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Clara Schumann: A Guide to Resources

Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) was one of the greatest piano virtuosi of the 19th century, as well as a sophisticated composer. This guide connects researchers to primary and secondary sources by and related to her in the Music Division's collections.

Introduction

Scrapbook of Henriette Grabau. Holograph letter by Clara Schumann, 1852. Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Collection, Music Division.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was one of the greatest piano virtuosi of the nineteenth century, as well as a sophisticated composer. Born Clara Josephine Wieck in Leipzig, Germany to accomplished piano teacher Friedrich Wieck and soprano Marianne (née Tromlitz), her father rigorously trained his Wunderkind to develop her musical talent, technique, and work ethic.

At five years old, her formal musical training began with daily structured routines that prioritized her artistic training. There was little socialization encouraged, though she enjoyed membership in her father’s music circle by the time she was nine years old. At 11 years old, Wieck was preparing for her solo debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Shortly before her anticipated debut, her father welcomed a new boarder who had sought out piano study with the renowned teacher – a 20-year-old former law student by the name of Robert Schumann. The two students followed Friedrich's rigorous regimen, and Clara found a companion in Schumann; he was nine years her senior, but her technique and musicality outshone Schumann’s and, as time went on, Robert would see Clara as a vehicle for performing his original music. Ultimately, by the time Clara was 16, the relationship shifted to one of romance. Friedrich was furious at the courtship and even more enraged at their engagement. Despite paternal vitriol and a smear campaign against his former student, the Schumanns married in 1840, inspiring Robert’s famous Year of Song.

Clara Wieck Schumann's concert career spanned her entire life, and she relied on touring to support her family (including seven children) after Robert's mental illness led him to a suicide attempt and, ultimately, to an asylum. Her accomplishments extended beyond performance, however; she also composed stunning music that includes a piano concerto, piano trio, Lieder, and more. She wrote piano transcriptions and arrangements of chamber pieces and large-scale works, mostly by her husband. After Robert died, Clara assumed full control of editing his collected works and curating his legacy. She was quite anxious about her husband's late works, as she feared that his mental illness affected the quality of the music. Clara infamously destroyed Robert's Five Romances from 1853 to prevent their publication. After she died, several of Robert's late works were published against her wishes: Schumann's two movements from the "Frei aber einsam" Sonata, variations on a theme he wrote in February 1854, and his Violin Concerto. Despite initial concerns, Clara approved the publication of Robert's Mass and Requiem during her lifetime.

The Music Division, whose collections are served in the Performing Arts Reading Room, is home to manuscript and printed scores, correspondence, and literature by, about, and dedicated to Clara Wieck Schumann. Researchers may also wish to explore sound recordings of Schumann's music in the Recorded Sound Research Center or films about Schumann in the Moving Image Research Center.

Related Research Guides

About the Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.