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  • Writer's pictureKate Clinch

On Clara Schumann's Birthday

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

It is a natural thing as humans, to want to leave behind us a legacy, something of our life and soul that can live on beyond our mortal body. To weave something of our essence into the fabric of the world: to leave the world a richer, better place than we found it. Without this drive, would humanity still be wandering nomads wearing animal skins and grunting at each other, in a world devoid of music, literature, pyramids and cathedrals?

Throughout human history, we have sought to follow our passions and creativity, to learn from our experiences and perhaps to distill wisdom. And then to pass it on to future generations in some way. Through raising children, having friends who love us, and will carry our memory in their hearts. Through creating things, perhaps letters or music that allow those coming after us to glimpse our minds and maybe even gaze into our soul. Through blazing a path that others may be inspired follow. By leaving an intriguing mystery to be debated.

Sometimes, someone can achieve all of these things in one lifetime.

Clara Schumann, who was initially believed to be deaf because she didn’t speak until the age of four, debuted as a concert pianist as a young child, despite coming from a broken home, with an ambitious and controlling - perhaps abusive – father. In an era when women performers were rare and greeted with prejudice, she went on to have a career that spanned sixty-one years and was successful enough to support herself and her seven surviving children after she was tragically widowed at the age of thirty-seven.

Clara arranged music for her famous husband Robert, and was also a composer in her own right, again an unusual accomplishment for a woman in her time. Her music has stood the test of time and is still played today.

She had many friends in contemporary musical circles, and was known to encourage young musicians including Johannes Brahms, who became a devoted lifelong friend and dedicated the Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118 to her in 1893, three years before her death. This was the penultimate of his compositions published during his lifetime.

Clara left many letters behind her, enough that biographies can be based on them. However, she ensured that her letters to Brahms were burned before her death. Which is, of course, where the mystery comes in, and the internet has many examples of the debates among nosy musical historians about the nature of their relationship.

But there is a more important question to consider. Where would humanity be, if we lost that drive to leave a legacy behind us? If we lived our lives as if life is a chore without meaning and doesn’t really matter? Unfortunately, a brief glance at the news headlines is enough to reveal the answer to that question.

Let’s dedicate the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth, to tending the sparks of creativity and passion that inspire us to create a better world, for the benefit of all.

Happy birthday, Clara Schumann.

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