Clara Wieck-Schumann: Scherzo No.2


Clara Josephine Wieck was born on 13th September 1819 in Leipzig. Her mother was a famous singer in the city at the time. When Wieck was five, her parents divorced and she stayed with her father. Friedrich Wieck saw the potential in Wieck’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, Wieck performed at the home of Dr. Ernst Carus. Whilst there she met another young musical talent – Robert Schumann. Robert admired Wieck’s playing so much that he requested to stop studying law so he could take up music lessons with her father. At age 11, Wieck 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, Wieck 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, Wieck 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 Wieck was 18 he proposed to her. She said yes, but her father forbade the marriage. So the couple went to court to sue Wieck’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 Wieck-Schumann was supported by close friends Brahms, Joachim and Deitrich. Since her husband’s death Wieck-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, Wieck-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 badly of her husband and Brahms. Wieck-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. Wieck-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 Wieck-Schumann’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, Wieck-Schumann 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 Wieck-Schumann 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.”


The Music

Scherzo No.2 was composed in 1845 and showcases Wieck-Schumann’s virtuosity both as a concert pianist and as a composer. Wieck-Schumann composed bravura works that show her technical dominance over the piano, with Scherzo No.2 being no different. The stormy style reflects the stylings of Chopin, whom Wieck-Schumann greatly admired as a composer and pianist. 

The stormy opening is quick in tempo and instantly requires a level of technical demand from the performer. Although light in its writing, the piece is intense in character, with the flood of notes washing through the atmosphere quickly. The quick and seamless transition into the Ab major trio section sees a more chordal approach, unlike the rest of the whole piece which is largely based on scalic runs. 

The mood is dropped considerably for the central section, with this soft dance showing a different style for Wieck-Schumann. Her voicing of the piano is innovative and exciting, with the quick changes of style adding to the intensity of the music. The transition back into the opening material sees the pianist run off with the material once more, before Scherzo No.2 comes to its thrilling close.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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