For Further Reading on Clara Schumann

What are my research sources?

Here’s a compilation of the sources I use for most of my tweets, posts, videos, novel, etc. It’s not exhaustive as I’ve read more articles than I can remember. Everything is in English, or English translations from the original German, since I unfortunately don’t know German well enough yet to read the primary sources. *Cry!* Work in progress.

They’re not listed in alphabetic order (sorry librarians!), but in order of how frequently I use them or how relevant they are to most of my research. The first being the most used!

Nancy B. Reich biography

Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman

by Nancy B. Reich

My number one recommended read for anyone wanting to know more about Clara is Nancy B Riech. This biography is the first book I read about Clara back in undergrad in 2004. It’s the book that founded my love and fascination for this extraordinary woman. When it was published in the 1980s, its groundbreaking scholarship inspired the resurgence of knowledge, respect, and popularity of Clara Schumann after decades of neglecting her as but an afterthought in the lives of Robert and Johannes.

Originally published in English, there was a revised edition published in 2001.

Litzmann biography

Clara Schumann: An Artist’s Life Based on Material Found in Diaries and Letters – Vol I & II (1908)

By Berthold Litzmann, translated into English by Grace E. Hadow (1913)

This one is for the advanced, and it’s my FAVORITE! For everyone so obsessed you just can’t get enough of Clara and want to take it to the next level. It’s the ORIGINAL Clara bio whose publication was overseen by Marie Schumann (Clara’s eldest daughter in charge of her legacy), released in German a decade after Clara’s death by Breitkopf & Hartel (Clara and Robert’s lifelong music publisher in Leipzig). It’s three volumes of over 1500 pages filled to the brim with original quotes from Clara’s diaries and correspondence.

This is the closest we’ll get to reading those diaries, since Clara’s 20-some volumes of diaries were lost (presumably destroyed by Marie). This biography itself was overseen so closely by Marie that it’s decidedly biased toward an agenda of portraying Clara in the best possible light. But there are too many extensive diary and letter quotes to ever fit in a modern biography. It is as close to an insight into the mind of Clara and her intimate day to day life as we’ll ever get.

There’s also so much information on Robert and Johannes, it reads almost like a triple bio, and also like a who’s who for every famous artist in 19th century Europe. Clara knew and had stories about EVERYONE. As you can tell, I love this one.

Sadly, the English translation, which I’ve read at least three times, has been abridged into only two volumes. It’s still over 1000 pages, but there is still a whole volume of untranslated info which I’ve never read. *Sob!* But this translation was overseen by Eugenie Schumann, Clara’s youngest daughter in London, and published in 1913 by Macmillan.

It’s available in ebook for less than $8! If you’d prefer to jump straight to volume 2, which starts in 1853 when Brahms arrives, uh-huh, here’s that link. (Psst! I literally have these in ebook on my Kindle app on my phone, and I use the search function whenever I need fast reference for my daily tweet digests. Now you know my secret!)

Now onto the letters and diaries!

The letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms

The Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms Vol. 1 & 2 (1927)

Edited by Berthold Litzmann, translated into English 1973

This is the one everyone wants and sadly the hardest to get. It is with deepest regret that I must inform you these two volumes are out of print, and there is no digital book available, that I’ve found. I do not own one (though I’ve copied a PDF, hehe). But there are many academic libraries with copies. Mine has two in English and one in the original German.

The publication was again directly overseen by Marie Schumann in the 1920s who severely edited and abridged the letters. Clara and Johannes themselves destroyed over half of their correspondence before they died. So it is by no means complete, but still two volumes worth survived, hundreds of letters from over 43 years. It is a fascinating read, if you can get your hands on a copy… An absolute delight.

(Predictably, I’ve used countless quotes from these volumes in my novel manuscript—as chapter epithets, hopefully. If copyright will allow!)

Clara and Robert Schumann’s letters

The Complete Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann Vol 1 & 2

Edited by Eva Weissweiler, translated by Hildegard Fritsch & Ronald L. Crawford

These are complete. This English publication boasts of being unabridged, and there’s no mention anywhere of Marie nor Clara nor Robert destroying any of the letters between Robert & Clara. That said, they’re difficult for me to read. Some of it is lovely and sweet and all of it is fascinating and enlightening, but it’s also a detailed transformation of young Clara from successful independent virtuosa into acceptance of sacrificing her career to be a wife.(Disclaimer: At this time, I’ve still only read volume one. I have it on purchase order from my library. Fingers crossed it comes in soon!) The letters are still full of beautiful love declarations and the passionate hearts of these two great romantics falling in love. Parts of it are heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Marriage Diary of Robert & Clara Schumann

The Marriage Diaries of Robert & Clara Schumann

If the above letters are difficult to read, this one outright makes me sick to my stomach. I have no desire to read it again, and I hope I never have to. It was published and kept as a testament to the love of the young iconic couple in their first three years of marriage. At Robert’s directive, he and Clara passed the diary back and forth each week for three years, alternating entries. I suppose parts of it can be seen as romantic, but most of what I read is a woman living a life of subservience, displacing her own needs and desires to care for her family in a way that’s “lovingly” enforced by her husband.

Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters

Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters by Styra Avins

If you can’t get your hands on the full Clara & Johannes letter volumes, this is the next best thing. My local public library even has one. It includes the highlights of Clara and Johannes’s letters in a more modern translation than the Litzmann. It also reads like a bio with lots of annotations and has lots of other letters that Johannes wrote to other people. Including, most particularly, the very first time he declared his love for Clara in a letter to Josef Joachim. 😉

The Memoirs of Eugenie Schumann

The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms: The Memoirs of Eugenie Schumann

by Eugenie Schumann

Eugenie, the Schumann’s youngest daughter, wrote a memoir late in life. It’s in the public domain and you can read it here. She led a very successful career as a piano teacher in London with her life partner, soprano, Marie Filunger. Her memoir reminisces extensively on her mother and devotes a whole chapter to her recollections of living with Johannes in the Schumann house, her piano lessons with him, and his last visits to Clara before her death. I enjoyed this one very much. Eugenie is so great, and she honestly deserves her own novel!  

Other biographies:

Johannes Brahms by Jan Swafford

Johannes Brahms: A Biography by Jan Swafford

This bio of Brahms has so much information about Clara it almost reads like a dual bio. While I don’t always agree with how he interprets Clara’s actions (generally from the point-of-view of Johannes, understandably), it presents a much more pragmatic and detailed view of their relationship than any other publication I’ve read. It’s well researched and written in an entertainingly narrative form. It’s a door stopper but so engaging it reads like a novel. (I have high aspirations of writing a bio for Clara of this narrative length and quality…maybe someday!)

Robert Schumann: The Faces and the Masks

Robert Schuman: The Faces and the Masks by Judith Chernaik

This is the most recently published English language bio of Robert. It’s fascinating and well written, though I do have some objections to it. The biographer isn’t a professional musician, so it’s nothing like the comprehensive Swafford bio above with the composer’s analysis. It also tends to just deliver the information rather than writing it in the storytelling readable narrative of Swafford. The treatment of Clara isn’t my favorite, again very biased to Robert’s point of view of her and often paints her as being the obstacle/burden in his life which……obviously, I don’t agree with. But, nevertheless, it has a lot of details about Robert you won’t find in the other above books.

* * *

That’s my list of major sources. By no means complete. I’ve also read countless articles on JSTOR and other academic sources. If you’ve never been to JSTOR, head over there and search for Clara Schumann. Lots of interesting, priceless details.

I’ll probably add to this later, but these are the primary books I recommend for further reading. And if you’re wondering about something that I tweet or blog which seems wild, most likely it’s from one of these. Or a combination!

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