…the first in the set is particularly tender – even melancholy – with the violin and piano equal, empathetic partners…
Clara Schumann (1819–1896)
Romance for Violin and Piano, Op.22, No.1
German concert pianist and composer Clara Wieck premiered her Piano Concerto at the age of 16, with Felix Mendelssohn on the podium, at Leipzig’s famous Gewandhaus in 1835. It would be a milestone in a fascinating career that spanned more than six decades, during which she became an integral – if overlooked, until recently – figure in 19th-century Romanticism, influencing the likes of Johannes Brahms and the great violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, as well as her composer husband Robert Schumann.
Clara Schumann’s lyrical Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22, written in 1853, however, are among her last published compositions. They date from a period in which Schumann had moved with her now large family into a new apartment in Düsseldorf, where she had her own room with a piano so she could finally practise without disturbing Robert’s composing. It’s remarkable that she was able to compose anything at all during this period – let alone the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, six songs, three piano Romances and the Opus 22 Romances – given her other activities at the time. As her biographer Nancy Reich puts it, “the details she attended to were staggering.”
In addition to the care of six children, she taught students, scheduled, arranged and performed concerts in Düsseldorf and surrounding cities to support her family financially, as well as playing an intrinsic role in facilitating – and putting out the growing spot fires in – the career of her husband, whose deteriorating health would see him hospitalised for the remainder of his life early the following year.
While much is made of Schumann’s relationship with Brahms, her lifelong friendship with Joseph Joachim was just as significant. Schumann and Joachim met when they were both performing at the Lower Rhine Music Festival in Düsseldorf in May 1953 and she wrote the Romances – her only works for violin and piano – for him in July of that year. In keeping with the 19th-century ‘Romance’ form, the pieces are short and lyrical, and the first in the set is particularly tender – even melancholy – with the violin and piano equal, empathetic partners.
Audiences responded with enthusiasm, and Schumann would go on to tour the Romances with Joachim across Europe and England. Joachim also performed the pieces himself, writing to Schumann from the court in Hanover in 1856 of the ecstatic reception they received there from King George V, who described the “marvellous, heavenly pleasure” of hearing them.
Angus McPherson © 2020