Even before a note is played, there is a poignancy about the music of Clara Schumann. Women in the nineteenth century would only very rarely compose, and it was Clara’s husband Robert who did most of the composing in the Schumann household. “Women,” she wrote, “are not born to compose.”
On the other hand, she was by no means silenced. Clara Schumann may have figured herself not to have been born to compose, but she was instead born and raised to play the piano, and was for some time the more famous musician in the Schumann household. Under the stern guidance of her father Friedrich Wieck (who was also Robert’s teacher), she grew up to become one of the great virtuosi of the 19th Century. Rather than writing many works for herself, however (like Franz Liszt or Anton Rubenstein), she toured with, influenced, and championed the new works of others, especially her husband Robert and their young friend Johannes Brahms.
Moreover, she did write and perform some beautiful works of her own. The Romances for violin and piano were composed in a private back room of the Schumann residence where she could practice without bothering her husband. She took the pieces on tour with the great violinist Joseph Joachim, for whom they were written, and Joachim continued to play the pieces on his own tours. He reported from the court in Hannover that the king was in ‘ecstasy’ over the Romances and could ‘hardly wait’ to enjoy such ‘marvelous, heavenly pleasure again.’ They are lovely, private pieces, conceived in one of music history’s richest households.