Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Clara Schumann

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). 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, […]

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Music History Monday: A Difficult Life

Before we get to the principal topic of today’s post, we must note an operatic disaster that had nothing to do with singers or the opera being performed on stage.  Rather, it was a disaster that inspired Gaston Leroux to write the novel The Phantom of the Opera, which was published in 1909. On May 20, 1896 – 128 years ago today – a counterweight helping to hold up the six-ton chandelier at Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera House fell into the audience during a performance of Étienne-Joseph Floquet’s opera Hellé (composed in 1779).  We don’t know how the opera performance was going, but the counterweight was a big hit: one woman in the audience was killed and a number of other audience members were badly injured. The disaster was covered by a reporter for the Parisian daily Le Matin named Gaston Leroux (1868-1927).  The accident – to say nothing for the Paris Opera House itself and the lake beneath it – made quite an impression on Monsieur Leroux. About that underground “lake.” Writing in The New York Times on January 24, 2023, Sam Lubell tells us that: “When digging the foundations [for the Paris Opera House], workers hit a hidden arm of the Seine, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Robert Schumann: Kreisleriana

Romanticism The nineteenth century saw the emergence of a new sort of European literature.  The cutting-edge writers of the time were consumed by a number of particular themes: the glorification of extreme emotion, particularly love; nostalgia for a distant, mystical, legendary past; and a passionate enthusiasm for nature wild and free, unspoiled by humanity and its bourgeois values! Soon enough, visual artists and composers embraced these themes as well.  For many such nineteenth century writers, poets, visual artists, and composers, over-the-top expressive content, nostalgia for the past, personal confession and the depiction of nature wild and free were the vehicles for achieving what their art – at its essence – was all about: spontaneous and magnified emotional expression. The adjective “Romantic” came to be used to describe such emotionally charged and self-expressive art. And no nineteenth century, “Romantic era” composer believed more fervently in music as personal, emotional, and spiritual confessional than did Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Robert Schumann: Early Life He was born in the central German town of Zwickau on June 8, 1810, the fifth and last child of August Schumann and Joanna Christiana Schumann (née Schnabel).    We are told that if we do what we love, we’ll […]

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Music History Monday: Robert and Clara, Sittin’ in a Tree…

We mark the marriage on September 12, 1840 – 182 years ago today – of the pianist and composer Clara Wieck (1819-1896) to the composer and pianist Robert Schumann (1810-1856).  The couple were married the day before Clara’s 21st birthday (September 13, 1840), for reasons that will be explained in detail in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post. Not for the Timid I ask: what are the most difficult things any person can attempt?  To summit K2 and return alive?  To win Olympic gold?  To overcome addiction?  To row solo across the Pacific?  All tough things to accomplish, no doubt.   What are the scariest things anyone can do?   Swim with piranhas? Eat at a barbecue restaurant next to a cat hospital?  Urinate on Mike Tyson?  Scary stuff, dangerous stuff, that. But to my mind, nothing is more soul-searingly difficult-slash terrifying than one, raising children and two, staying in a first marriage.  (Okay; I’ve probably told you more about my life than I intended to, but there it is.) Children are to people what water is to a house: children will find and reveal every flaw in your “structure” – your personality – while simultaneously sucking dry your money, patience, […]

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Music History Monday: A Very Bad Ending

We mark the death on July 29, 1856 – 163 years ago today – of the German composer, pianist, and music critic Robert Schumann at the age of 46. The actress Valerie Harper was back in the news this week. Now nearly 80 years old (her birthday is on August 22nd), she is best remembered for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then its spin-off, Rhoda, in the 1970s. Ms. Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2009, and she has fought like the proverbial tiger since. Her time is almost up; this week’s news was about her husband’s refusal to ship her off to a hospice. During the course of her illness, she has pointed out – correctly, if painfully for us all – that we are all “terminal.” I know, I know, I know: it’s not something anyone wants to think about, especially not on a Monday, which by itself is depressing enough. Yes, our time will come when it comes, but I, for one, want to spend as little energy as possible thinking about it. But having buried three beloved family members long before their time should have been up, […]

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Music History Monday: Battered but Unbroken

With our heads bowed and our hands on our hearts, we mark the death – 123 years ago today – of the pianist and composer Clara Wieck Schumann, who died of a stroke at the age of 76 on May 20, 1896. She was among the most outstanding pianists of her time, a child prodigy whose performances were described with awe by her contemporaries. She was a composer of outstanding promise, who – for reasons having to do with the world in which she lived and her own self-doubts – never had the opportunity to fulfill that promise. She was the compositional muse for her fiancé and husband, the great Robert Schumann, and the spiritual muse of her best friend, the even greater Johannes Brahms. And she was a survivor: someone whose life reads like some endlessly tragic Victorian novel, only without the “happy ending” tacked on at the end. Honestly: whenever any of us get into one of those self-pitying funks (of which I am an especial virtuoso), during which we stand convinced that our personal lives represent the very nadir of human existence, I would recommend that we think of Ms. Wieck-Schumann and her life as an example […]

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Music History Monday: A Very Long Engagement!

176 years ago today – on September 12, 1840 – one of the most tortuous, profanity-inducing, potentially violent, legally drawn out courtships ended when the composer Robert Schumann and the pianist Clara Wieck were married in Schönefeld, just northeast of Leipzig. The person to blame for all the tsuris was Friedrich Wieck, Clara’s father. He was a piano teacher who had molded his daughter Clara into one of Europe’s greatest pianists by the time she was a teenager. Clara was Friedrich’s reason-to-be, his creation, a walking advertisement for effectiveness of his “piano method” as well as his Individual Retirement Account. So when that lump Robert Schumann – who had once also been a student of Wieck’s – started sniffing around his Clara when she was just 16 years old (and Schumann was 25), well, it was time to nip things in the bud. There was no way on this good earth that that lame-fingered loser Robert Schumann was going to steal Wieck’s cash cow. Nip things. In the bud. Yes. But in this Friedrich Wieck was singularly unsuccessful, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. For five years after Robert and Clara had pledged themselves to each other he did […]

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Scandalous Overtures — Johannes Brahms & Clara Schumann: Did They Or Didn’t They?

There is a cadre of power-elite, formerly-married women in the entertainment biz today who have a reputation for dating significantly younger men, among them Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Madonna, Demi Moore, and Cher. And who can blame them? My only problem with this is that none of them ever dated me when I was a lad! Oh, to have been the arm candy of a beautiful, successful, and experienced woman. It would have been, I think, a little slice of heaven. Of all the composers I can think of, the only one who has lived that heaven was Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). The familiar image of Johannes Brahms is that of a portly, late middle-aged man with a big beard and an omnipresent cigar; an image that exudes a bourgeois, professorial machismo. But for most of his life, Brahms did not physically look like the Brahms we are familiar with today. The paunch didn’t start to appear until his late thirties. And the beard?Brahms was what we might call a “late shaver” — his whiskers didn’t even start to grow in until his early forties, and he didn’t grow the beard until his mid-forties. Johannes Brahms at twenty looked […]

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