Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iron maiden

As a model for Monday mornings, or for Tuesday mornings, or for any stressed-out weekday morning, may I propose Clara Schumann. That is she up above. Here is a more battleax picture.

"During their marriage, pregnant most of the time, with her children and fragile husband dependent on her, Clara gave about 150 public concerts between 1840 and 1854, sometimes playing days before or after suffering a miscarriage." That is from my Jan Swafford biography of Brahms, now in about 50 pieces.

You got to have servants back then. But still.

She would still have to oversee the household. The buck stopped with her. She put aside her own career. Every day she put out for Robert, how about that? She was also accident prone. This from the Swafford Brahms book: "Accident-prone Clara was then in Cologne for medical reasons, having injured her hand in one of her falls. She was taking the treatment, medieval and unbelievable but approved medical practice, of  'animal baths,' which meant plunging her hand into the entrails of some freshly killed creature."

Yecch! As they used to say in Mad magazine.

Clara was also prone to hysteria. I would be, too!

The great pianist Earl Wild told me once when I got to interview him, "She was not a nice person." I got a kick out of that but if Clara Schumann was not a nice person I do not care, I will tell you that right now.

My hat is off to her.


  1. I dunno - as far as I know, she never fell out of love with Robert. And I'm guessing she loved sex - something no respectable woman in that era would admit. According to Malcom MacDonald, another Brahms biographer, one of the best kept secrets of 19th century music is that she took a violinist named Theodor Kirchner as a post-Schumann lover. I wonder if that's true. Also, she had some skill as a composer.

  2. Prof. G, that is true about Kirchner, as far as I know. But it was like an Ethel Kennedy situation where she did not want to give up her last name, and also Kirchner was not worthy. I agree with you on Robert. I think she did love him and I did not mean to imply he was a pain. And about the putting out, it was just the time I was marveling at, all the demands on her time. I am in awe. Interesting what you say about the respectable women of her era. Good point.

  3. Since your post about Brahms, it makes me wonder where he fits in. I haven't read the Swafford bio, but all the speculation about him and Clara makes me think that at the "moment of truth" between them, he may have panicked at the shattering of a madonna image, and couldn't handle his beloved Clara behaving in any way like a Hamburg waterfront "hostess". I recall your writing about how much you preferred him to Schumann as a man, but you might have found his woman hating streak hard to take. I can't imagine Clara was unaware of it. Also, he was so caustic (but funny) that he comes across conversationally like a Vienna high culture Oscar Levant.

    See? I too can talk about these people as if they were alive. My wife disgustedly calls this proclivity "gossip about dead people".