From Prodigy to Priestess: Clara Schumann at 200


Misc. Ms. 567
Purchased with income from the Horowitz Fund

[Four Studies for Piano], Manuscript

Clara Schumann was primarily a pianist, but she also composed. Many of her compositions are virtuosic piano pieces designed to display her remarkable abilities as a performer, but she also wrote songs, chamber music, and other works. Despite the widespread assumption that women could not become serious composers, most of her works were published, and they generally received favorable reviews. Unfortunately, she stopped composing after her husband’s death in 1856, and her music gradually sank into obscurity. Her achievements as a performer, in contrast, were never forgotten. It was not until the rise of the modern feminist movement in the late 20th century that scholars and musi¬cians began to revive her compositions, and she is now recognized as one of the most talented pianist-composers of her era.

In 2009 the Gilmore Music Library acquired this undated manuscript of a set of etudes by Clara Schumann. They are simply finger exercises, not serious creative works, but they provide a unique glimpse of her technique and her pedagogical methods.

Piano Concerto in A Minor, third movement
Angela Cheng, piano; the Women’s Philharmonic; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Lili Boulanger, Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre, Fanny Mendelssohn
(Koch International Classics, 1992)


Clara Wieck composed her first piano concerto (Op. 7) when she was only fourteen years old. Originally conceived as a one-movement piece, it was later expanded to three movements. She gave the first performance of the complete version in 1835, with Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

M1621 S392 op.37 1841+

From the library of Lowell Mason

“Warum willst du and’re fragen,” from Zwölf Gedichte, Op. 12
(Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, [1841])

Kym Amps, soprano; David Carhart, piano
Secret Whispers: Double Image Pays Homage to Clara Schumann (Meridian, 1996)

In 1841 Clara and Robert Schumann jointly published the Zwölf Gedichte, which includes songs by both composers; the texts for all twelve are by the same poet, Friedrich Rückert. It was Clara’s Opus 12 and Robert’s Opus 37. “Warum willst du and’re fragen,” the song displayed here, is by Clara.

Felix Mendelssohn and his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, sometimes published joint collections similar to this; the Zwölf Gesänge that were displayed in our Mendelssohn bicentenary exhibit in 2009 are one example. But there was a crucial difference: all twelve of those songs were attributed to Felix, and Fanny’s name appeared nowhere. Felix did not hesitate to give credit to his sister when the opportunity arose—for example, he told Queen Victoria, after she had sung one of Fanny’s songs thinking it was his!—but the Mendelssohn family believed that it would be inappropriate for a woman to publish music under her own name. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Clara Wieck Schumann were both brilliant musicians, but their lives were very different. As Nancy Reich (Clara Schumann’s biographer) has pointed out, the distinction was one of social class. The Mendelssohns were a wealthy family seeking to cement their status in the upper class (in spite of lingering prejudice against their Jewish heritage), so they felt obligated to abide by an unwritten rule forbidding women of their class from pursuing music as anything more than an avocation. The Wiecks, in contrast, had no such social pretensions, and Clara was unabashedly a professional musician from an early age.



Piano Trio in G Minor, first movement
Erica Dearing, violin; Joanna Borrett, cello; David Carhart, piano
Secret Whispers: Double Image Pays Homage to Clara Schumann (Meridian, 1996)



The Piano Trio (Op. 17, composed in 1846) is Clara Schumann's first work for chamber ensemble, and one of her most ambitious works in any genre. She and Robert shared an interest in chamber music in the 1840s, but he didn't complete his first piano trio until the following year.

Frederick R. Koch Collection
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library


Variations on a theme by Robert Schumann, op. 20
(Variation 6)

Manuscript facsimile


In 1853, Clara Schumann composed a set of variations on a theme from her husband Robert’s Albumblätter no. 1, from the Bunte Blätter, Op. 99. They were published in 1854 as her Op. 20, with a dedication to Robert. By that time, he was in the hospital in Endenich, Germany, where he would remain until his death two years later. The young Johannes Brahms, who had recently become close to both Schumanns, composed his own set of variations on the same theme, which he dedicated to Clara and published as his own Op. 11.

The manuscript for Variation 6 is part of the Frederick R. Koch Collection, a large and impressive collection of manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. We are grateful to Beinecke for providing a facsimile of this manuscript.

A selection from a performance of this piece (including Variation 6) is part of the audio section of this exhibit.