It’s pride month! So I can’t help digging into this question. And the answer is one giant YES! There was so much queer in Clara Schumann’s life– starting with her own husband!
1) Robert Schumann was probably bisexual.
We’ll never know for sure, but the Peter Ostwald bio has a quote from a letter Mendelssohn wrote to Robert, warning him for spending too much time with his friend Bennet. People were beginning to talk.
Also, the Judith Cherniak bio notes a quote from Robert’s diary. While travelling to Italy, he had an encounter with a “pederast.”
There are more cases where Robert writes effusively about close male friends in his diaries and letters. And then, there are the notes about Johannes Brahms in Clara’s diary.
In 1853, after Johannes’s arrival, Clara’s diary (as quoted in the Litzmann bio) reads:
“Oct. 10th: Brahms was with us this evening (I always call him Robert’s Johannes).”
“Oct. 30th: Brahms will soon leave us, which gives us real pain, Robert loves him and takes great pleasure in him, both as man and artist.”
Fast forward a bit to Feb. 24th 1855. Johannes wrote Clara a detailed description of his visit to Robert in the hospital. The last page describes the farewell with Robert.
“I left him on the Endenich Road. He hugged and kissed me tenderly, and on parting sent greetings to you alone…”
We’ll never know for sure, but in the mission to combat bi-erasure in history, it’s important to at least mention the possibility that Robert was attracted to more than just women.
2. Was the love triangle a polycule?
As in, was it really a love triangle? Or were Clara-Johannes-Robert all one big love fest in a poly group?
All three of them write of being in love with each other at various times. Johannes writes in letters to Robert, while he’s in the hospital, how he loved both him and his wife. Clara was definitely in love with Johannes on some level—hard to say just how intimately, but it’s possible.
And with that possibility comes the big fat truth. If all three of them really were in love with each other—that’s polyamory. Yes, Clara Schumann may in fact have been polyamorous.
3. Clara’s best friends in Dusseldorf, Rosalie Leser and “her Elise” were lifelong companions.
Clara took sea bathing cures with the couple for many summers. She visited them on Christmases. They were her closest women friends during her difficult years in Dusseldorf, and she maintained the friendship all her life.
4. Eugenie Schumann, Clara’s youngest daughter, may have found an example in Rosalie and Elise.
Eugenie fell in love with soprano, Marie “Fillu” Fillunger, who lived with her in her mother’s house for over a decade. Fillu moved to London amidst discord with Eugenie’s eldest sister, Marie. A few years later, Eugenie followed her and spent the rest of her life with Fillu. Eugenie and Fillu were buried side-by-side in Switzerland, alongside Marie after they re-united after the first world war.
If you want to know more, here’s a really lovely YouTube video about the love letters that survived between Fillu and Eugenie.
So that’s the short version to say YES, there was lots of queer in Clara’s life. She may have lived very traditionally as a conservative Lutheran, but her lived experience was far from straight.