Clara Schumann’s Love of Schubert

(Originally published in The Schubertian, October 2021)

It’s easy to overlook how important Franz Schubert’s music was in the life and career of Clara Schumann.

She’s most famous for championing the works of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, and for being the first to cement Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, and Chopin in the piano recital repertoire. But Schubert’s sonatas, chamber music, and lieder were essential parts of her repertoire, too, and his music held great personal significance to her.

Before getting into the dry repertoire lists, dates, and performances, let’s start with Clara’s love of Schubert from her earliest years. Her compositions both in piano and lieder bear the marks and influence of her Schubert studies. Clara’s diaries and letters show how the works enhanced her close relationships with Robert and Johannes, both intellectually and philosophically.

In short, Schubert was among the indispensable composers in Clara’s life.

Clara Wieck’s First Schubert

In 1837, the eighteen-year-old piano virtuosa, Clara Wieck, made a concert tour to Vienna, the first of many in her sixty-year career. She was an immediate sensation with the Viennese. They went mad for her, rioting for her concert tickets, and the proverbial “Clara War” began—“Who is better, Clara Wieck or Franz Liszt?” They even named a desert after her, torte á la Wieck. The empress dubbed her Honorary Court Virtuosa, and the music publisher Diabelli dedicated Schubert’s Grand Duo, (the Sonata in C-major for piano four-hands, D. 812) to Clara Wieck.

Clara Wieck’s name centered in a larger font than the composer shows how great Clara’s fame was – how her name sold music better than Schubert’s – and also how respect for Schubert among the public had not yet reached what we know today.

The dedication meant much to young Clara, even in her teenage years she understood the significance of such an honor. At age nine, she’d performed some of his polonaises and a piano arrangement of Die Forelle on her first concerts. The influence of his piano works shows in her earliest piano compositions, especially her waltzes of opus two, published at age thirteen.

From Vienna, after the dedication of the duo, she wrote to her then fiancée, Robert, somewhat disconcerted by her intense reaction:

“This dedication moved me very much, and I hardly know why. It’s really strange how sensitive I am now; sometimes I think that I am too sentimental.”

Robert wrote back, reassuringly, “You’re right about the dedication of Schubert’s duet…it seems gentle and poetic to me.” He then beseeched her to visit the graves of Schubert and Beethoven before leaving Vienna, and she picked violets from their graves and enclosed them in her letter to him. “I felt joy, awe, and melancholy…all the while thinking ardently of you.” She wrote out the inscription on Schubert’s grave for Robert:

“Something beautiful hath laid to rest here,

And even more beautiful hopes: Franz Schubert.”

Clara received one more gift in Vienna. A friend of the late composer bestowed on her an autograph copy of Schubert’s Erlkönig. She added it to her repertoire that year and made liberal reference to it in her lied composition, Die Lorelei, nearly ten years later.

A year later, when Clara left on her next tour, Robert’s farewell letter recalls Winterreise:

“My best wishes for your winter trip; I hope it will be very Schubertian. Adieu, dear Klara, darling fiancée. Don’t forget your, Robert.”

Schubert’s C major Symphony had special significance as well, since Robert discovered the manuscript with Ferdinand Schubert in the late composer’s old Vienna flat. While Clara gave concerts in Paris, Robert heard it for the first time in Leipzig with Mendelssohn conducting. Robert wrote her his first famous description of its “heavenly length:”

“Klara, I was blissfully happy today…If only you had been there! It’s impossible to describe [the symphony] to you… the length, the heavenly length… I was very happy and didn’t wish for anything more than for you to be my wife and for me to be able to write such symphonies too.”

Clara lamented from Paris, “The Symphony by Schubert must be unique! And I couldn’t hear it!” But she would get her wish. Two months after they were married in November of 1840, they heard it together for the first time once more in Leipzig.

Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert’s lieder were among Clara’s favorite works by the virtuoso. They became staples of her repertoire in 1839, and she performed his solo piano arrangement of Erlkönig, Ave Maria, and Lob der Tränen on nearly every concert for over a year. She gave them over a dozen performances at soirees and concerts in Berlin and Paris and other cities in between.

The Parisians particularly liked a program where she played Lob der Tränen so well that they called her “the second Liszt.”

In September of 1840, on her last concert as Clara Wieck, two weeks before her wedding, she played Erlkönig and Ave Maria in Weimar.

During those last years of solo tours before marriage, Clara also began including Schubert’s chamber music on her private soirées—his trios in B-flat major and E-flat major—a genre of his work she would indulge in privately her whole life.

Clara Schumann’s Artistic Growth with Schubert

During her marriage, Clara’s concert tours decreased significantly, so she added little Schubert to her performance repertoire. She did compose most of her songs though, between 1841-1853, and Schubert’s influence on her lieder is vividly apparent.

Her high standards and artistic opinions show in a diary reaction to her friend, French composer and mezzo-soprano, Pauline Viardot’s performance of Gretchen am Spinnrade.

“She lacks deeper emotion, an intimate understanding of the text… She performed more for its effect on the audience than with that inner glow expressed so magnificently by the words as well as Schubert’s music… with this German lied she left me unsatisfied.”

Clara admired Viardot highly as composer, musician, and singer throughout their long lives, despite her opinions of her Schubert interpretation.

In 1854, her husband’s health declined rapidly. He wrote down a hallucinated melody from the spirit of Schubert, and shortly after, he was committed to a hospital.

In his absence, she sought comfort in music, including Schubert’s piano sonatas. Her diary notes that the Schumanns’ new friend, twenty-one-year-old Johannes Brahms played her Schubert’s A-minor sonata from memory one day in May. It made her appreciate Johannes’s young talent.

“I am filled more and more with admiration for the great spirit which inhabits so small a body.” 

The following week she writes an amusing comment on Johannes’s tempos in Schubert:

“He played Schubert’s wonderful B-flat major sonata whose first and second movements are particularly delightful… Brahms plays Schubert wonderfully especially those movements in which he cannot exaggerate the tempo which he is fond of doing.”

Clara took up major concert tours once more that same year, since her seven children were now solely dependent on her for financial support in her husband’s absence. She also played Robert’s work on all her concerts to ensure his musical legacy lived on.

Fortuitously, her travels introduced her to yet little-known lieder singer (who would dominate the performance of the genre in the later nineteenth century), Julius Stockhausen, and brought him into the Schumann musical circle. Together, they gave among the first complete performances of Die Schöne Müllerin in 1854 and of Winterreise in 1862. She introduced him to Johannes so the two men gave more concerts of Schubert’s complete song cycles while Clara toured elsewhere.

In Vienna again in 1856, Clara spoke in her diary of a mournful visit to the graves of Schubert and Beethoven, thinking of her husband, now dying in the hospital. But she also thought of Johannes who had yet to visit Vienna, and she wrote:

“How I wished he were at my side. I sent him some leaves from the graves.”

Robert’s death did not diminish Clara’s love of Schubert. In fact, it increased, as she added more of his repertoire in her three more decades of concert tours.

She and Johannes also took great joy together in his works, playing them for sheer pleasure. In Hamburg in 1860, she visited him and wrote:

“Johannes made my stay very pleasant by his kindness and his often beautiful playing. He played a great deal of Schubert.”

Then again in 1862, she wrote to her dear friend and collaborative partner, the violinist, Josef Joachim, about a deep study into Schubert’s chamber music. It likely aided Johannes’s composing, since at the time he was writing more chamber music.

“It was a great joy to me that Johannes came and played all these many [new compositions] to me, as well as playing [four-hands] Schubert’s D-minor quartet, C-major quintet, and octet, with me several times.”

The following year, Clara wrote in a letter to Johannes, gratitude for his sending her some Schubert that was yet unknown to her:

“My warm thanks for everything. I rejoiced over the Schubert waltzes, and quite delighted me. It must sound wonderful. You can imagine which passages especially pleased me.”

Clara also left behind a great pedagogical legacy, including Schubert in the works she taught to her many piano students. His works are included in some archived editions of her teaching music.

What pieces by Schubert did Clara Schumann play?

The following is the complete list of Schubert music copied from the repertoire list of Berthold Litzmann’s original biography of 1908, Clara Schumann: An Artist’s Life based on material found in letters and diaries. The list is compiled from the collection of over 1,200 programs saved by Clara from her sixty-year performing career.

It is by no means exhaustive as she didn’t save programs from every concert. It does not include works performed at soirees or parties, or any works studied at home, which accounts for the lack of chamber music on the list, even though she played much of it. But it is a wonderful glimpse into how Clara gradually increased the amount of Schubert over the decades.

The list only shows the date of first performances. We can infer that most works were likely performed many more times in the succeeding decades. (The two sonatas are unfortunately lacking opus numbers on the list.)

Schubert Repertoire

1828 Die Forelle arr. for pianoforte

1838 Schubert-Liszt Erlkönig – Ave Maria – Lob der Tränen

1846 Schubert-Liszt Ständchen

1856 Moments musicaux, Op. 94 and Op. 96

1856 Rondo brilliant, Op. 70

1865 Allegretto, G-major, Op. 78

1866 Sonata in B-flat major

1867 Scherzo from octet, arr. for piano

1868 Impromptu in F minor, Op. 142

1868 Impromptu in C minor Op. 90

1868 Sonata in A minor

1868 Ländler, Op. 171

1873 Phantasie in G-major, Op. 78


Litzmann, Berthold, Clara Schumann: An Artist’s Life Based on Material Found in Diaries and Letters, vol. 1-2. tr. abridged Hadow, Grace E.

Reich, Nancy B., Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman: Revised Edition.

Schumann, Robert, Schumann, Clara, The Marriage Diaries of Robert and Clara Schumann: From Their Wedding Day through the Russia Trip. ed. Nauhaus, Gerd. tr. Ostwald, Peter.

Schumann, Clara, Schumann, Robert, The Complete Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann: Critical Editions, vol. 1-2. ed. Weissweiler, Eva. tr. Fritsch, Hildegard, Crawford, Ronald L.

What are Clara Schumann’s greatest works?

One of the most searched questions about Clara is…

What are Clara Schumann’s best works?

Because Clara was an epically self-critical composer, (famously so) she didn’t publish anything unless she knew it was good—damn good. Her standards were impossibly high, so it’s no exaggeration to say there’s greatness in all of Clara Schumann’s works.

But I’ll tell you which are her greatest, which are most famous, and which are my favorites.

[This post is also a YouTube video, if you’d prefer to watch me talk. And here’s a playlist, if you wanna listen to the works in this post while reading it.]

Overview of Clara Schumann’s Compositions

Since most people think Clara composed little music, I’ll start with a catalogue overview. (For a full list of her compositions along with public domain scores, I always use IMSLP.)

Her early works (1829-1840) were written by the young virtuoso pianist, Clara Wieck, BEFORE she married that other composer you may have heard of. Hehe.

From her first opus at age 10 to opus 11 at age 20 – all were published under Clara Wieck. And with the exception of her opus 7, Piano Concerto, they’re all solo piano works.

Her middle period (1841-1848) – published as Clara Schumann, opuses 12-17 along with others without opus – was marked by her deep dives into Beethoven sonatas, Bach fugues, and advanced counterpoint. She composed more solo piano works, two dozen lieder, preludes & fugues, a sonata, and a piano trio.

Her late period (1853-1855), her final opuses 20-23, were all written during the summer of 1853. Plus, my FAVORITES, her last two romanzes without opus.

In total Clara Schumann composed over 30 works in 4 categories:

Solo Piano (15 opuses total) op. 1-6 & op. 8-11 (Clara Wieck), Sonata WoO, op. 14-16, op. 21, & two romanzes without opus

Chamber Music – Op. 17 Trio for piano, violin, and cello; Op. 22 Romanzes for violin and piano; March for piano four hands

Lieder – op. 12 – 13; a dozen WoO; op. 23; Part songs without opus

Orchestral Works: Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 7 (She began a second concerto in F minor, but only completed the exposition and two piano manuscript.)

There are lots of arrangements of her work—including some for choir and many orchestrated editions. (But that’s another post!) She was a great virtuoso pianist so all her works are with piano. And none of them are easy. (Sorry beginners!)

Some are enjoyable for the practiced amateur to play, but most require advanced technique to master.

Early Works (1829-1840) – Clara Wieck’s Compositions

There are lots of highlights in opuses 1-5, but Clara Wieck performed the Impromptu: Le Sabbat from opus 5, Quatre Pièces Caractéristiques for years, including in Paris in 1839. A humorous, crowd pleaser with lots of virtuoso flash that was also published as Hexentanz or Witch’s Dance.

Her opus 6 Notturno, written in the style of Chopin, has a hauntingly beautiful melody and some of Clara Wieck’s signature advanced harmonization. (Like a French Augmented 6th resolving to tonic. *GASP* Theory nerds will love it.)

The Mazurka in that opus 6 is one her husband and Johannes Brahms were kind of obsessed with quoting in their music.

Her opus 7 PIANO CONCERTO in A minor – a work that influenced all the concertos that came after it, packed with such beauty and virtuosity, I’ve written many blog posts on it.

And a NY Times article. Yup.

Badass virtuosa, Clara Wieck, wrote more epic technical feats in her opus 8 Variations de Concert on a Bellini theme and the opus 9 Souvenir de Vienne, lovely yet masterful variations on Haydn’s hymn tune, “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.” (A tune which got new words a few years after Clara wrote this – which in the 20th cent. became what we know as “Deutschlandlied” or the German national anthem.) Then Clara’s opus 10 Scherzo is a flashy encore (along with the Op. 14 Scherzo).

Her first set of lyrical romanzes is opus 11 Trois Romances sans paroles, the transitional opus from the virtuoso to the maturing works of her…

Middle Period (1841-1848)

Clara Schumann stepped away from flashy virtuoso works and did intensive study into Bach and Beethoven, sonata form and advanced counterpoint. She wrote works like her Piano Sonata in G minor that went unpublished & unperformed until the 1990s!

She took up song writing and wrote some of the best Lieder in the repertoire like Liebst du um Schönheit. (If you like her husband’s Widmung, you’ll LOVE this one.) And my personal favorite, Die Lorelei, packed with references to Schubert’s Erlkonig. Plus her opus 13 Sechs Lieder is a seamless song cycle.

She mastered writing Bach-style fugues and advanced counterpoint to write her op. 16 Preludes and Fugues. Then Clara wrote her pinnacle 4-movement work, her Piano Trio in G minor that’s been recorded by the Beaux Art Trio AND a new recording with Anne Sophie Mutter. (Definitely listen to those!)

But then, for 7 years, Clara Schumann published nothing, and she feared her composing days were over. Until…

The Late Works of Clara Schumann (1853-1855)

In 1853, Clara and Robert were finally able to afford an apartment large enough that Clara could have her own study on the second floor. Where she could play all day without disturbing Robert’s composing, for the first time in her 14-year marriage… YIKES!

[I wrote about why and how messed up that was here.]

BUT thanks to that little study—a room of her own—in one summer, Clara Schumann wrote her final opuses 20-23.

Her opus 20 variations on her husband’s theme, Johannes Brahms loved so much, he made his own version. Her opus 21 Romanzes for solo piano, the first is her most dissonant work, full of heart wrenching chromaticism. Her opus 22 Romanzes for violin and piano were inspired by and dedicated to her favorite chamber music partner, the great violinist and composer, Josef Joachim. Her last song cycle, her op. 23 Jucunde Songs, were written on poems from a novel by the political poet, Rollett.

The Last Romanzes Without Opus

Her last two compositions—Romanze in A minor and Romanze in B minor Without Opus—are two of my favorite pieces in all of music. IMO some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking music ever written. The second, the B minor Romanze, was composed as a gift for Johannes Brahms.

They’re mournful, sad, heartbreaking pieces. You can hear how her husband was sick and dying. They inspired some of Johannes’s intermezzos 50 yrs later.

(If I had my way, these two romanzes would be as famous and well-known as Johannes’s most popular intermezzos. That’s where they sit in my heart.)

When Robert died in 1856, Clara stopped composing. Why? Partly because she was heartbroken but also because…

Why did Clara Schumann stop composing?

She had 7 kids to support as a single parent at age 36. She gave concert tours for 40 more years to support her family. And changed the repertoire and concert tradition to what we have today!

So now you know some of the greatest works by Clara Wieck-Schumann.

And this is only scratching the surface…

You can listen to all these works in this playlist. And you can find the music scores in public domain on IMSLP.

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Clara Schumann

This post written in conjunction with research from Hensel Pushers.

Composer and pianist, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Clara Wieck-Schumann had an uncanny amount in common. Their artistic lives worked in parallel during the 1830s and 40s, in separate cities without meeting until the last months of Hensel’s life. They promoted similarly undervalued repertoire, shared a deep love of Bach, and exercised a massive influence on the artform as we know it.

Born in 1805, Hensel came first of the big-name Romantic Era composers. She was older than her brother, one of his teachers, and a major influence on his music, style, and taste. She was born before Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin, and of course, Clara Wieck and Johannes Brahms.

Hensel was a brilliant composer of ingenious works who, like Clara, struggled to have her music taken seriously, though her works were known by and impacted the canon composers around her.

The two women first learned of each other via their connection with Felix.

Crossing Paths

The first mention of Hensel in the Litzmann biography of Clara Wieck-Schumann (where Clara’s diaries are published) is November 1835 in a quote from a letter written by her brother.

The same concert Clara premiered her Piano Concerto, her first concert with Felix conducting in his new post as Leipzig Gewandhaus music director, Clara premiered his B minor Capriccio. “Only think Fanny,” Felix wrote to Hensel after “Wieck’s concert” that “Clara played it like a little demon and I liked it very well.”

In 1837, Hensel wrote to Felix she heard the 17-year-old virtuosa perform in Berlin, but it seems they did not meet. By sad accident, they missed each other during Clara’s year in Berlin too, because in 1840, Hensel was on a trip to Italy.

In 1843, Hensel went with her family to newly married Clara Schumann’s house for an evening in Leipzig, though they don’t seem to have gotten to know each other. Clara was still young, only 24, and Hensel was 38. Robert’s diary notes, “Frau Hensel, whose mind and depth of feeling speak through her eyes,” and we can assume Clara felt the same. Hensel notes hearing Clara play some of her husband’s compositions, but that she did not like them very much.

A Too Short Relationship

In 1847, Clara and her husband were in Berlin for two months and FINALLY Clara and Hensel had a chance to build a friendship. Clara notes she felt at home in the Hensel house, “They are all so kind to me here,” and her “chief attraction” was to Fanny.

Robert’s diary notes they attended one of Hensel’s “big soirées,” famous in the “elegant world of Berlin.” Clara admired Hensel especially as a pianist.

“I have taken a great fancy to Frau Hensel and feel especially attracted to her in regard to music. We almost always harmonize with each other, and her conversation is always interesting, only one has to accustom oneself to her rather brusque manner.”

Clara Schumann’s diary, March 15th, 1847

Hensel felt a similar affinity.

“Frau Schumann comes to me almost every day, and I’ve grown quite fond of her.”

Fanny Hensel’s diary, March 20th 1847

Being Women Composers

One of the reasons I’ve put off doing this blog post is fear of how people might misconstrue and villainize Clara for the following comment. But I ask you to please remember, this is a blatant example of what today we call internalized misogyny. Clara adds about Hensel’s compositions, “Women always betray themselves in their compositions, and this is true of myself as well as of others.”

Statements like this are an example of how Clara was a victim of the prejudiced system around her,  and it must be noted—Clara kept her diary as a record for her husband and his opinions too and that he read them.

Clara’s actions, however, as usual, contradict her words. On one of her 4 concerts in Berlin, she performed a Hensel lied (the program doesn’t say which song) alongside probably the first public performance of Clara’s new Piano Trio.

It’s possibly the only time in her career where Clara publicly programmed a work by another woman composer. (Don’t anyone dare condemn Clara for this fact either. It’s a mournful sign of just how much misogyny Clara was surrounded by her whole life.) A fact to be noted and celebrated as proof how much Clara respected and valued Hensel as a musician and composer.

Premature Death and Loss

The impact Fanny Hensel had on the Romantic Era of classical music, its repertoire, and by extension the music we have and love today, is impossible to calculate. Hensel was a major factor in Clara and Robert’s considering a move to Berlin. But Hensel died two months after she and Clara met, and Clara felt it severely.

“I was very much upset by this news, for I had a great respect for this remarkable woman and should very much have enjoyed getting to know her better.”

Clara Schumann’s diary, May 18th, 1847

For more on Fanny Hensel’s follow Hensel Pushers on Twitter or check out the Hensel Pushers website for many of the unpublished works. Also find the complete publication of her lieder at Hensel’s Songs Online.

Student’s Reaction to Clara Wieck’s Concerto: Hearing It LIVE for the First Time

“This all led me to reading about her life, which evolved into me wanting to compose just like her.”

Stellaria Ciampolini Vukelić learned about Clara Wieck’s Piano Concerto around the same age as the composer herself began writing it – age 13. For reference, *I* Sarah Fritz didn’t learn of its existence until I was in my thirties or hear it first performed until age 37. So I asked Stellaria to share with us what it was like to hear the concerto live for the first time – around the age when the composer herself first performed it.

On Sunday the 6th November, I went to one of the most incredible concerts of my life at the Bern Casino. Walking into the hall, I was overcome with anticipation for the piece de resistance of this programme—Clara Schumann’s Piano Concert. A staple in her catalogue of compositions. A groundbreaking, unconventional, virtuosic piece that will emotionally transport you. 

The story behind the concerto is as incredible as the piece itself. A thirteen year old Clara began sketching the first plans for the piece in 1832, finishing the first draft at the age of 14 in 1833, and premiering it herself at the age of 16 in 1835, under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn. 

I have spent years of my life obsessed with Clara and the concerto holds a very special place in my heart. I first came across her works when I was 13 and soon became enraptured by her compositions. Her virtuosic piano writing, her awesome melodies, her striking harmonies. She was the first female composer I’d ever come across and I’d never really thought about the fact that we only learn about great male composers in school. This all led me to reading about her life, which evolved into me wanting to compose just like her (though who can ever replicate such compositional genius?). After finding out every possible detail about her life, I was struck by all the influence she’s had on music. How she’d single handedly ensured the legacy of Robert and Johannes. 

Since then, I’ve discovered so much new music by women and as a confused GCSE student, I was inspired to take my music studies more seriously. Now, I’m preparing to apply to university as a music student. One of my essays for my music coursework is on the concerto and how Clara inspired future composers as well as her contemporaries. 

Around 2 years ago, I got around to actually playing and studying her music properly. Naturally, I had to get my hands on a copy of the concerto (among other pieces). I now have a Breitkopf full score as well and the piano reduction which I’ve filled with analysis and other such markings.

Having spent literal hours with the concerto score, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the performance, both during and after. I’ve listened to all the recordings, my favourite being Ragna Schirmer’s performance with Ariane Matiakh and the Staatskapelle Halle, so hearing it live for the first time was something so distinctive. It’s difficult to put into words, but I’ve attempted to write every thought I could recollect down:

Performance Reaction:

I must say, the conductor’s choice of phrasing in the opening wasn’t exactly to my disposition but when the soloist, Alice Burla entered with the cadenza-like octaves, my jaw dropped. 

I knew instantly that this is what I have been waiting for my entire life. 

She played the whole piece with such mastery, creating dazzling colour with the piano and perfectly emulating Clara’s seemingly improvisational piano writing as well as the virtuosity of the piece. Sitting in the stalls in the fourth row, I saw her hands effortlessly gliding up and down the keyboard. I particularly enjoyed her choice of completely slowing down the bar before the slow movement, which beautifully accentuated the decorative Neapolitan colouristation and added to the idea that this piece can be attributed to an improvisational style. 

The slow movement brought me to tears. Burla’s phrasing and delicacy gave voice to the unusual yet stunning harmonies as well as the little chromatic inflictions here and there. And, as if the first half of the movement wasn’t phenomenal enough, the cello solo topped it all. 

The 20-year-old principal cellist of the SJSO gave a tear-inducing performance, and the atmosphere in the hall completely shifted. The cello and piano were in perfect conjunction with each other. I felt transformed and peaceful, which was soon interrupted by Clara’s dramatic transition to the Finale. 

As soon as the trumpets came in with their E octave, again, the energy completely shifted. The lively Rondo movement came to life, the piano octaves were back, virtuosity was at its finest. The entire range of the piano and orchestra, massive scale passages, rich harmonies, chromaticism and the driving force, held by Maestro Mario Venganzo, marked the ending of this masterwork. 

The young Canadian pianist played the entire concerto to Clara’s taste, and I wouldn’t have wanted my first live experience of this piece any other way. After the concert, I was lucky enough to meet Alice, and she very kindly chatted to me a bit. She also commented on the improvisatory style of the piece and even mentioned that in that bar before the slow movement (which I thoroughly enjoyed), she had played a mini cadenza of sorts in previous performances. I hope that someone will lend this to their interpretation of the piece in the future.  

Somehow, it has taken four years for me to find a live performance of her concerto that I can attend, and I think it’s the wait that made this evening so memorable. 

Spending so many years listening to recordings of the piece, I never got the opportunity to really appreciate its delicacy. Hearing it live lends a whole new dimension that just cannot be heard through speakers or a pair of headphones. I heard new details that I’ve never picked up on before (not even with the score!). When you keep listening to the same three recordings, you become accustomed to those versions, and I now find it so limiting. 

I want to hear it differently every time I listen to it. There’s no going back, and I earnestly hope that Clara’s concerto is programmed more regularly.

You can follow Stellaria Ciampolini Vukelić on Twitter and wish them well in their future music studies.

More posts on Clara Wieck-Schumann’s Piano Concerto…

Interview with Beatrice Rana

The History and Influence of Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto

New York Times article: Clara Schumann and Florence Price Get Their Due at Carnegie Hall

Beatrice Rana Interview on Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto

“When I was 14, I studied composition... I recognized the kind of enthusiasm I had when I was that age. It made me feel so close to this person while studying the concerto.” ~Beatrice Rana

For the NY Times article, Clara Schumann and Florence Price Get Their Due, I interviewed pianist, Beatrice Rana, who debuted Clara Wieck’s concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Oct. 27th, 2022 and at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 28th. She’s a great champion of the work, and I dare anyone to read her words and not come away with more respect for the Wieck concerto.

Here is our FULL conversation.

Sarah Fritz: I can’t wait to hear you play Clara next week. I’m so excited!

Beatrice Rana: Me too. I’m so excited to come to the U.S. to bring this wonderful concerto.

SF: Do you mind if I ask what’s wonderful about it? Tell me.

BR: I think everything is so incredibly surprising with this concerto. First of all, I think it’s quite amazing to realize Clara was 14 when she wrote this concerto, and I was lucky enough to play it with Yannick Nezet- Seguin many times. We discussed about the fact that it should be called Clara Wieck concerto at the time she was not married to Robert. It’s a genius work in many ways. First of all think on the structural level. We think always of the revolutionary writing in Liszt’s concerto or Schumann’s concerto. The Clara concerto is equally revolutionary. If we think of the second mvt, I can’t think of any other composer at the time that wrote such a movement only with piano and cello solo. Its such a way of thinking of music without any kind of limits. To think that it was a young lady, and at the time for female composers, there were so many limits to think at the time that she was able to do something like this – to me, it’s just extraordinary.

And also another thing that’s quite important, when I think of important romantic composers Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, I always think that the way they wrote music was very much reflecting the way that they played the instrument. So the facility of the pianism of Chopin is very much reflected on the music. The virtuosity of Liszt is very much in the music he composed. And on the very same level, this happens also with Clara because you know, I played only very little pieces by Clara before this concerto. But as soon as I approached the reading of the concerto, I immediately realized which kind of virtuosity she had in the hands because it’s a very peculiar writing. You don’t find this kind of writing in Robert or Felix Mendelssohn or someone like that. There is a very strong personality in what she writes.

SF: Can you give anymore details to that? What is peculiar or what is the personality? Or is that really hard to define?

BR: First of all, you can see she was a great virtuoso because what she writes is very challenging for the piano. I think that she had very agile hands because the concerto is full of jumps and very light technique that in a way is very Biedermeier but not in the way Mendelssohn was doing. I think she also had quite big hands because with the position that’s required, the hands of the pianist are very large.

You know in a way it’s very funny when I started to read about this concerto, I realized that she was 14 so basically a teenager. Of course, I don’t want to compare myself, but when I was 14, I studied composition.

SF: *gasp* Did you really?! That’s great!

BR: You know, it’s very funny in a way I recognized the kind of enthusiasm I had when I was that age. It made me feel so close to this person while studying the concerto, because I could feel she was a teenager that, of course, she was used to spending so much time on the piano and also used to improvising, because the concerto is full of these improvisation moments that are so free and so operatic in a way also. I think there are very many aspects that make this concerto so special.

SF: This is invaluable. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to hear you say these things. Thank you. I think you’ve kind of covered this basically but specifically, where do feel it fits in the repertoire compared to the other standard concerti?   

BR: I think that on the emotional level – let’s say what this music is telling people it’s very much associated with the Chopin piano concerti, much more than Schumann, because you know the piano is a diva in a way. I remember the first rehearsal I did of this concerto was quite surprising because when we finished playing through the whole concerto at the end I realized I was playing the whole time. Really there is not so much time left to the orchestra. And I had this feeling when I played the Chopin piano concerti. Yes, the orchestra it’s important but the most important part is it’s a real piano concerto, solo piano with an orchestra.

And also a very funny thing, Clara concerto is the only concerto with Chopin’s first concerto to have only one trombone. It doesn’t happen in any other concerto. I think she took quite a lot of inspiration from Chopin’s writing. On the emotional level it can easily be compared with Chopin, but on the structural level this is something different. I think that probably the one that is closer is Liszt’s first concerto. The Clara concerto is a very compact concerto and the themes are connected from one movement to the other and of course there is no interruption between movements. Everything is connected. And in a way Liszt just modified completely the classical structure of the concerto, I think that also Clara did in a way because as I told you the second movement, I think, it is a romanze without words with cello and piano. It’s something that goes beyond any imagination for that time and also in the way she developed the themes. She started to compose the 3rd movement and then slowly she built the rest of the concerto. It made a very different perspective on the overall structure.  I think that it’s very very underestimated, the intellectual value of this concerto in the history of music.

SF: Agreed. Oh my goodness this is priceless. Thank you. You’re like taking the things I hoped you’d say and then like … [moves hand up above the bar].

BR: I’m so grateful that you’re doing this. Of course I noticed your enthusiasm on your tweets. Really, it’s nice to see that there is support from people because presenters are always afraid to present new repertoire. And I tell you every time I play this concerto the audience was so happy, so enthusiastic. So I think that really we need to give more attention to this music.

SF: Absolutely. That’s the whole idea. I’m glad it seems to be helpful and it’s working. I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Any other words for the public to help them fall in love with it?

BR: Honestly what I think is that it’s not a problem. People that don’t know it, don’t have prejudice. Usually the problem is when people think they know this kind of music and then they have prejudice. But what I notice is that playing this in concert halls where they had no idea what this concerto sounded like, it was an amazing surprise. The most important thing is not to have prejudice about this music. It’s not a minor composer. It just happened unfortunately because of a time when she thought she couldn’t be a good composer. She was I think one of the most clever people in the history of music. What I really hope is the fact that we are bringing this concerto especially will inspire other pianists and other musicians to play it. Because the only way to give dignity to a piece is to play it and to listen to it. We can talk and we can promote it but at the very end, it needs to be played. It needs to heard.

And for me the biggest success, last week I was in Amsterdam playing a recital, and I arrived at the concert Concertgebouw. Backstage, I met a person. He said to me, “You know I listened to your broadcast of the Clara Schumann concerto in Hamburg and thank you for playing it. I didn’t know this concerto. I think it’s so beautiful. Thank you for making me discover this.” And this was a musician of the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

SF: Wow.

BR: So that’s the thing. I hope we will play more and more of this music because this is the only way to give dignity.

SF: I think I saw in one of your Instagram posts that you made a recording. Is that true?

BR: It’s true. Absolutely. We did a live recording in Baden-Baden with Yannick and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe with Warner Classical. Yannick was so nice to agree to that on a different label.

SF: Wonderful. That’s so great. I’m so excited, I can’t wait!

Beatrice Rana’s recording of Clara Wieck’s concerto releases February 4th, 2023.

For more extras about the NY Times article, read my interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Blog post outtakes from the article coming soon.

Also, check out my co-writer for this article, Price scholar, A. Kori Hill’s blog.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin on WHY Progams like Price/ Wieck/ Ravel with the Philadelphia Orchestra

“The only way we can get institutions to do it is if the leaders take it really personally.” ~Yannick Nézet-Séguin

For the NY Times article,Clara Schumann and Florence Price Get Their Due At Carnegie Hall,” I spoke with Yannick Nézet-Séguin about WHY he’s doing programs like Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 and Clara Wieck’s Piano Concerto with Maurice Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin and Boléro with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Here is our FULL conversation.

Get ready – he had lots of surprises!

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: Hi Sarah!

Sarah Fritz: Hi Yannick, thanks so much for calling!

YNG: Well that’s great. Thank you for writing this. And I’m glad to have the chance to speak in person. I know we make music together but it’s always at a bit of a distance.

SF: It is, yes! It’s nice to chat. Thank you. I’m so excited to be writing this and that Josh Barone is letting me do this. I’m co-writing with Price scholar, A. Kori Hill. She’s defending her dissertation today on Florence Price, so that’s why you have just me.

YNG: That’s nice! That’s great!

SF: Yes, so please tell me about this very special program.

YNG: I mean, I think I’ve been… We’ve been committed… I say “I” because yes, it’s a lot of what the Philadelphia truly is, first and foremost is doing. I’ve been also playing Florence Price and Clara Wieck elsewhere as I know you know.

SF: Yes!

YNG: I read you all the time.

SF: Ohhhh.

YNG: And I love it.

SF: Thank you.

YNG: So it is a commitment of the institution and the organization, and the whole Philadelphia Orchestra, I should say, is committed to it. It’s also something I take very personally. And that’s the only way we can get institutions to do it is if the leaders take it really personally.

And so we wanted to continue our journey thru Florence Price’s symphonies after recording them because that was soooo wonderful that we could do this during the pandemic. But in a way it was weird because usually you record something after you’ve played it a lot. And now we did more like the pop music way of doing things which is you record first and then you tour with it. [laughs]

SF: Yes!

YNG: So the Third Symphony, we never did [perform it for an audience], and I’m rehearsing it at the moment, and it’s fascinating how playing a lot of Price’s music, touring with the First Symphony recently, playing the violin concertos three weeks ago, playing the piano concerto again in the summer, now we know even better the language and the idiom like for any composer so we can go much further. And even though I still love our recording, I have to say that in a similar way that when I do a Brahms symphony or a Mahler symphony and we do it again a few years later it gets better. And Florence’s music is certainly like a great wine that really ages very well and that we can keep exploring all the finesse and the detail and the language.

And for Clara, I think I’ve been committed to bringing this piece for a long time and we just needed to find the right opportunity because I wanted it to be at Carnegie Hall too. We needed the right program, the right soloist, and as you know, I recorded this piece with Beatrice Rana.

SF: Oh she’s wonderful. I spoke to her on Friday. What an amazing choice. Yes.

YNG: Yeah, she gets and she champions and defends this piece and of course you know it’s… maybe it’s for better for worse… no, it’s not for worse… but it’s maybe a bit cliché to bring Clara with Robert in a program and that’s why we didn’t do it this time. But I did it back in Baden-Baden and for our recording, but I think it’s very instructive especially knowing that she was there first, so you know…

SF: Yes.

YNG: He really took ideas from her. And not the other way around. That’s why Florence Price and Clara Wieck are… I would say immediate examples of missing links in our music history. Because there’s a lot that can be done in terms of giving voice to composers of our time, women, members of communities that have been too long overlooked or not present in our programming enough. In the case of Louise Farrenc, Clara Wieck, Fanny Mendelssohn, Florence Price, Lilli Boulanger, I would add, those are names where… I think it’s fascinating for concert goers to attend an evening where they hear Maurice Ravel and then they hear two women and they always thought, “no, there were no women composing in the 19th cent or the early 20th cent” and well, guess what? There were. And they were just not published enough or… well, I don’t need to explain all of that to you.

SF: Of course.

YNG: So that’s why I love… At first we were tempted to do a program of entirely women.

SF: Interesting.

YNG: And you know, in a way it could’ve been fun, but I also like that quickly we can have this as… of course now we write about it and it’s important but the goal is that in 5 or 10 years we don’t have to write about it.   

SF: Exactly. Yes!

YNG: But I think it’s also important—in order to get to that point of not talking about it, we need to make concrete actions and focus on it. And some people can say, maybe, “that’s too much” but I don’t care. We’ve had too much of those white European male for too long. We can certainly put the spotlight for many years to try and get back to a certain kind of balance in terms of what we see on our concert stage. The reflections, the viewpoints, this is what I really prefer to talk about. The viewpoints on life—a work of art is a viewpoint from an artist, and if you have only one part of society that always gets their viewpoint and their point of view that we hear constantly and … so that’s why it’s so important to have different viewpoints.

And that program is an example. Obviously.

SF: Oh my goodness, thank you. This is wonderful. A couple follow ups on what you said—why did you want to do it at Carnegie?

YNG: It’s a multiple answer in a way. The first thing is perhaps because Carnegie Hall is so important to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s history. And I would say it’s more important than ever because for years, decades… the orchestra opened Carnegie Hall over a hundred years ago. We go every year a few times a year. We take the same train, the same schedule. We do a quick sound check, people have a leisurely pre-concert dinner or late lunch, whatever you want to call it. Then everyone goes home on the train after and it’s a party!

But most importantly, I think we need as a Philadelphia Orchestra to represent who we are in those programs. And I felt that a few years ago it was more what people wanted to hear from the orchestra that we were giving them. We gave them the Strausses and the Mahlers and the Brahms and the Rachmaninoffs and that was it. And as our programming in the last 8, 7, 6 years and especially the last 2 or 3 years has changed, we really had to discuss with Carnegie Hall to makes sure that whatever we do there represents, yes, what people expect from the Philadelphia Orchestra, but much more importantly, what I really want is, it reflects what we believe in and what we’re doing in Philadelphia. That’s why this program exists.

That’s why last year we had the program with Valerie Coleman’s music and Florence Price Symphony No. 1 and Mathew Aucoin premiere. And later this year we’re going to have John Luther Adams world premiere Vespers with The Crossing that we’re going to bring to Carnegie Hall.

And of course why is it important to us? Not only is it one of my favorite acoustics ever but also New York is still one of centers in the world where things happen. And Carnegie Hall being the prime venue—and of course there’s excitement around the new Geffen Hall which I think is amazing for New York but—Carnegie Hall remains this beacon where art is at the moment. And so much is happening in the country and, humbly, I think the Philadelphia has a big big part to play in this.

And we are doing our part and I’m glad that we’re doing it and certainly this is only the beginning for us. Programming this way and giving voice to more women on the podium and women composing, you know, we can extend this to also African American, also Latinx communities, also representation of LGBTQ+ communities, our Asian communities, that’s very important that this is represented in our repertoire but also at Carnegie.

SF: Yes. This is fantastic. Can I ask about… you mentioned there’s a connection with Ravel, Price, and Wieck. Can you give more words to that?

YNG: Especially in the case of Ravel and Price, I think especially in her Third Symphony. You know, the first symphony everyone thinks about Dvorak which is not wrong. What sometimes I find wrong is there’s this assumption that she copied Dvorak, and I’m like hang on. He came to American and used the material that belonged to people like Florence Price and did a beautiful symphony out of it. That’s great for Dvorak, but it’s quite the other way round. Though she composed a little later than Dvorak doesn’t mean she copied. So in the case of the Third Symphony the references that I get are much wider.

Even today one of my musicians was coming up to me and said look I see that she was probably teaching a lot of Bach and playing a lot of Bach at the organ and therefore, there’s a reference in the Third Symphony to Brandenburg 3. And those are references and this is how…

SF: Can you say where? I’m sorry—do you remember where it was?

YNG: Yes, this is the opening of the Allegro movement of the Third Symphony. [Sings Brandenburg 3 opening theme.]

SF: Oh, okay. Yeah!

YNG: That was interesting because I keep referencing Bruckner to them in some of the religious aspect or spiritual aspect of the music. It’s Bruckner infused with an essential part of African American culture which is that religion in general is associated with a much more joyful and physical way of approaching spirituality. As opposed to Catholic which is a little removed in a way. Bruckner has this religious aspect, if I can sum it up in a few words. Bruckner is like a cathedral and there’s something a little static about it, and in Florence Price’s music it’s the same cathedral but we can see people dancing in it. And that is I believe a crucial difference.

And where does Ravel come into play—maybe not especially in Le tombeau but in the Bolero, there is the side of Ravel which is very close to jazz. And which was this moment where in Paris there was the living together of influences like Gershwin, and I feel like this is where it started to communicate together and connect and things became in the air with an ear for orchestration and the use of percussion which Florence Price uses a lot in her symphony. And I believe I wouldn’t say that it’s jazzy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that it’s a jazzy symphony.  But clearly there’s a more assumed way of bringing jazz harmonies and influences into the symphonic format which I believe was the same—uh, démache in French—the same path, or the same goal that Ravel was doing in his own way at a similar time.

And I love the tribute with Le tombeau de Couperin to older forms of music which you know I just referenced Bach now and Bruckner for Florence Price. There is something that still pays tribute to the forms of the past. Its calling one movement a Scherzo because usually for her the third movement is called a Juba dance but then she calls the finale a scherzo, which is still a nod to all the scherzos in the European symphonic forms.

And maybe a last connection with Clara this time.

SF: Yes, please. That’s what was my next question.

YNG: Yeah, Clara Wieck’s concerto is closer I believe to the works of people like Frederic Chopin than Robert Schumann. And in that sense to have the cello being the only dialogue in the second movement which of course is clearly a love letter to Robert, to her future husband. [laughs]

SF: [laughs] Yes.

YNG: What I mean is musically and formally I see a lot of Chopin connections which to me makes it connected to Ravel, especially his more intimate works like Tombeau. There is a lot of Fauré in it, lot of influences of Chopin. I believe they are both connected in this way. This being said, I love connections. It’s my passion in life when I rehearse. I also love to tell people in the orchestra, musicians, always look, listen, don’t you think this reminds you of this and that and that. But this being said, I think it’s the same for every composer. Drawing connections doesn’t mean these composers are imitating.  

SF: Yes.

YNG: When I make connections with other composers, when I talk about Clara Wieck and Florence Price, it’s not at all because I think they were imitating their male colleagues. Not at all. It’s just a way of the human brain to know a little bit more what to expect. And then the surprise of how personal the language is of these women is even more amazing.

SF: That’s so true. I completely see what you’re saying. I’m realizing that we’re at your time but real quick do you see connections between Price and Wieck.

YNG: [hesitates and laughs]

SF: Or… or…go ahead.

YNG: No, I wanna make sure it comes across the right way.

SF: Sure, sure. Or maybe why did you program them together, if that’s a better…

YNG: No, no, no, it’s just… I do have an answer for it.

SF: Sure.

YNG: I just did Farrenc’s first symphony two weeks ago in Montreal, and you know as I was rehearsing it and playing it with some of my colleagues in the orchestra we… We realized that there is something in these women especially at that moment, arguably maybe still now, where being really personal and having the self-confidence to believe in what they wanted to bring to the world.

SF: Absolutely.

YNG: And that is maybe the connection. I don’t want it to be reductive of you know, all women to succeed they need to be this or that…

SF: No, I see what you’re saying. It is a compliment.

YNG: Yeah, absolutely. I just feel that they stand on their own, especially those two pieces. Especially Price 3, and next year we perform Price 4, and I think that’s even more like this. And Clara Wieck’s concerto is truly a work that has no equivalent. Both of them. And that’s what’s connecting them.

SF: Oh that’s so amazing. This is priceless. Shall I let you go or… ?

YNG: Yes, unfortunately. I have an audition coming up for principal trumpet.

SF: That would be very important. I look forward to the performances this week—I will be at all four!

YNG: Oh that’s fantastic! Thank you so much, Sarah, and hopefully we’ll say hello after.

For more extras from the New York Times article, check back tomorrow for the full interview with pianist Beatrice Rana and the blog post of outtakes.

Also check out my co-writer, Florence Price scholar, A. Kori Hill’s blog.

Best #TeamClara Tweets Ever

It’s the 2 year anniversary of the Clara Schumann stan Twitter account @sarahfritzwritr! When I started this mad endeavor in October 2020, I never imagined I’d meet so many Clara fans. Thanks for going on this wild ride with me. I couldn’t do it without you!

Here’s a nostalgic recap – some of yours and my favorite tweets over the years.

Go #TeamClara!

Cheers to many more! There is no end to the Clara tweet fodder. As long as you’re here for it, I am too. See you on Twitter! #TeamClara4Ever

And if Twitter isn’t your thing, but you’d like monthly #TeamClara fun in your inbox, the newsletter is here for you…

How Clara Schumann Changed History

Why is Clara Schumann important?

Clara Schumann helped define classical music as we know it. For those who squirm – how could that possibly be true? A woman with power? In the 19th century?

It’s true.

Clara Schumann curated an era.

She shaped the tastes of the public that live on today. The traditions which have been in place for hundreds of years and many still hold as gospel were made popular by her. Her judgement curated which composers deserved to be in the canon. Without her, it’s doubtful we’d know the names of some of the most famous canon composers we take for granted.

Why don’t history classes and textbooks talk about this?

Because the credit for her decisions has been appropriated by people who deny she ever existed as anything but a wife, muse, and an obstacle in men’s lives.

Commitment to the composers intentions was made popular by Clara. She was the first to play full concerts from memory and founded the traditions of the piano concert as we know it.

Some of the greatest composers in history, who we assume have always been unforgettable, would likely be forgotten if not for her tireless 60-year promotion – mainly Schumann, Brahms, and Chopin. The piano works of Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn probably never would’ve made it into the concert hall, let alone permanent repertoire status. [See her 1,200 plus catalogue of programs at the Schumann Haus Zwickau, the reviews of Eduard Hanslick, and the Guardian’s 1896 obituary.]

Her taste, influence, and musical genius affected every composer of the 19th century Romantic Era. Both the composers we remember and those we don’t, those who loved her and those who hated her – no matter how they tried to deny it, cover it up, or speak ill of her.

She was the reason Robert Schumann became a composer at all. She was Johannes Brahms’s secret weapon, the teacher who held his compositions to the highest standards, the advisor who made his career. She made them both into revered household names through tireless promotion over decades. Their writing some of the greatest symphonies in history probably never would’ve happened without her compositional teaching, coaching, and influence in their lives. [See their decades of correspondence and diaries.]

Clara Wieck, badass tastemaker composer and virtuoso, 1840, age 20

Her artistry shaped a movement.

During the height of Clara Schumann’s career, abstract music solely for music’s sake without story or title – the sonata, the concerto, the symphony, the prelude & fugue – was in mortal danger. It was floundering in popularity and fading from fashion under the programmatic waves toward “the music of the future” in the 1850s-60s. She kept a movement alive which after the early deaths of Mendelssohn and Robert was threatened with extinction. She was an undeniable force of cultural change.

Though Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner would deny it and rarely mention her name, her powerful opposition to their movement was inescapable in the so-called “War of the Romantics.” She swayed public taste not just in concert halls but in palaces, parlors, and elite soirée across the continent. The weight she carried with her fame and the respect she commanded with her unparalleled artistry affected the course of a culture war.

Her compositions left an indelible mark.

ALL her contemporaries knew her works. And though they denied it to the grave, her music influenced them all. Hints they secretly respected her compositional genius are hidden in even their greatest works and are slowly being acknowledged by scholars. And we will only continue to discover more.

Though the choices Clara Schumann made over 150 years ago were revolutionary for the historical time period, they’re not anymore.

While I advocate for her legendary legacy, to give her credit where it’s due, if Clara lived now, she’d make very different choices. Her raison d’etre was working for composers and works NOT yet popularized. Today she’d still be making revolutionary moves for composers in danger of being forgotten. She advocated for both living and historic composers whose music was threatened with obscurity.

And so should we.

Read the detailed history of Clara Wieck-Schumann’s life.

Clara Schumann: Brahms’s Mentor Not His Muse

To call Clara Schumann “the muse of Brahms” is a reductive stereotype. It’s like saying Wolfgang played piano, or Ludwig wrote nice tunes, or Pauline Viardot sang pretty. Those things are technically true, but as descriptors, they laughably miss the point. They are limiting and dismissive of the truth.

If you’ve read Clara and Johannes Brahms’s letters (like ACTUALLY READ THEM and not just selective quotes), it’s a tongue-in-cheek chuckle at the “muse” assertion. Like, “Right, sure, you tell yourself that.”

[The muse archetype itself is very gendered. It objectifies women for men’s creative use and erases their own powers to create. But here I’ll focus on how “muse” does not pertain to Clara.]

Definition of muse: a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist

Oxford dictionary

What Brahms Said

Did Johannes call Clara his muse? No. Never.

The first time Johannes says he’s in love with Clara in a letter to Josef Joachim, in the same sentence, he says he “admires her.” When Johannes sent Clara the dedication of his second sonata, he hoped she would “look on it as favorably as the first.”

He wanted her approval of his work. He admired her as a musician.

In the first weeks of their acquaintance, Robert wrote to Josef that Johannes’s piano playing had improved surprisingly, and “I suspect my wife is behind it,” i.e. Clara was giving Johannes piano lessons. A year and half later, Johannes wrote Clara that he had no hope of ever being as good of a performer as her.

The closest Johannes got to calling Clara “muse” is his description of his first concerto’s Adagio as “a portrait of Clara” But even that is beyond the traditional definition as “inspiration.” He was embodying her as a person in musical sound, not just inspired to create. He was seeking to represent her.  

Clara’s Professional Influence

There are nearly a thousand letters published from their 43-year correspondence. (Beginning in 1854, after Robert was hospitalized, ending the week of her death in 1896.) Every letter speaks of their professional careers, her concerts, his compositions, their families, friends, and personal struggles.

It’s clear they loved each other as friends always, (perhaps as more sometimes), but even when they fought, they were professional colleagues. The music and their careers were the glue that got their relationship through countless arguments.

Clara liberally delved out advice and critiques of his work, from opus 1 to 119. Johannes sent her his manuscripts in draft form, usually accompanied by notes of self-degradation, anticipating her criticism. He asked her opinion of his career choices and vented his professional problems.

Clara was the ultimate Influencer, the Priestess of Art who commanded everyone’s respect and wielded it with grace and power throughout the mid and late Romantic Era. And she focused a great deal of that influence on ushering Johannes to greatness.

Her fame and influence got his early career off the ground.

He asked her to sell his work to his major publisher Simrock. Which she did. Her diary says, she would’ve done it “for no one else.” Clara began the relationship with the publisher who would publish all his symphonies and later works.

She gave Johannes her extra concert gigs, students, and court appointments. She coached him in his first concerto performances with orchestra. Clara taught him everything she knew about being a performer and composer, and all her considerable mastery about achieving success.

Which, let’s face it, she was the best in the biz at the time.  

Does any of this describe a “muse”? Honestly?

Clara Schumann, Compositional Coach

At age 22, Johannes studied the Ninth Symphony with Clara, playing it four hands every day for weeks. Clara’s diary says she “studied theory with Johannes.” As in, she was part of his foundational obsession with counterpoint. He sent counterpoint exercises to her in letters, trying to impress her. She’d mastered fugue writing a decade before; he hadn’t even tried yet. He wrote her, “We shall see how I get on with fugues.”

Johannes spent thousands of hours discussing compositional form and musical philosophy with her. Not to mention their tens of thousands of hours at the piano, working on technique and repertoire and Clara critiquing his compositions. They played endless chamber music and transcriptions together.

He wasn’t inspired by her in the “I love you, you’re pretty” objectifying stereotype. He desired to please her musical sense, her unparalleled taste and genius.

He knew she loved things like pedal points and mono-thematic development. He knew she was easily bored with predictable tonalities and rhythms and always demanded “freshness.” She called him out when he wrote something generic, or if it was too repetitive, or if she thought it wasn’t “Brahmsian” enough.

Her standards were higher than anyone else’s. She’d been composing and orchestrating large scale works since her concerto as a teenager. Her expectations motivated Johannes to be the very best technically and artistically. She expected and believed he could compose at a higher level than any composer she knew.

Clara’s historical knowledge of the artform had a long-ranging, unmatched contextual perspective. She understood where his work needed to go and how he needed to get there. She motivated him to build on Beethoven, to be better than Mozart, to write fugues as good as Bach’s.

Clara was a musical genius – perhaps the greatest alive in Germany at the time of Johannes’s painstaking growth period. (Come at me about Liszt & Wagner some other time.) Pleasing Clara with his work took all Johannes’s considerable skill and every wit of his own genius. After Robert died, there was no living composer she valued and believed in as much as him.

Brahms Needed Clara’s Help

Her approval and support sustained him in incalculable ways.

When no one else cared, when publishers were rejecting his work, when his contemporaries were scorning him, and audiences were hissing him off the stage, Clara was there, encouraging him and whispering in his ear how she adored his genius.

Was Clara a “source” of inspiration?

It was the inverse. She wasn’t the internal source, she was the external motivator.

Clara was Johannes’s standard, his mentor and teacher, his colleague and intimate friend. He loved her and admired her but not as a muse, but for being the one person with enough genius to understand and appreciate his work when no one else did.  

She was the person he turned to for answers when he had none. 

What should we say instead of MUSE?

Muse is far and away inadequate. Mentor, teacher, advisor, or musical partner comes closer.

[Footnote: Yes, Robert is traditionally called Johannes’s mentor. This is another blog post, but briefly, Robert was only in the same house as Johannes for one month before Robert was hospitalized. I’ve read zero evidence Robert taught him anything. It was Clara who studied Robert’s music, counterpoint, and orchestration with Johannes. Not Robert.]

In truth, Clara and Johannes’s relationship was outside the realm of normal descriptors. It had a depth, intimacy, and closeness more complex than what we can comprehend.

Their relationship is undefinable.

The melding of the hearts and minds of two of the most brilliant artists in Romantic history—what one word can encapsulate that?

The “muse” shortcut is tempting because of the romantic connotations. It’s easy. We like thinking about Johannes’s music being imbued with his love for Clara – which it was. Just that love was for her musical genius not in spite of it. It was more intimate and more romantic than mere musery. (Not a word, I know, but you get what I’m saying – there are no adequate words!)

Trying to describe their relationship is like trying to put their music into words – impossible. It would take an entire book…or a novel *ahem.* But all will inevitably fall short.

Let’s try something else, shall we? There’s three that come close:

Mentor, musical partner, and close professional friend

Take your pick!

Tips for Tweeting About Marginalized Composers

Every day I scroll classical music Twitter in a mix of rage and sadness. My feed is clogged with tweets about canon composers. Always. A precious minority post regularly about marginalized composers, and I am eternally grateful for their representation in my feed. (You know who you are – you give me life! ❤

But I am dying for more. . .

If everyone who loves a composer who’s been left out of the canon, (not for “lack of quality” but for marginalization) tweeted about their favorites regularly… *GASP*

Classical music Twitter would be a much, much healthier place. For everyone.

On that mission, here are some easy tips if you’d like to join me and help:

1) K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple and Short

(Yes, I changed the last word. Do you like it? 😉)

The simpler the better! Let go of profound and perfect. We have lots to say about our favorite composers. RESIST the temptation to tweet everything at once.

Threads and long tweets rarely catch attention, because the feed is oversaturated. Try not to use the full 280 characters. I try for 200 characters tops. The tweets that go nuts are frequently less than 100 characters.


Extra tip: I save cuts from long tweets in a notes file on my phone. Keep it for another day!

2) Make it FUN!

People respond to emojis/ snark/ enthusiasm/ passion in tweets. If it makes them laugh or smile, it will ALWAYS get more interaction. Always.

Pics of the composer help too.

Put links in replies to the tweet, and limit one tag or hashtag per tweet, whenever possible.

3) Repetition

Name recognition is one of the biggest obstacles for most marginalized composers. Tweeting about the same composer many times may seem redundant to you, but it’s NOT to your followers.

There’s a “seven touches” marketing principle. SEVEN TIMES minimum before people will even REMEMBER the name.


Every marginalized composer needs a fandom. No, I don’t mean worship or pedestals. It means devoted fans who purchase recordings, publications, and concert tickets whenever that composer is performed.

It doesn’t have to be the same composer every day. (I don’t wish my ADHD-induced hyperfocus-on-one-composer for ANYONE — HA!) But many once a week? It’s so exciting to meet other people who fan after the same composer as you. Or even better, win over new fans!

4) Simple Templates:

Tweets don’t have to be wise or witty. CLARITY is the only rule.

The goal isn’t tons of likes. The goal is exposure, even to one person.

[The first 6 months of @SarahFritzWritr, I was LUCKY if my tweets got 6 likes. It’s all trial and error. Now, I often spend days, weeks, even months thinking about tweets before I send them. Most of the ones that get good traction I spend 30-60 min. tightening in multiple drafts before tweeting them. No, I’m not exaggerating. No, I’m not advocating anyone spend that amount of time on Twitter. I just want you to know – it’s more about patience and perseverance than luck.]

If you’re not sure what to tweet, feel free to start with these very simple templates:

Now listening: [composer name and work] [optional emoji?]

I love [composer name]. My favorite work of theirs right now is [work name].

I’m such a fan of [composer name /work]. It’s perfect for when I’m [mood/activity].

Every tweet is an experiment. Learn from what does well and what doesn’t. Observe what tweets you like and try doing the same. No one can predict what the Twitter sphere will like at what time, or who may see it, or what mood they’re in that day.

Just don’t give up! Keep trying.

Final Thoughts & Frustrations

Twitter is a free sphere. Every time someone accuses me of worshipping Clara Schumann like she’s superior and criticizes me for not tweeting about other women composers… All I want to say is, Go ahead! Tweet about them!

[I retweet other people’s tweets about other composers every day, FYI.]

Many people jump on my Clara tweets with replies promoting other marginalized composers – at random. Which is fine but… I wish they’d also tweet about those composers from their own accounts. Ever.

I’m begging for more people to pleeease tweet about their favorite marginalized composers. Not just in replies to tweets when prompted by me or others. But original tweets.

Go out on a limb! Tell us what great music you love!

I’m not sure why so many are reluctant. A lot of reasons I suspect. If one of those is fear of getting hate for it — welcome to the club!

It’s not easy. But fighting prejudice never is.

I look forward to your tweets very much. 🙂