Clara Schumann: Three Romances for Violin & Piano
Clara Josephine Wieck was born on 13th September 1819 in Leipzig. Her mother was a famous singer in the city at the time. When Clara was five, her parents divorced and she stayed with her father. Friedrich Wieck saw the potential in Clara’s musical ability and he began planning her career down to the small details. She received daily lessons in piano, singing, violin, theory, harmony, composition and counterpoint. This was followed by 2-3 hours of practice.
At age 8, Clara performed at the home of Dr. Ernst Carus. Whilst there she met another young musical talent – Robert Schumann. Robert admired Clara’s playing so much that he requested to stop studying law so he could take up music lessons with Clara’s father. At age 11, Clara went on a concert tour to Paris, where she gave her first performances of her career. Whilst there she met Niccoló Paganini who requested to perform with her. By the time she was 18, Clara performed a series of recitals in Vienna. She performed works from Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. Below is a critique of Clara’s Vienna recitals from an anonymous music critic:
“The appearance of this artist can be regarded as epoch-making…In her creative hands, the most ordinary passage, the most routine motive acquires a significant meaning, a colour, which only those with the most consummate artistry can give.”
In the same year, Clara was named the Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso, which was the highest musical honour in Austria. Throughout this time, Robert Schumann was still on the scene and when Clara was 18 he proposed to her. She said yes, but her father forbid the marriage. So the couple went to court to sue Clara’s father. The court ruled that the marriage could go ahead, so in 1840 they wed and shared a joint musical diary.
In 1854, Robert Schumann attempted suicide. Due to this he was committed to an asylum for the last two years of his life. He then died in 1856. During this time Clara Schumann was supported by close friends Brahms, Joachim and Deitrich. Since her husband’s death Clara Schumann went on more concert tours, as well as focusing on composition a lot more. She took trips to England, Austria and France.
Later in her life, Schumann published all of her late husband’s works. She also began building some hostility to certain composers, notably Liszt and Wagner. She refused to attend concerts that Wagner would be at, apparently he spoke bad of her husband and Brahms. Schumann was also unimpressed by composers such as Bruckner and Strauss, whose works were never impressive enough for her taste.
In 1878 she was appointed the position of piano teacher at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where she stayed until 1892. Schumann suffered a stroke in 1896 and she died age 76, she was buried with her husband. Her legacy as a performer has definitely stood the test of time as she is still regarded incredibly highly today.
Her 61-year performance career was an incredible achievement. She also promoted her husband’s compositions endlessly, especially at the start of his career when nobody knew of him or his music. As for Clara’s compositions, she learnt how to compose at a young age. She once said that:
“Composing gives me great pleasure. There is nothing that the surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.”
Due to her very busy performing schedule, Clara couldn’t properly commit to composing on a regular basis. She famously commented on this saying:
“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to composer – there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”
It wasn’t just Clara that thought it a shame her composition output was being put in the background. Her husband also expressed concern:
“Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.”
Schumann was at her height with composition when she was in the middle of her career. In the modern-day, her songs and piano trios are a particular favourite, alongside her Three Romances for Violin and Piano. This work was composed in 1853 and was first premiered in 1855. Clara Schumann famously said that “women are not born to compose”, however during this period, she composed quite a few of her most famous works.
Three Romances for Violin and Piano was dedicated to close friend and virtuoso violinist, Joseph Joachim. Schumann and Joachim went on tour with this piece and they even played it before King George V of Hanover who absolutely loved the work. One critic said “All three pieces display an individual character conceived in a truly sincere manner and written in a delicate and fragrant hand.”
Even in the modern-day, this work is perhaps one of Clara’s most famous, there was a critic who wrote in 2013 that this work was “lush and poignant, they make one regret that Clara’s career as a composer became subordinate to her husband’s.”
The work lasts about 10 minutes and, as the title suggests, the work is in three movements:
- Andante molto
- Leidenschaftlich schnell
Romances were one of Clara Schumann’s favourite forms to compose in, which is perhaps why this particular work is so effective. The three movements are contrasting, exciting and bursting with character. So without further ado, onto the music itself!
I. Andante Molto
The first romance begins with a “gypsy pathos opening” which leads into a very emotional melodic framework. The brief central theme is then developed and embellished throughout this romance. This movement is incredibly passionate and the dialogue between the piano and violin is incredibly effective. The main theme is based loosely on arpeggios, with the final section of this movement referring to Robert Schumann’s First Violin Sonata.
The second romance is supposedly representative of all three movements as it embodies all the things that link these romances together. It is in G minor and is wistful in character. The main theme played by the violin is syncopated and there is a very melancholy atmosphere created throughout the movement.
The middle section picks up in tempo and the use of embellishments gives this section a shimmering kind of feel. This movement is developmental and the theme is varied a lot for how short this movement is. The final section, which is back in G minor, reiterates the main theme before resolving with a charming pizzicato statement.
III. Leidenschaftlich schnell
The third and final romance is the longest of the three, and it is very similar to the first romance. Instantly there is a rippling accompaniment from the piano which is bubbly and fast-paced. The long melody played on the violin is very simple but it fits very well with very busy accompaniment. Schumann is very idiomatic with her violin writing in this work and this is why it’s so popular within violin repertoire. The work is developmental from the start and the main theme is taken and changed in a plethora of different ways with the use of dynamics, harmonies and pizzicato playing.
The accompaniment part is unrelenting, with its fast-paced arpeggiated motifs and constant moving parts. The end of the work is very beautiful, the tempo is broken and the piece slows and beautifully resolves with the lower end of the violin register, and some rich tonic chords from the piano.
Ⓒ Alex Burns