Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy 193rd birthday, Clara!

After around a century and a half of being overshadowed by her husband, Clara Schumann is finally having a posthumous moment in the spotlight. 

Robert Schumann's wife is getting a 193rd-birthday greeting from Google. Information-seekers who go onto the site today see a cozy little scene: a young woman reaching around eight little children to touch a keyboard. It's an homage to the fact that Clara was one of the most famous pianists of the 19th century -- and, on top of that, somehow found time to bear Schumann eight kids. 

That was only after a romance that today would probably be a media scandal. Schumann, as a young man, met and was smitten with Clara when she was barely  more than a child -- though she already was charismatic keyboard prodigy. Her father, who taught piano to both of them, was horrified, partly for selfish reasons: She was his claim to fame. Years of struggle between the two men ensued. Some biographers think the stress helped pave the way for the mental illness that eventually overtook Schumann.

After his death -- when Clara was only in her 30s -- she became the keeper of the flame for his music, as well as the breadwinner for the children. Nevertheless, she must have still had magnetism: The young Johannes Brahms fell in love with her. But he got nowhere. Her devotion remained with her late husband. 

Clara was a composer, too. As with many female musicians of her day, her creative work was mostly ignored for generations. The same fate befell Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix's sister. In past couple of decades, though, Clara's works have finally attracted attention again. So, as a postlude to Google's greetings, here's a sample of her music: the lusty finale of her Piano Concerto in A minor. See what you think.