Yesterday, we celebrated Robert Schumann’s birthday. Without doubt, he is one of my favorite composers and he deserves to be remembered and his music venerated. But there was another incredible composer in that household — Clara Wieck Schumann.
Until very recently, Clara’s life and accomplishments were treated not much more than an asterisk after Robert’s name. In college we’d learn that she was a highly regarded pianist, and it might be mentioned that she had also composed, but we certainly would never listen or perform any of her music. Thankfully, this is changing!
Clara Josephine Wieck was born in Leipzig, September 13, 1819. Her father was a well-known piano and voice teacher, and her mother, Mariane, was a famous singer. Clara soon showed prodigious abilities on the piano and after taking initial lessons from her mother, she was meticulously instructed by her father. In fact, he taught her based on his book, Wieck’s Piano Education for a Delicate Touch and a Singing Sound. She just didn’t learn piano from her father, however. He taught her violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint.
Clara completed her Piano Concerto in A minor in 1835, at age 15. It was premiered in November of that year, with her as soloist, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and Felix Mendelssohn conducting. By this point in her life, Clara had already been touring internationally for three years and had written quite a few highly virtuosic solo piano works for these tours, including these incredible pieces, Caprices en forme de valse, Op. 2.
The last movement of this concerto was composed first in 1833 and was originally conceived as a single movement piece, a Konzertsatz (concert piece). In 1834, she wrote the first movement, and in 1835, she wrote the second movement.
In 1847 she began writing a second piano concerto but only finished one movement, performing it as the Konzertsatz in F Minor.
Here are my favorite performances of Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor.