Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes The Music of Clara Wieck Schumann

Friedrich Wieck could be a first-class creep.  Nevertheless, we – meaning posterity, taken as widely as we please – owe him a debt of gratitude for the education he gave, the musical opportunities he afforded, and the professional contacts he made for his spectacularly gifted daughter, Clara (1819-1896).

Friedrich Wieck at the age of 45 in 1830, the year he first met Robert Schumann; Wieck’s daughter Clara was 11 years old at the time
Friedrich Wieck at the age of 45 in 1830, the year he first met Robert Schumann; Wieck’s daughter Clara was 11 years old at the time

In 1815, the thirty-year-old Friedrich Wieck moved to the Saxon city of Leipzig.  Ferociously ambitious, he set himself up as a piano teacher and proprietor of a piano shop.  His timing could not have been better.  Leipzig was rebuilding from the Napoleonic Wars, and as a commercial center the city was filled with cash and a growing number of middleclass families who wanted pianos for their parlors and lessons for their kids.

Within a year – his business prospering – Wieck decided it was time to reproduce.  On June 23, 1816, he married Marianne Tromlitz (1797-1872) who, at 19, was 12 years Wieck’s junior.

Marianne was an extremely talented singer and piano player.  She took on singing students and, because she was by far the better pianist in the Wieck household, she also took on the more advanced piano students.  Friedrich and Marianne had a whole cottage industry going: sell the piano, tune the piano, sell the music, teach the kids how to play the piano, buy the piano back when the kids stop playing, sell the piano, etc.

Marianne Tromlitz (1797-1872)
Marianne Tromlitz (1797-1872)

Together Marianne and Friedrich had five children, three of whom survived their infancy.  The second and oldest surviving child was born on September 13, 1819.  They named her Clara.

On May 12, 1824, Marianne Wieck gathered up her children and walked out.  After nearly eight years of marriage, she had had enough of Friedrich Wieck.  This sort of “take the children and run” is difficult enough to do today; in 1824 it was impossible, as under Saxon law the kids were the legal property of their father.  On September 17, 1824 – four days after her fifth birthday – a sobbing Clara was forcibly removed from her hysterical mother and hauled back to her father in Leipzig.

The Young Clara

In that long and ignoble line of tennis fathers, tiger mamas, Little League bullies, and “tough love” parents, Friedrich Wieck was up there at the top.  Even before she was born (even before he knew Clara was a “she”), Wieck had decided that his child would grow up to be greatest pianist in the world, a testament to his pedagogic skill, a validation of his existence and a steady paycheck in his old age.

Clara’s formal piano lessons began at the age of five, at just the time she was taken from her mother.  Friedrich Wieck was a hard man, and it goes without saying that he worked his daughter hard.  Her formal schooling ended when she was just seven.  Whatever friendships and social skills she might have garnered from being around other children were considered by Wieck to be “unimportant,” as such relationships were not part of his “method.”  Wieck’s goal was to create a great piano player, and in order to achieve that goal, he wrote:

“The whole education from the earliest youth must be planned accordingly.”

Clara in 1832 at the age of 13
Clara in 1832 at the age of 13

Clara studied with private tutors under Wieck’s watchful eye – reading, writing, French, English, music theory and composition; violin lessons and score reading – subjects Wieck deemed useful for her “future career.”  From the time she was six Clara saw almost every opera mounted not only in Leipzig, but in every city she and her father visited as well.  At night, there was the musical circle that met at Wieck’s house in which Clara was a participating, contributing member.


The miracle is that young Clara had the brains, talent , and disposition to absolutely flourish under her father’s regimen.  Small, physically adorable, docile, anxious to please, in the almost total absence of her mother, Friedrich Wieck was Clara’s entire existence.  He made her special; he told her that she was a genius, that she was blessed, different, that he would make her into a star.  In return, she worshipped him.…

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