Episode 64: Chopin and Clara

Polonaise in C-sharp minor, Op. 26, No. 1

rc-clara-200Robert Schumann’s critical praise introduced the name Fryderyk Chopin to Europe. His wife Clara’s performances secured a place for Chopin’s music in the piano repertoire. In return, Chopin had very few kind things to say about Robert’s compositions. But he described Clara as “the only woman in Germany who can play my works.”

Chopin’s Variations on the Mozart aria “La ci darem la mano” inspired Robert Schumann to write his rave review— “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius” —in 1831. And who better to play it than a young piano prodigy named Clara Wieck, barely 12 years old at the time. It’s the first Chopin piece she performed.

By then Clara was already on her first European concert tour, which included a stop in Paris. Chopin didn’t attend. But when Chopin visited Leipzig in the fall of 1835, Felix Mendelssohn introduced them. Clara played some of her own music, a piece by Robert and two Chopin etudes. The performance reportedly moved Chopin to tears.

This was a time of transition for the piano recital in Europe. Audiences and critics had a taste for light, showy repertoire. After a recital she gave in Hamburg, Clara’s father Friedrich Wieck wrote that one reviewer called Chopin’s music “musical nonsense.” He added later, “How people must wonder at Clara, who plays such crazy things by preference.”

In HIS critical writing, Robert Schumann dismissed that sort of response as philistinism. And Clara only increased her focus on the new Romantics: Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin, turning recitals into a more serious musical platform. All of these composers would die young, but Clara carried on as an eloquent champion of their legacy. Robert said his wife was “a greater virtuoso” than Chopin: “Clara…gives almost more meaning to his composition than he does himself.” - Don Lee

Radio Chopin Episode 64: Chopin and Clara

Polonaise in C-sharp minor, Op. 26, No. 1