The artist couple
The connection between Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck is one unparalleled throughout music history. Nevertheless, it was the widely differing influences in their development that led to their multifaceted artistic skills and orientations. Starting from a young age, both individuals’ families supported and encouraged them as much as possible. However, Clara Wieck was subjected to her father’s demands as he exercised a strict sense of entitlement over her; a claim which deeply influenced her development. Robert Schumann was able to follow his inclinations in a freer way and could thus develop without the constant pressure to achieve.
Many of Schumann’s works from the 1830s were shaped by his relationship with Clara. They had both met in her father, Friedrich Wieck’s, house, where Schumann resided and took piano lessons from 1830 to 1832. Clara, nine years younger, had nearly completed her training as a professional pianist at the time and was already well-known beyond their region. She had her debut in the Gewandhaus in 1828. Felix Mendelssohn, who was concertmaster starting in 1835, offered her many engagements there.
Clara’s performance of the three pieces from Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques started the dispute about whether the couple should have permission to marry. Wieck was afraid that Schumann – not yet established as a composer and without other means of securing an existence – would ruin his daughter’s career. It wasn’t until August 1840 that the court of appeal in Leipzig decided in favor of the couple – the wedding took place on September 12th in the church of Schönefeld. The artistic fruits of this union become apparent in the couple’s joint composition Zwölf Gedichte nach Rückerts “Liebesfrühling” which came out of the winter of 1840/1. Clara set three of the poems to music, and she is – quite atypical for their time – also presented as a composer on the title page. In general, one can say that through her marriage to Robert Schumann, she gained new insights into the field of composing, in particular an approach to contrapuntal techniques.
The premiere of his “Spring Symphony” on the 31st of March 1841 in the Gewandhaus, with Mendelssohn as conductor, helped establish Schumann as a composer. Furthermore, he was appointed as a professor at the conservatory in Leipzig, which was founded by Mendelssohn in 1843. He also debuted as conductor with his oratorio “Paradise and the Peri” that same year. Clara, who was in charge of the household and raising their two daughters, born in 1841 and 1843, was obliged to limit her performances for a time. Her concert tour to Russia in the spring of 1844 finally enabled her to tie into her earlier successes and resume her performing career. It was precisely at this point that Robert Schumann suffered his first serious psychological crisis, resulting in the couple’s move to Dresden in the winter of 1844.