Weird Traits in a Musical Language of Her Own

Franz von Lenbach painted Clara Wieck.

By now the situation has become clear, and the question that I raised in one of my earliest posts about Clara Wieck: She rarely felt an inner voice compelling her to compose. Someone else had to give the impulse, her father Friedrich, her husband Robert. Once she had taken up the challenge, she usually executed the task con brio. Her personal ambition was to be a pianist, to perform, and much less to make history as a composer. Which did not prevent her to write, some lovely, entertaining Romantic piano pieces, such as her op. 15: Vier flüchtige Stücke (Four Fugitive Pieces). How did I come to that conclusion? I read an excellent biography exploring Clara’s character in depth.

This set of piano pieces was published in 1845, just a few years after her husband Robert Schumann had composed his symphony in D minor, that I have presented a few days ago. And her editor Breitkopf & Härtel was kind enough the quote from a contemporary critic’s article in the „Allgemeinen Musikalischen Zeitung“ dated 1 October 1845: “In Clara Schumann’s style you will find many weird traits; she is far from copying Chopin, Mendelssohn or Robert Schumann. These masters shine through the chromatism that characterize Clara Schumann’s piano pieces just occasionally. The [Four Fugitive Pieces] differ from each other by their style and character. The Andante (No. 3) features some lovely effects. No. 4, simple and innocent, reminds us of the smaller Beethoven sonatas.

If Clara’s pieces evoke in the critic’s mind Beethoven’s sonatas, I guess this is meant as a compliment. Stating that Chopin, Mendelssohn and her husband have merely inspired her while she has developed a musical language mostly of her own – even if would appear weird at times – I guess those references were meant as a compliment too. It is unfortunate that Clara Wieck did give her career as a pianist and the promotion of her husband’s compositions priority over her own works. She certainly did not lack the assertiveness. Inspiration rather seems to have been the issue: What good is it to master Romantic expressiveness if you have no message?

The Four Fugitive Pieces have no message that I could identify. It seems more like a fantasy of Clara, the fun to play with sounds, the joy to build a musical architecture that would not crash on the pianist’s head, but would be stable and lovely to hear at the same time. An entertaining piece, a musical thought, jotted to paper between the birth of two children, concert tours, household chores and a move from Leipzig to Dresden, all this on the backdrop of the first signs of Robert’s mental disorder. Remarkable.

Op. 15 has been recorded by the Milano based pianist Claudio Colombo.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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