Inspiration Clara SchumannI recently had the opportunity to attend a Concert by all Women Composers.   One of the pieces, a piano concerto, was by Clara Wieck Schumann.  Cycling around the next day, with the music still in my head and heart, the title, Want inspiration? Try Clara Schumann, kept popping up!!

I had heard about a Clara who married Robert Schumann.  Schumann’s music is familiar to me, he’s a dead, white, male composer (the ones we hear most readily about, right?), and I like his music.  But I had no idea what an incredible woman and musician Clara was, making personal and musical waves, as a woman, even in her day.  Want inspiration? Try Clara Schumann!!

She was taught by her father, and was clearly immensely talented, but even so, it’s all but unimaginable that she composed and performed this piano concerto when she was about 14 years old.  Here are two versions you might listen to. The first shows the musical score, so you can follow the piano part. The second is played by a female soloist, much like the one we heard play last week.

The soloist in Vancouver, Linda Ruan (an amazing young female pianist herself), said, by the way, that the piano part in the concerto is extremely demanding, and it’s dazzling that Clara composed, and also performed it at such a young age.

The conductor, Anne Bonnycastle, an activist for women in music,  gave an introduction to the concerto, and observed that Clara continued her composing and performing, while bearing and raising 8 children, managing the household and financial affairs.  And all this while her husband was busy having nervous breakdowns, the conductor quipped.

Now, we can feel compassion for Robert, and needn’t joke about it, but his lackof support for the household, the family, only enhance our admiration for Clara’s talents.  After the concert, I came home to do some more research.   She is/was in her day already considered one of the most accomplished pianists of the Romantic era.  And there’s more. I invite you to read about her, listen to her, enjoy and revel in her life and contributions.

This essay is not meant to leave us feeling inadequate in comparison to this prodigy!  Absolutely not.  I mean for us to take inspiration in knowing that people, women all over the world are living their lives, being creative, doing what they love, caring for family, managing their lives, and contributing in many different ways, and we know nothing about them.  This is cause for celebration, as I see it, and inspiration. And emulation 🙂

inspiration Clara SchumannLet us recommit to following our hearts, doing what we love, and sharing it widely.

Sadly, toward the end of her over 60 year concert career, Clara came to feel that women actually weren’t meant to be composers.  She said, “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”   This, I suggest is another take-away for us: trust ourselves, support each other, and share successes and offerings, in our circles and beyond.

Clara also said, “I will yield to popular demands only insofar as they do not betray my own convictions.” And “How often have I actually discovered in myself that enthusiasm raises the artist above himself, how in an ordinary mood one would not have been able to accomplish many of the things for which enthusiasm lends on everything, energy, fire.”    Want inspiration? Try Clara on for size!  Let us not let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

As a post script, this about women composers and their music: Orchestral music written by women composers is rarely programmed in today’s orchestral concerts.  Look through the list of works programmed for most symphony orchestra concerts – you will see Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumman, Stravinsky, etc. well-represented.  But did you know that Mendelssohn’s sister Fannie was also a composer?  Did you know that Schumann’s wife, Clara, wrote hundreds of works, many of them for orchestra?  Women composers, historically, were unsupported, actively discouraged and suppressed by the artistic communities of the time.”  Let us do what we can to change this, for musicians, and all creative endeavors! 

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook :-)

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