Clara Schumann did everything in her power to place Chopin permanently in the piano repertoire. The extent of her influence on his legacy is difficult to calculate.
She included his music on most of her thousands of concerts for 55 years. She played his waltzes, nocturnes, etudes, mazurkas, and more from Vienna to London, from Paris to St. Petersburg, between 1831 and the end of her touring career in 1888.
[For Clara’s full repertoire of Chopin, see the bottom of this post!]
In short, Clara never performed anywhere without Chopin. She started playing his work at age 11, and never stopped!
In 1832, when Clara Wieck was 12 years old, she made her first concert tour to Paris. There, Clara heard the 22-year-old Frédéric Chopin play at multiple soirees, including a performance of his E-minor concerto. (She began performing the concerto two years later.)
The opus 2, Variations on Mozart’s “La ci darem la mano” was already a staple in Clara’s virtuoso repertoire. Her father boasted that in 1830 the Germans believed it unplayable, but Clara, at age 11, learned it in 8 days.
From then on, Clara pretty much learned Frédéric’s music as it was published. Many she wouldn’t perform for another 2 decades, but she played and studied all his works.
Chopin’s Visits to Leipzig
In 1835, Frédéric visited Leipzig, where Clara lived. He was only there for a day (and she wasn’t at home), but he waited to see her. On that occasion, she played him Robert’s F minor sonata, the last movement of his own E minor concerto, and two of his etudes.
He gave her “one of his latest works” (though Clara’s diary doesn’t say which one). Clara requested he play one of his nocturnes for her, but she writes, sadly, that he was “so ill and weak that he could play a forte only by a convulsive movement of his whole body.”
On his next visit in Leipzig, in 1836, Frédéric came only to see Clara and Robert. She played him her op. 5 4 Pièces caractéristiques , her op. 6 Soirees Musicales, and her Piano Concerto in A minor.
He left with a copy of her opus 5 “which he had declared himself especially enchanted and enthusiastic,” according to the Litzmann biography of Clara Schumann.
Frédéric also visited Robert, who described the visit in a letter. Apparently, Frédéric was quite ill at the time, and Robert’s words are coarse.
“It is pathetic to see him sitting at the piano. You would love him. But Clara is a greater performer and gives his compositions almost more meaning than he does himself. Think of a perfection, a mastery, entirely without self-consciousness.”Robert Schumann in a letter to Kapellmeister Dorn in Riga, Sept. 14th, 1836
But it’s clear Chopin and his works meant a great deal to both Clara and Robert. On his death in 1849, they tried to have a memorial service for him, though their church refused.
Many of Clara Wieck’s early compositions bear the unmistakable stamp of Chopin. She emulated and respected his work. Her opus 6, Soiree Musicales, included two mazurkas. Her Piano Concerto op. 7 and her Variations de Concert op. 8 reference Chopin in virtuosity and melody. The opening of Chopin’s third piano sonata and Clara’s piano sonata have similarities as well.
Their styles bore resemblances, and it seems fair to speculate that their technical abilities aligned.
The Chopin Repertoire of Clara Wieck
According to the archive of Clara Schumann’s programs at the Schumann Haus in Zwickau, Clara performed Chopin over a 160 times in concerts between 1831 – 1847. (This does not include performances at soirees, parties, ballrooms, or lost programs. Counting those, it may be nearly double.)
The first Chopin she studied and performed was his Mozart variations at age 12 in 1831. That same year, according to Robert, she also performed Chopin’s “great bravura fantasia.” (Which I assume means his op. 13, though it’s not officially listed on her repertoire list in the Litzmann biography.)
The first concerto, she performed for the first time in 1834, at age 15, and a total of at least 11 times before 1840.
The second concerto joined her repertoire for the first time in Hamburg in 1840 when she was 20. In 1885, at age 66, she relearned the second concerto after a gap of 33 years, and she performed it for the first time since 1852 at the new Gewandhaus in Leipzig.
The Rebirth of Clara Schumann’s Career
After her marriage in 1840, Clara didn’t tour much while she had 8 children and supported Robert’s composing, but in 1854, when Robert was hospitalized, she returned to touring to support their children and his hospital care.
In the 1850s, she doubled the number of Chopin pieces in her performance repertoire, always swapping out different mazurkas, nocturnes, etudes, and waltzes. She played Chopin everywhere, all over Europe for another thirty years.
Her passion and determination to set Chopin permanently in the repertoire matched her commitment to the works of her husband, Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. Chopin was in the elite group of composers Clara programmed on concerts.
She also passed his performance tradition on to her countless students, teaching lessons in most cities where she toured. This included her 16 tours to London and her decade of teaching at the Frankfurt Hoch Conservatory.
Here’s the list of Clara Schumann’s Chopin performance repertoire, compiled by year, copied from her original Litzmann biography of 1908. These dates mark her first performances of each work. We can assume that most were performed again in subsequent years. (Some opus numbers are missing.)
1831 Variations on “La ci darem la mano,” op. 2
1833 Mazurkas Vol 1 & 2; Nocturne in E-flat; Finale of concerto in E minor, op. 11; Etudes in F major and C major
1834 Concerto in E minor, op. 11
1835 Rondo op. 16; Marzukas in F # minor and B major; Nocturne in F-sharp major; “Arpeggio” Etude E-flat major (sic)
1836 Etude in C minor and Nocturne in B major
1838 Etude in A minor, op. 25, no. 11
1840 Concerto in F minor, op. 21
1843 Etudes in C major, E major, G flat major, C # minor, C minor from op. 10
1844 Polonaise in A-flat major, op. 53
1846 Barcarole, op. 60
1850 Nocturne in F-sharp minor, op. 48
1854 Nocturnes in C minor, op. 48, and F minor op. 55; Scherzo B minor op. 20; Impromptu A-flat major op. 29; Waltzes in D-flat major and C minor, op. 64
1856 Waltzes in A-flat Major and A minor op. 34; Waltz in A-flat major, op. 42; Etudes in A-flat major, F major, C-sharp minor, G-flat major, C minor from op. 25
1857 Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, op. 66
1859 Ballade G minor; Mazurkas in A minor, op. 7, and in C-sharp minor op. 40
1860 Ballade A-flat major (sic)
1865 Three New Etudes in F minor, no. 1, A-flat major no. 2; Nocturnes in F major and F# major, op. 15, no. 1 and 2; Nocturne in D major, Op. 27, No. 2; Nocturne in G major, op. 37, no. 2
1867 Andante Spianato from op. 22
Berthold Litzmann biography of Clara Schumann translated by Grace E. Hadow, 1918. vol. 1&2