Un Air de Chopin Signed Clara Wieck

Rêverie. © Charles Thibo

Ah, this woman! If only she had written more piano concerts, this world would be a better one. She only wrote one and so we will have to contend with the situation as it is and make the best of it by enjoying Clara Wieck’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. A truly Romantic concerto, three movements – fast, slow, fast – and beautiful melodies to enjoy, a hint of nostalgia, quite a bit of energy and self-consciousness, gentleness and rêverie… beautiful! The music critic James Reel detects parallels to Frédéric Chopin, and indeed, the lightness, the brilliance, the sensitivity – un air de Chopin.

Wieck composed this piece between 1833 and 1836; it was published in 1837 as Op. 7. When she started, she was only 13 years old, however she was already an independent-minded young piano virtuoso. The melodies and the orchestration of the first two movements are Clara’s own, while her future husband, Robert Schumann, orchestrated the finale. The two had already formed a creative community and showed each other their works in progress. In 1830 Robert had become a pupil of Clara’s father and spent a lot of time at the Wieck’s home.

Nancy B. Reich writes in an article for Oxford Music Online that “her [Clara’s] musical education was superb: she studied piano with Wieck [her father], religion and languages (under his supervision), and violin, theory, harmony, orchestration, counterpoint, fugue and composition with the best teachers in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin; she attended every important concert, opera and drama given in Leipzig; and she copied Wieck’s letters into her diary, thus learning how to conduct the business arrangements of a musical career.” Her husband would only become her mentor much later.

The Queen of the Piano

Clara Schumann was considered the peer of such keyboard giants as Liszt, Thalberg and Anton Rubinstein, says Reich. She was “dubbed Europe’s ‘Queen of the Piano’. She carried on a brilliant career for over 60 years, and her playing was characterized by masterful technique, beautiful tone and poetic spirit.” The early piano concert shows the potential of this young girl, taking up what she has learned in lessons, concert halls and by experimenting. It is one of these pieces I fell in love with immediately after the first bars and continue to be in love with.

A decade after the publication of the piano concerto, between May and June 1847, Clara Wieck sketched a movement for piano and orchestra in F minor. It was dedicated to Robert, meant as a birthday gift. 175 bars and then she dropped it. The Belgian pianist and musicologist Jozef De Beenhouwer has orchestrated and completed it in the 20th century, and these 13 minutes of music, recorded by Oleg Marshev and the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra, are worth a little detour.

The movement offers a little insight into the evolution of Clara’s musical language during the decade that separates the two works. The Chopin-like brilliance and lightness has given way to a more earnest mood that reminds me much more of Beethoven than of Chopin. But that is an entirely subjective opinion of mine as the musicologist James Manheim sees parallels to Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F Minor (op. 21), “the orchestral melodies [being] blocky and [giving] way to brilliant piano figuration.”

Clara Wieck’s op. 7 has been recorded by the pianist Ragna Schirmer and the Staatskapelle Halle under Ariane Matiakh.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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