SCHUMANN, C.: Piano Concerto in A Minor / Piano Trio in G Minor (Alma Mahler Sinfonietta/ Andrea Noferini/ Francesco Nicolosi/ Rodolfo Bonucci/ Stefania Rinaldi) (Naxos: 8.557552)
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Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7 Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17
Born in Leipzig in 1819, Clara Schumann, as she laterbecame, was the first surviving child of FriedrichWieck, a music-teacher who has perhaps sufferedunduly through his opposition to her marriage to hisformer pupil, Robert Schumann. Wieck himself hadfirst studied theology before turning to music and spentthe earlier part of his career as a private tutor in variousfamilies. After his marriage in 1816, he settled inLeipzig, where he combined his activities as a musicteacherwith those of a piano-dealer, hiring and sellingpianos. With his daughter Clara he was able to pursuesingle-mindedly his strict but relatively enlightenedprinciples of musical training. His concentration ofattention on his eldest daughter became all the greaterafter his separation in 1824 and subsequent divorcefrom a woman who had her own career as a singer andpianist and later married Wieck's earlier friend andpossible mentor, the piano-teacher Adolf Bargiel. ClaraWieck was trained as a musician and pianist and wasable, by stages, to embark on a career as a performer.
She made her first public appearance in 1828 at aGewandhaus concert in Leipzig, playing a piano duet,Kalkbrenner's Variations on a March from Moses. Shecontinued to play privately to friends, making her publicdebut as a solo artist at the Gewandhaus in 1830. Thefollowing years brought the first development of abrilliant career. In tours to Paris and throughoutGermany, and in 1837 to Vienna, where she was f?¬tedand received the title of Royal and Imperial Virtuosafrom the Emperor, she remained dependent on herfather, who saw to all the practical details of such tours,acting both as teacher and manager.
It was in 1830 that Robert Schumann had firstbecome involved in the Wieck circle in Leipzig. He hadundertaken, at his widowed mother's behest, the studyof law, but persuaded her, with the help of FriedrichWieck's guarded recommendation, to allow him tostudy music with Wieck in Leipzig, lodging in thelatter's house. As Clara Wieck grew older and moreindependent in spirit she found herself attracted toSchumann. Her father, however, was well aware of thelatter's strengths and weaknesses, his unsteadiness ofpurpose and his underlying ability as a composer, if notas a pianist. For a time Schumann turned his attention toanother of Wieck's pupils, Ernestine von Fricken, butthis association was soon ended in favour of Clara,leading to their secret engagement in 1837.
In the months and years that followed, Wieck'sopposition to Clara's proposed marriage grew invehemence. Whatever his views of the suitability ofSchumann as a husband, and here his paternal doubtsmight have been justified, he saw his daughter'smarriage as an obstacle to a splendid career in whichmuch had been invested. Increasing bitterness and along, enforced separation led to an application by theyoung couple to the court for permission for Clara tomarry without her father's consent. In 1839 sheundertook a concert-tour to Paris without her father andthe following year a decision was given in their favourand they were able to marry.
Robert and Clara Schumann remained, at first, inLeipzig. There were obviously conflicting interests,since she was at the outset of a very distinguished careerand was practical and determined enough to manage herown life as a concert-artist. Schumann, on the otherhand, had other needs. As a composer he demandedsome limits on her necessary practice and would attimes, it seemed, have been happy to have kept hisyoung wife to himself. Nevertheless she found herselfgradually able to overcome the difficulties thatpresented themselves, to cope with her husband'sdepressive moods and with the demands of child-birthin a succession of pregnancies that only ended with thebirth of her eighth child in 1854. While giving herhusband what encouragement she could as a composerand writer, she did her best to continue her own career.
This stood her in good stead when, after some six yearsin Dresden, they moved to D??sseldorf, whereSchumann took up a position to which he was in manyways unsuited, as director of music, obliged to dealregularly both with performers and with the demands ofthe city council, his employer.
Schumann's attempted suicide and breakdown in1854 was followed by a final period in a private asylumat Endenich. Clara Schumann, supported by manyfriends, continued her concert career, the only practicalmeans of supporting her young family and of meetingthe hospital bills for her husband. She returned from aconcert-tour to England in early July 1856, in time tosee Schumann for the first time since his breakdown,two days before his death. By October she had resumedher work.
In the following years Clara Schumann showedremarkable resolution. There were, over the years,problems and tragedies to cope with, as her childrengrew up and suffered their own vicissitudes. Brahms,who had first met the Schumanns through the violinistJoachim in 1853, remained a loyal friend, in some waystaking the place of a father and of a husband in hisadvice and moral support. She dedicated herself, with adrive inherited, perhaps from her father, to the verypractical matter of her family and to the furtherpromotion of her husband's music, which sheintroduced gradually into her programmes, aware,always, of the practical needs of programming, if shewas to retain her leading position in the concert world.
In 1878 she settled in Frankfurt, coupling her continuingcareer with teaching at the Hoch Conservatory. Tenyears later she undertook her final concert tour, toEngland and in 1891 gave her last concert in Frankurt.
In 1896 she suffered a stroke and died on 20th May.
Clara Schumann's compositions were necessarilylimited in number, but reflect the care her father hadtaken over her general musical education, supported bylessons in counterpoint in Berlin from Siegfried Dehn,who included Glinka and Anton Rubinstein among hispupils, and instruction from others in theory andcomposition in the course of her travels with her father.
She wrote the first sketch of her Piano Concerto in Aminor, Op. 7, her only extant orchestral composition, atthe age of fourteen, in 1833, planning at first a singlemovementwork. This she completed in November,leaving the orchestration to Schumann, which he dulyfinished in February 1834. This movement was to formthe finale of what was to become a three-movementconcerto, and formed part of her own concert repertoire.
She tackled the first movement in the summer of 1834and a year later was preparing the work for publication,having orchestrated it and written out the parts herself.
The concerto was performed at the Gewandhaus inNovember 1835, with the composer as soloist,conducted by Mendelssohn. Further revision of thework was followed by publication of the piano part,with the orchestral parts as a supplement, in January1837, with a dedication to Louis Spohr.
The three movements of the completed concerto arelinked, like those of Mendelssohn's Concerto in Gminor that he had performed in Leipzig for the first timein 1835. The opening movement, marked Allegromaestoso, starts with an orchestral tutti, announcing thefirst theme and leading to the entry of the soloist withascending octave scale passages, punctuated by theorchestra, before the piano takes up the principal theme.
Passage-work leads to the second subject and themodulations of the development, before a transition thatproceeds directly to the second movement, an A flatmajor Romanze for piano and solo cello, withcharacteristically Brahmsian cross-rhythms. Timpanirolls are heard, as the slow movement draws to a close,assuming greater prominence as a trumpet callintroduces the final Allegro non troppo and the ent