Clara '96 at

Clara Schumann and the Clara'96 Campaign:
Making a Great Man of a Woman

Copyright © 1996, David Kenneth Smith

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Why not Clara?

As a naïve Freshman in college at Wheaton Conservatory in the fall of 1982, I was cruelly (I thought) subjected to a powerful music that was all the rage that semester. It was the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky's birth. I don't think I had ever heard of Stravinsky before, and initially wished I never had. But gradually, I mastered my part in the Symphony of Psalms, and today it is one of my favorites. During that fall I participated in several Stravinsky concerts. I still don't play Stravinsky on a quiet night at home, but I have spent many fruitful hours studying his music and rehearsing it and loving it. Like many others hearing Stravinsky for the first time, the year 1982 served as an educating prod that spurred me to learn the music of a composer quite foreign to me.

In 1991, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a choir that was flown, complete with an orchestra, to New York to perform two pieces. Our performance of the Mass in C Minor and Ave verum corpus contributed to the effort of Lincoln Center to perform all the works of Mozart in the 200th year since his death. It was a thrill to be a small part of history. One rarely meets a person who is famous in all of history, but marking their life on their anniversary can be a small token. I was thus able to participate in a new historic event, though a shadow of the original.

So why not Clara? In the essays I posted on my Web site, I called on the whole music world to participate in a movement to perform her music:

The challenge of the Clara'96 Campaign and the purpose of the Clara Schumann Society is to stimulate the performance of the music of Clara Schumann during the auspicious year 1996. The call is to music schools, conservatories, and concert halls around the world to commit themselves to perform her entire works during 1996, and to students, performers, and professors to do their part by performing a single opus in a recital, by presenting a whole concert of her works, or by dedicating their institution to performing each and every piece of music Clara Schumann wrote. Many others can help by encouraging students to study her music, by conducting research on her life and music, by playing her music on the radio and television, by purchasing recordings and scores, and by attending concerts of her music.
I formed a Clara Schumann Society based on the Web page. The only requirement for entrée would be performing or researching Clara Schumann's music, and submitting a program or abstract. The Society would, in exchange, post the member's concert program or research abstract on the Clara Schumann home page. It would be easy and fun, and would serve a worthy goal: promoting her music.

But why Clara? In the moments before recording an interview about an upcoming Clara Schumann concert, I mentioned to a radio announcer that Clara's Web site was a rival of the biggest composer sites like those for J.S. Bach and the Schubert Institute. He responded, "It doesn't seem quite fair, does it?" I disagree. I would assert Clara Schumann is quite deserving, since I believe she was the most influential 19th century female musician. Undoubtedly, she was one of the best pianists of her time, on the par of Franz Liszt and Anton Rubenstein. She edited many of Robert Schumann's works and correspondence after his death. She was a highly influential piano teacher whose students lived well into this century. She was the primary champion of the music of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, and a significant composer in her own right: and I have set out to prove this.

To do my part in fulfilling the Clara'96 Campaign, I began to organize a concert to perform all of Clara Schumann's lieder in one evening. This would not be possible with many other composers, Fanny Hensel being one of them. But in the 1992 Breitkopf edition are between 25 and 29 songs, depending if you count two versions of two songs, and two early songs whose authenticity has not been proven. I began recruiting my graduate school colleagues at Indiana University, those who I knew were enthusiastic about lieder, especially that of the Schumanns. The concept was that we would share the load of learning all the songs in the middle of a busy semester, and also share the audience that each of us usually draws.

The group of singers listened to all of the songs on the Fontana3 and Lippitz4 recordings, and began to pick who would sing what. We had one baritone, two tenors, and four sopranos. Then I attacked the problem of programming the 28 songs we decided to perform. To cluster them by opus or by singer wouldn't be interesting. Instead, I arranged the poems into a narrative, as if it were Clara's own Dichterliebe. The result, with subtext, was this:

Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag, Op. 23 No. 5
This is a day for singing!
Sie liebten sich beide (First version, 1842)
The story: they loved each other, but were separated by misunderstanding.
Liebeszauber, Op. 13 No. 3
Love spins out his song of love, all nature listens.
Die stille Lotosblume, Op. 13 No. 6
The lover admiringly sings to his beloved.
Walzer (1834?)
He seeks to beguile her by a rousing waltz.
Liebst du um Schönheit, Op. 12 No. 4
She spurns him, saying that he should not love for beauty, but love alone.
Ich stand in dunklen Träumen, Op. 13 No. 1
He later mourns his loss while gazing at her picture.
Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen, Op. 12 No. 2
Passion and storm finally bring them together; hint of departure.
Der Abendstern (1834?)
She is as distant as a star; her light would make him die of bliss.
Die gute Nacht, die ich dir sage (1841)
They say goodnight.
An einem lichten Morgen, Op. 23 No. 2
At dawn he awakens her with kisses.
Was weinst du, Blümlein, Op. 23 No. 1
She responds with tears and laughter.
Auf einem grünen Hügel, Op. 23 No. 4
She finds a green hill with flowers and tears: no joy without sorrow.
Beim Abschied (1846)
He must leave at sunset, to return tomorrow, perhaps...
Der Wanderer (1831)
He wanders far at night; home is at a distant dawning.
Oh weh des Scheidens, das er tat (1843)
Memories of the painful parting.
Lorelei (1843)
Olden tale of beguiling betrayal; will he be lost?
Volkslied (1840)
A folktale warns of lovers' doomed wanderings.
Der Wanderer in der Sägemühle (1832?)
He sees a sawmill cutting a living tree for his coffin.
Mein Stern (1846)
She sings in hope that her star will carry a kiss to her far off lover.
Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort, Op. 23 No. 3
She takes comfort in nature; she sings of her burdens.
Am Strande (1840)
She watches the ocean for his return, consoled by sleep.
Ihr Bildnis (First version of Ich stand in dunklen Träumen) (1840)
With tears he gazes again at her picture; the loss is more bitter than ever.
Der Mond kommt still gegangen, Op. 13 No. 4
Under a quiet moon, she sends loving thoughts to her sleeping lover.
Das Veilchen (1853)
Song of the violet and the shepherdess: he rejoices to have died at her feet.
Ich hab' in deinem Auge, Op. 13 No. 5
She remembers the flashing of his eyes, the rose in his cheeks; now faded.
Warum willst du and're fragen, Op. 12 No. 11
He reminds her that only in his eyes will she find the strength of his love.
O Lust, o Lust, Op. 23 No. 6
What joy to sing a song from the mountain top: a song of secret joy or tears.
As if in conversation, we alternated singing in the performance, and maintained the gender perspective of each poem. All the musicians sat on stage for the whole concert, with an arc of pianists stage right of the piano, and an arc of singers on stage left. I created a large portrait of Clara and ensconced her behind us, looking graciously over our shoulders. To accompany the program, I made a new translation of the poetry, in lyric meter, such that the English can be sung.

For more, go to: Making a Great Man of Clara.

The Awakening of Clara | Why not Clara? | Making a Great Man of Clara
Clara Today | Kudos for Clara | Releases & Reviews | Gender & Music

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