Clara Schumann is one of the best-known female composers in history.

But who was she, and why should we still care about her work?

In this series, we’re discovering the stories of the best composers in Western music history and why their work matters to us today.

This is Clara’s story.

Who

Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann.

What

An accomplished composer, virtuoso pianist and skilled piano teacher (also the wife of composer Robert Schumann and mother of eight children).

When

September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896.

Living and working during the height of the Romantic era, Clara was a contemporary of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, and of course her husband, Robert Schumann.

Where

Germany, although she toured all over Europe.

Born and raised in Liepzig, she performed in Paris and Vienna as a young woman before marrying Robert.

After her marriage she made several tours of England, Scotland, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, and more. Her piano performances were extremely popular wherever she went.

She spent the last two decades of her life teaching advanced pianists as the conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany, where she died.

Why It Matters

She had a huge influence on her husband Robert’s works. They often collaborated, and she was the muse for many of his creative inspirations.

Clara, like Robert, set many poems to music.

She also wrote themes and variations and large-scale works like her Piano Trio and a piano concerto.

This was a remarkable feat at a time when women were not thought competent enough to compose such complex pieces. Her work helped pave the way for future women composers.

As a brilliant pianist, she also left her mark on the world of piano performance and piano pedagogy.

She, along with fellow composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, was one of the first pianists to perform from memory. That was not a standard practice at the time, but she helped increase its popularity.

She also had a large role in the preservation and promotion of many pieces written by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Frederic Chopin.

Other Interesting Facts

Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, was a gifted piano teacher. He started Clara on the instrument at a very young age.

Her father did not approve of her marriage to Robert. The wedding took place over his objections.

Robert Schumann was very proud of his wife’s compositions and submitted several of them to publishers to be printed and presented to her as a birthday present.

She once braved a group of armed men to rescue her three youngest children during the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849.

The children had been left in the maid’s care while Clara managed to smuggle her ailing husband and her oldest child to safety. Since Robert had been weakened by his illness, the task of retrieving the younger three Schumanns from the chaotic city fell to Clara, who was seven months pregnant at the time.

Despite producing many high-quality compositions, she did not believe her talent could compete with the male composers around her.

After the death of Robert Schumann in 1856, she stopped composing and spent the rest of her life playing and teaching piano and editing her late husband’s works.

Her music was nearly forgotten for decades after her death, but it has resurfaced since the women’s movement of the last century, and she is one of the most well-known female composers in music history.

Her Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano is largely considered to be her best work:

And that is the story of Clara Schumann. What do you think of her?

Other Composers Featured in This Series

Antonio Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, George F. Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Erik Satie, Scott Joplin, Lili Boulanger, Dmitri Shostakovich

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