Music Clara Schumann
Jonathan Kregor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0259


Clara Schumann, née Wieck (b. 1819–d. 1896), ranks among the most important musical artists of the 19th century. As composer, she published twenty-one numbered compositions—including a piano concerto, piano trio, songs, and Lieder—in an era when it was uncommon for women to do so. As pianist, she was one of the first to consistently program the music of J. S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and her husband, Robert Schumann. And with a career that spanned more than half a century—from her solo debut in Leipzig at the age of eleven until her death sixty-six years later in Frankfurt—she came into contact with most of the major and minor artists of the day, including Woldemar Bargiel, Frédéric Chopin, Niels Gade, Joseph Joachim, Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, and Richard Wagner. Yet, despite these activities and associations, prior to about the 1980s she was rarely the subject of sustained scholarly study, except in cases where she provided context for the understanding of her husband’s life and works. Since the late 1970s, however, studies have proliferated (albeit almost exclusively in English- and German-language publications), with extensive coverage devoted to her family and associates, the cities she toured and places she called home, the role(s) in which gender played in shaping her image and compositions, her composition oeuvre, her editorial and pedagogical legacy, and her posthumous reception. These studies have benefited from the appearance of critical editions of almost her entire compositional catalogue. (Note that before her marriage in 1840, she was named Clara Wieck; from 1840 onward, Clara Schumann. For consistency’s sake, this article always refers to her as “Clara Schumann,” even if the respective scholarship does not or if the topic exclusively concerns her life or activities before marriage.)

General Overviews

Until the 1990s, Clara Schumann had not been well served biographically. However, Reich 2001 (originally published in 1985) and Vries 1992 represent two positive trends in this regard, as each scholar presents an objective, balanced portrayal of her subject. Klassen 2009, indebted to these pathbreaking predecessors, represents the most sophisticated treatment of Clara Schumann to date, and Klassen 1990 remains indispensable as the only general overview of Schumann’s music. Nevertheless, older documentary sources such as Litzmann 1902–1908 remain necessary for a complete biographical account, since many primary-source materials have unfortunately not survived.

  • Klassen, Janina. Clara Wieck-Schumann: Die Virtuosin als Komponistin—Studien zu ihrem Werk. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1990.

    One of the few works to examine Schumann’s compositions in detail. Klassen analyzes the piano works—including an entire chapter on the Piano Concerto—according to influence, compositional practice (especially genre and form), performance practice, and reception. Since it does not discuss the Lieder, this should be supplemented with scholarship in Robert and Clara.

  • Klassen, Janina. Clara Schumann: Music und Öffentlichkeit. Cologne: Böhlau, 2009.

    DOI: 10.7788/9783412331801

    Views Schumann’s life and works through a markedly feminist perspective. Hence, Schumann operating in a world between the changing social systems of Queen Louise of Prussia and England’s Queen Victoria, her tumultuous relationships with her father and husband, her reception as superstar virtuosa and priestess of music, and her posterity as an emblem of womanhood. Exceptional as biography, but limited for reference, since it lacks comprehensive indexes, music examples, and adequate annotations.

  • Litzmann, Berthold, ed. Clara Schumann: Ein Künstlerleben nach Tagebüchern und Briefen. 3 vols. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1902–1908.

    A groundbreaking, indispensable biography. Litzmann weaves a detailed and sympathetic narrative of Clara Schumann’s life around a trove of correspondence, diaries, and other documents to which he was given exclusive and unrestricted access by the Schumann family at the end of the 19th century. English abridged version by Grace E. Hadow appeared as Clara Schumann: An Artist’s Life, Based on Material Found in Diaries and Letters (London: Macmillan, 1913).

  • Reich, Nancy B. Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman. Rev. ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.

    Remains the most accessible, balanced, and comprehensive overview of Schumann’s life and works in English. Part I covers the life, particularly through 1856; Part II explores Schumann’s relationships and musical activities. Updates Litzmann 1902–1908 by way of extensive synthesis of primary sources discovered in the late 20th century and often-hard-to-find secondary sources. Includes useful chronology and extensively annotated catalogue of works (pp. 287–337).

  • Vries, Claudia de. Die Pianistin Clara Wieck-Schumann: Interpretation im Spannungsfeld von Tradition und Individualität. New York: Schott, 1992.

    An extremely detailed investigation of Schumann as pianist. Aspects of sound production, fingering, tempi, and pedaling are but a few of the many topics that Vries contextualizes within the wider, multifaceted world of 19th-century pianism. Especially helpful are appendixes D and E, which list all of Schumann’s programs between 1828 and 1891, and appendix G, a list of all her students.

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