little better, he lists his works as if he expects to die. Only once does his courage to face life flash: The young composer Johannes Brahms visits the artist couple.
"A genius", notes Robert, and Clara enthuses: "That’s another one who comes as if specially sent by God!" How much she will soon need her young friend! He supports her during what is probably the most difficult time of her life.
Soon after, the catastrophe happens: Robert wants to kill himself and throws himself into the Rhine as if out of his mind.
But he is rescued and sent to a mental hospital. Two years later, shortly before his death in July 1856, Clara visits her husband there once again: "He smiled at me and wrapped his arm around me with great effort – I will never forget that." Clara outlives Robert by 40 years. Until her death in 1896, she gives concerts, travels the world on tour. She never married again.