Betsey Means

The Life of Clara Schumann

On Sunday November 18, 2012 at 4:30pm, Glessner House Museum will host a performance of Virtuoso: The Life of Clara Schumann in the recently restored parlor of the museum.  Schumann was regarded as one of the greatest concert pianists of the 19th century, and a champion of the work of her husband Robert Schumann, and their lifelong friend Johannes Brahms.  This performance of Virtuoso is adapted and performed by Betsey Means of WomanLore with a musical performance on the Glessners’ 1887 Steinway piano by Karen Berk Barak.  Prepaid reservations are required as seating is strictly limited, for tickets call 312.326.1480.

Clara Josephine Wieck was born in Leipzig on September 13, 1819 to Friedrich Wieck, a well-respected music teacher, and Marianne (Tromlitz) Wieck, a famous singer in Leipzig.  Her parents divorced when she was four years old and Clara remained with her father who trained her extensively, with the belief that she would become a child prodigy.  She began performing at an early age and in 1830, at the age of eleven, went on a concert tour of several European cities including Paris.  She impressed the leading musicians of the day including Niccolo Paganini, Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin, and many others.  After several months of concertizing in Vienna in 1837 and 1838, she was named a Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso, the highest honor awarded to a musician in Austria.  She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making that the standard for concertizing. 

In 1840 she married the composer Robert Schumann, whom she had first met at the age of eight.  Schumann had lived in the Wieck household while taking lessons from her father.  Their marriage was one of the great love stories of all time and she devoted herself to her husband and eight children, largely abandoning concertizing, although she continued to compose.  Robert Schumann had severe mental difficulties and following a suicide attempt in 1854, was committed to an asylum where he died in 1856. 

After his death, Clara Schumann moved to Berlin where she performed extensively, taught, and edited her late husband’s music and writings.  In 1878 she was appointed a teacher of piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, a post she held until 1892.  She made a total of 38 concert tours outside of Germany, last performing in 1891 at the age of 72.  She died on May 20, 1896 in Frankfurt following a stroke and was interred beside her husband at the Old Cemetery in Bonn. 

Music of Robert Schumann owned by Frances Glessner, now in the collection of Glessner House Museum.