Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Clara Schumann and the May Uprising

Clara Wieck Schumann
...from Berkeley

Happy New Year to all out in the blogosphere and beyond!

Thinking about Germaine Tailleferre's pregancy reminded me of another composer and another pregnancy--this time Clara Schumann (1819-1896).  Once again, there were armed men and guns involved, although luckily not quite so close up close and personal an experience as Tailleferre lived through.

Most music lovers today know at least a little about the tumultuous life story of concert pianist and composer Clara Schumann, nee Wieck--her lawsuit against her over-controlling father, her romance with Robert Schumann and her relationship with Johannes Brahms, to mention a few of the many highlights. A child prodigy who first performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at age 11, Clara grew up to tour as a world-famous concert pianist, had 8 children (7 of whom survived to adulthood) and supported her family with the help of Johannes Brahms after her Robert died (having committed himself to an insane asylum several years earlier). Clara was influential as a teacher, performer, and composer, shaping performance practice to this day as one of the first pianists to perform from memory, and directing musical tastes that affect the music we hear and play today as well, via which composers' works she chose to perform. A proto-feminist heroine in so many ways... and undoubtedly the worthy subject of a post or three for another day.

Today, though, let's look at a short, heroic moment in Clara's personal life... one Dresden day and night in May, 1849.

For months, much of Europe had been gripped by revolutionary paroxysms. Clara, seven months pregnant with her fifth child, and Robert, in weak health, were living in Dresden with their 4 children between the ages of 1 and 7. The government of Dresden, fearful of explosives said to be in the hands of the citizenry, had withdrawn behind barricades. When troops fired on the angry crowd, surprise, surprise... the city erupted.

Caught in the midst of this militant mess were the Schumanns: one very pregnant pianist, a sick composer, and 4 very small children.
Ferdinand c. 1885

The story goes that Clara hid Robert and the children as long as she could.  But when it became impossible, she slipped him out the back door, along with their oldest child, Marie, fleeing with them to safety, having left servants to keep an eye on the younger three children, Elise, Julie, and Ludwig. That night she snuck back into town past armed soldiers and roving bands of troops, risking her life to retrieve the rest of her children and take them back to the 'burbs, as it were, where the family stayed for a month.  Ferdinand, her fifth child with Robert, was born July 16 that year--2 and a half months later.

A brave woman, indeed, and one who lived a very full life.

What I'm reading: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes; Alistair Grims Odd Aquaticum

What I'm listening to: smooth-voiced singers (Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra)

What I'm working on: Tailleferre, Delage, Poulenc, and Handel for January performances.


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