The Love Story of Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann - age 38

Clara Wieck was born on September 13th, 1819, in Leipzig, Germany near the beginning of what is generally referred to as the Romantic Era in music. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, chose her name because it meant brilliant and bright. He fully expected her to be a brilliant musician, trained by him from birth. She grew up in a household where the sounds of music were heard constantly. Her father gave piano lessons to many students who came and went, and sold instruments at their shop in Leipzig.

The family would go on walks together daily. It was a habit that Clara loved and would later attribute to her health and longevity. An entry into her childhood diary, which her father started for her, reveals that she did not speak until the age of four. Even after she began to speak, her parents assumed that she was hard of hearing because she was so self absorbed and appeared unconcerned with what was happening around her. The myth that she was ‘slow’ arose because of this.

She loved piano lessons with her father and learned music without difficulty. It was words that she had difficulty with. It appears that there was great tension between Clara’s parents. Her self-absorption might well have served as a buffer to the harsh words she endured as a child. Music, on the other hand, was not angry or threatening. It was a refuge. All her life it would be a safe place where she could go to gain relief from tragedy and pain.

The Wieck home was always a gathering place for local and traveling musicians. Their home was always a great place to hear new sounds and meet new people and because of this Clara grew up within the presence of many great romantic era musicians.

Although a little shy, Clara was a child prodigy. She had actively belonged to some of the most elite circles of musicians in Leipzig. She was musically stimulated not only by her father's teachings but by so many German Romantics.

Clara’s Career

Clara Wieck at age 16. Clara Wieck at the age of 16, in Hannover, Germany. On the piano is the solo part of the third movement of her Concerto op. 7. Lithograph by J. Giere, 1835.

Her first performances were at home and for Leipzig and Dresden friends. In 1828 her family takes a trip to nearby Dresden where she gives private performances to local musicians and friends. Those who attended were impressed and the young musician began to build a reputation early in her life, at this time only 8 years old. The trip to Dresden was so successful that the family briefly considered moving to that town.

She was invited to play in an ensemble at the Gewandhaus on October 20, 1828. Clara and her father built upon an already impressive reputation in the musical community of the time. The family would return to Dresden from time to time, and in 1831 Clara goes on her first extended tour.

She is an instant success everywhere she plays and is invited to many events. Aristocratic ladies vied with each other to bestow rings, chains, and earrings on Clara. Her father was careful to make sure that her head was not turned by praise and gifts. He wrote in his journal, “If I notice anything the least bit damaging, I will leave immediately, so that she can be in orderly middle-class surroundings. I am too proud of her unpretentiousness to exchange it for any worldly honors.”

Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann age 29. Robert Schumann, 29 years old in 1839.

The Summer of 1830 was spent preparing for her first solo concert in Leipzig. But something took place that was to have a profound impact on Clara's life. In October, a new student moved into the Wieck household named Robert Schumann. He had arrived in Leipzig earlier that year in order to pursue his passion for music after abandoning a career in law. Clara's father was like a legend to Robert and he felt quite lucky to be taking piano lessons from Mr. Wieck.

It was obvious that Clara was becoming attracted to Robert. Her father quickly began to worry that she would become distracted from her music if she were to fall in love. In September of 1831 her father takes her on tour throughout Germany and France, spending months in Paris. Her father brings another boy along with them to help shift her attention away from Robert, and for the time it works.

They did not return home to Leipzig until April of the following year. While they were gone Robert had started a relationship with another girl, Ernestine, which by now was quickly cooling. Robert and Clara once again begin spending time together, practicing music and taking walks like before.

Clara's journal reveals that Robert stimulated all of her most noble and artistic qualities. Their relationship had many elements. They improvised and played piano together, shared memories and experiences, and fantasized about music they might create. In 1831, Clara dedicates a work of hers, Opus 3, to Robert.

When Robert would leave to visit family, she would write him letters to make sure he kept an interest in the musical scene in Leipzig and an interest in her. She usually ended her letters with a cautious neutrality: "Your friend, Clara Wieck." At this time only 13 years old, Clara viewed him as a special friend.

By 1835, Robert had ended his relationship with Ernestine. Clara is now 16, and still performing locally. Robert respected that she was a young and impressionable girl, and as such remained only her close friend, even thought it was apparent throughout his journal entries that he did feel love for her.

But after her 16th birthday he abandons all principles and assures her that his relationship with Ernestine is over. Robert's diary reveals how he feels for Clara during their first months together. He writes: "Clara's birthday … her eyes and her love … Lovely hours spent in her arms in the evenings. A wonderful Christmas spent together."

Clara was deliriously happy. She wrote to him later, "When you gave me that first kiss, I thought I would faint; everything went blank and I could barely hold the lamp that was lighting your way out." The two become daily companions.

A Break with Clara's Father

Friedrich Wieck Friedrich Wieck, Clara's Father.

At first Clara's father was oblivious to their relationship. But when his suspicions were at last aroused, his first reaction was to remove his daughter from Leipzig in January of 1836. At first Robert persisted in the belief that Clara's father would approve of their marriage. He thought that Mr. Wieck would be overjoyed to see his daughter together with a talented musician such as himself. Unfortunately this was not the case.

The struggle between Wieck and Robert for Clara was complicated by the fact that Robert and Clara both needed Wieck at this point in their lives. Robert longed to be a son and son-in-law to his old piano teacher. He was shocked to discover that he could not have a relationship with both Clara and Wieck.

Clara knew that she was in love with Robert. But she loved her father and the musical success she enjoyed as a result of all his hard work as a father. Her music and career still remained the center of her life.

Wieck wrote letters to Robert informing him that all connections with their household were over. He and Clara continued touring together. It was a miserably unhappy tour. For almost a year and a half, Clara and Robert did not see each other and rarely communicated. Within the next two years, however, Clara would take her first faltering steps on her own towards love.

During this long separation, Robert threw himself into his work, composing, studying, writing, and collaborating with some of the Romantic era's great musicians. These were the years when Robert Schumann created some of his best known works.

The Engagement

During the summer of 1837, a mutual friend began exchanging letters between Robert and Clara. On August 13, Robert wrote to her:

"Are you still firm and true? As indestructible as my belief in you is, yet the strongest spirit loses confidence when nothing is heard of the one who is loved more than anyone else in the world. And you are that to me. I have thought it over a thousand times, and everything says to us, It must be, if we wish it, and act. Write me just a simple "yes" if you will give your father a letter from me on your birthday. Just now he is well disposed toward me and will not reject me if you add your pleas to mine."

Her answer, simple and beautiful, sealed the bond with Robert. For the rest of their lives they considered the following day, August 14th, 1837, the day of their engagement. In his diary Robert wrote, "A union for eternity."

Clara declared to her father her intention to move away and to marry Robert. The letters exchanged between the two lovers over the next few weeks are beautiful. The letters reveal so much joy as the two pledge themselves to each other, even as Clara's father continued to adamantly disapprove of their relationship.

The Marriage

Clara Wieck, age 20, just before her and Robert Schumann were married. Clara Wieck, age 20, just before her and Robert Schumann were married.

In September of 1839, Clara asked her father for some of her earnings during their tours together to act as a dowry, but he refused. She thus resolved to provide her own dowry of sorts by performing on her own. The young artist was clearly a little nervous about the new life ahead of her. Her diary shows her questioning how the two would support themselves on their own, as well as whether or not Robert really did find her physically attractive. These doubts would quickly disappear.

There was some delay of their wedding due to legal matters regarding a blessing from Clara's father. The time Clara and Robert spent together in Berlin and Leipzig while they were waiting for these issues to be resolved during the long months of 1839 and 1840 were some of their happiest. They made music together, and went on daily walks just as Clara had done when she was a child. They both had a hard time communicating with words, and so composing music together was a wonderful form of communication for them.

They were married on September 12th, 1840, the day before Clara's 21st birthday. Robert was 30 years old. This settled the dispute between Clara and her father, she was now the wife of Robert Schumann.

The marriage between Robert and Clara Schumann was unique in musical history. They were attracted to each other not only because of their common love of music and physical attraction, but also because their creative tendencies complemented each other so well.

The early years of their marriage were some of the happiest of Clara's life. When they were at last together, they began a marriage journal, the Ehetagebuch, in which they both made entries alternating weekly. The journal was particularly helpful since they both had such a hard time communicating with words.

Her father apparently scoffed at their domestic bliss. An entry in their marriage journal in February of 1841 reveals: "We are enjoying a happiness that I never knew. My father always mocked at the so-called domestic bliss. How I pity those who do not know it; they are only half alive."

On December 5th, 1840, Clara writes in the marriage diary, "We have been married a quarter of a year today, and it is the happiest quarter of a year of my life." However she goes on to express the continued sadness of the break with her father. That Christmas, their first together, she writes three songs for Robert as his Christmas present.

A Touching Birthday Present

For Robert's 31st birthday, his first birthday during their marriage, Clara was inspired to give him a present that would stay with him forever. She writes music to a poem that had always shown how she felt for him. On June 8th, 1841, she presents her song to to him, Liebst du um Schönheit, with words by Friedrich Rückert:

Liebst du um Schönheit

Liebst du um Schönheit
O nicht mich liebe!
Liebe die Sonne,
Sie trägt ein goldnes Haar!

Liebst du um Jugend
O nicht mich liebe!
Liebe den Frühling
Der jung ist jedes Jahr!

Liebst du um Schätze
O nicht mich liebe!
Liebe die Meerfrau
Sie hat viel Perlen klar.

Liebst du um Liebe
O ja, mich liebe!
Liebe mich immer
Dich lieb ich immerdar!

If you Love for Beauty

If you love for beauty
Oh do not love me!
Love the sun
It has gold hair!

If you love for youth
Oh do not love me!
Love the spring-time
That is young each year!

If you love for wealth
Oh do not love me!
Love the mermaid
She has many clear pearls.

If you love for love
Oh yes, love me!
Love me forever
I will love you forevermore!

Robert and Clara jointly publish music together, including this song. The title page of the collection, listed as Opus 37/12, gives no indication as to the authorship of each song. Although Robert composed nine of the songs and Clara composed three, they feel that they have composed all of them together.

Almost exactly one year after marriage, Clara gave birth to their first and most loved child, Marie. Over the next 13 years they have seven more children. Clara loved her family dearly but did not let it put an end to her love of performing music. They both continued to tour occasionally, enjoying much success. By 1842 she enjoyed a full revival of her solo career.

Robert's Sickness and a Move to Dresden

In August of 1844, Robert suffers a severe mental and physical breakdown. He had pains, he trembled, wept, could not sleep, and eventually becomes so weak that he cannot even walk across a room by himself. Clara abandons plans for another concert tour and devotes herself entirely to Robert and his health. Several cures are attempted but nothing seems to help.

In December of 1844, the family moves to Dresden, a four hour ride from Leipzig on a newly built train. They had always thought they would someday move back to Leipzig, but never did. It is thought that they moved to Dresden to have a quieter life, and to be closer to Clara's father, with whom there had been a sort of reconciliation.

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms Johannes Brahms, 20 years old.

In 1853 a young man comes by the Schumann household looking for Robert. One of their children tell the man that their parents are out but will be home the next day. The next day the man meets Robert and asks if he might take piano lessons from him. He begins to play but Robert quickly stops him, rushing to bring Clara in so she can hear the music along with him. The music played on the piano is some of the most marvelous they have heard in years and they are both overjoyed to have such a talented young musician in their house again. The young man's name is Johannes Brahms.

Robert, Clara, and Brahms spend the entire month of October together that year. They teach Brahms composition and writing techniques that help turn him into a truly brilliant musician.

The support and teaching from Clara made Brahms come to very much love and appreciate her. Exactly what happened between the two will never be known, but it is known that their relationship went far beyond mere infatuation. He had a faith and trust in her that he never found in another. In a letter to friend in June of 1854 Brahms writes:

"I often have to restrain myself forcibly from just quietly putting my arm around her and even - I don't know, it seems to me so natural that she could not misunderstand. I think I can no longer love an unmarried girl - at least I have quite forgotten about them. They but promise heaven while Clara shows it revealed to us."

Robert experienced good and bad days. But his nervousness and health continued to deteriorate. By February of 1854, Robert insists that he go to an insane asylum, as he felt that he had lost control of his mind. Clara writes in her journal on February 26:

"He was so melancholy that I cannot possibly describe it. When I merely touched him, he said, 'Ah Clara, I am not worthy of your love.' He said that, he to whom I had always looked up with the greatest, deepest reverence."

Brahms makes himself a part of the family. Taking care of the children while Clara is out touring or taking care of her husband. Clara describes him as a true friend. Brahms gave Clara his youth, support, passionate admiration, and the opportunity to share in the ideas and work of a creative genius.

Robert Passes

Brahms does what he can to comfort Clara over the state of her husband. She visits Robert in the hospital for two days in July of 1856, sharing wine together. She leaves briefly one afternoon, and returns to find him passed away on July 29th of 1856. She writes that although she is sad, she feels quite relieved that his suffering is over. She writes in her diary:

"I stood at the body of my dearly loved husband and was calm; all my feelings were of thankfulness to God that he was finally free, and as I knelt at his bed I had such a holy feeling. It was as if his magnificent spirit hovered above me, oh - if he had only taken me with him! I saw him today for the last time - I placed some flowers on his brow - he has taken my love with him!"

The cause of Robert Schumann's illness and death have been subjects of much controversy. It is suggested that Schumann had a major affective disorder. Inadequate medical treatment may have caused depression and a nervous condition aggravated by overwork. The cause of death may have ultimately been self starvation.

The Later Years

Clara Schumann age 38. Clara Schumann, age 38.

In July of 1856, Clara invites Brahms and his sister on a one month vacation with them to the Rhine valley and Switzerland. Here they discuss their future, possibly even marriage. It seems evident however, that the two reach a decision that they must part.

The two remain lifelong friends. Brahms sends her manuscripts he had written asking for her opinion and advice, and keeps her informed about what he is writing and planning. Clara would never remarry.

His deepest love for her was revealed in his last great songs, the Vier ernste Gesange, written in May of 1896 while she lay dying in Frankfurt. The songs were played to a group of close friends immediately following Clara's funeral. A copy was sent to Clara's daughter Marie with these words:

"I wrote them during the first week of May… Deep inside us all there is something that speaks to us and drives us, almost unconsciously, and that may emerge at times sounding as poetry or music. You will not be able to play through these songs just now because the words would be too affecting. But I beg you to regard them… as a true memorial to your beloved mother."

Clara passes on May 20th, 1896. Brahms dies eleven months later.

Love covereth all sins.
Proverbs 10:12

Originally published
Researched and Written by: Thomas Acreman

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The Love Story of Clara Schumann

  • David
    Thank you for the story of 3 amazing musicians
  • Wake
    Thanks for reading David!
  • Anonymous
    beautiful story! i love her work and im so happy her storys getting told more and more
  • Terri
    I was watching the movie song of Love and I wanted to find out some different questions and this website popped up and I was mesmerized. I love this! Thank you for sharing this
  • Wake
    Thank you for reading! I have never seen that movie, thanks for recommending it.
  • Tatiana
    Wonderful story, on May 7th I am going to Toronto for the concert in memory of Brahms(it his birthday),very excited !
  • Wake
    That sounds amazing! I hope you enjoy the concert, thanks for reading.
  • sara
    i first learnt it from my piano teacher,but i love this story,so i decided to search it up.Your web was the first to pop up, so i clicked in and discovered a lot more deeper in their relationship.Overall,i love your informational text!
  • Wake
    Thank you Sara! I'm happy you enjoyed it.
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