Making a Great Man of Clara
One may well ask, "Isn't performing a monumental concert like this just another "For Women Composers Only?'" Of course, by simple definition, a single-composer concert will be single-gender. But monumental concerts are a rarity for women composers. Furthermore, a whole year of Clara concerts will achieve what is rarely done: to make the music of one woman the focus of musicians around the world for an entire year. This is simply a means to see if a particular woman's work can hold up to scrutiny like that of male composers, as we do with the music of Stravinsky and Mozart, and countless others.
I talked with a prominent musicologist whom I knew would be interested in an effort to promote a female composer, but he had a surprising reaction to my campaign and the Web site. He was disappointed. His feeling was that this approach was backward-looking, passé. He told me that musicology had gone through this stage twenty years ago. When I asked what he meant, he pointed out that musicians used to hold up the Masters as Great Men, as infallible, as if each and every note was divinely inspired.
I believe he was reacting to a perceived effort to exalt Clara Schumann as a Great Man, especially my statement on the Music and Gender page:
But I assert that musicians as a whole still think in terms of a canon. I believe, however, that the canon is incomplete. There is much music waiting out there to be discovered or rediscovered for every generation. True, we don't worship each and every note as sacred; art must not be thought of as perfect or imperfect; but we still search for the beautiful in art and music, and thus it is proper and cutting-edge to promote it through education, performance, research. And every composer whose music is heard as beautiful, especially when compared with the beautiful music of other composers, may truly be called Great.
If Clara's music is performed in a concert along with that of other composers, or in a single composer concert, she will be treated as all worthy composers whose works are interspersed with others, or who are celebrated at their centenaries. Why can't women composers' works be placed randomly on concert programs like any other composer? And why can't they be lauded in monumental concerts? Only this way can their music have a chance to achieve the status held by the other great composers of the canon. We then may leave it to the discerning listener to objectively judge the beauty and craft of each composer.
Many today are interested in performing, studying, and listening to the music of women composers just because they are women. That's fine with me; but my initial attraction to Clara was a fascination with the details of her intriguing life, her interaction with other composers whose music I enjoy, and frankly, a love for her music. Sure, I find it interesting to discover what might be specifically female about her music, but my primary goal is to perform her music, to encourage others to perform it, and to inspire audiences with it. Clearly, Clara Schumann isn't a Great Man, but if my feeble attempts to promote her as a Great Composer succeed in enticing the music world to listen one more time (or for the first time) to her music, I will be glad. And if any musicians perform, study, or listen to Clara Schumann just because she is a female or for any other reason, I have no complaint.
But her music must be heard. In 1996.
As a postscript, I would offer a few lessons learned from a technology-based promotional campaign. Though the World Wide Web offers a giant leap for an unknown writer to reach a large audience around the world, it has its limits because so few who might be interested actually have access to the Internet. Initially, when I launched the Clara Schumann home page on December 2, 1995, I registered the site with a dozen search engines and web crawlers. I made a huge directory of email addresses for major university and college music schools, and blanketed them with announcements. Then I began to subscribe to various music-related mailing lists on the Internet, and advertised the page and the Clara'96 Campaign that way. I have been less successful in attracting attention by means of the print media and broadcasting; it is difficult when the only funding is out of one's own pocket.
Yet the Web and email have yielded a wealth of contacts. Within the first three months, I logged more than 7,456 hits to the various pages on the site, and received dozens of messages from around the world. Correspondents include performers, professors, students, publishers, record companies, music journals, and TV producers; from all over the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, India and New Zealand. A touching note came from one young writer:
Along with planning further concerts, I continue to collect concert programs and cite upcoming events on the "Clara Today" page; I've discovered concerts in Thailand, Germany, Italy, and even a yearlong ClaraFest in San Antonio, Texas. Submissions of event information may be sent to:
Clara Schumann Society
c/o David Kenneth Smith
Department of Music
University of Alabama
Huntsville, AL 35899.
To access the Clara Schumann Home Page on the World Wide Web, type in the following address:
For those who don't yet have access to the Web, I offer
a table of contents service, by which one may order email copies of the
files. Requests may be sent to the email address:
1. Schumann, Clara. Marriage Diaries of Robert and Clara Schumann: From their Wedding Day through the Russia Trip. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993.
2. Litzmann, Berthold. Clara Schumann: An Artist's Life, Based on Material Found in Diaries and Letters. Translated and abridged from the 4th edition by Grace E. Hadow. 2 vols. New York: Vienna House, 1972. [Vol. 1, p. 259.]
3. Clara Schumann: Complete songs. Performed by Gabriele Fontana, soprano; Konstanze Eickhorst, piano. Georgsmarienhutte: Classic Produktion Osnabruck cpo 999 127-2, 1994.
4. Clara Wieck-Schumann: Sämtliche Lieder. Performed by Isabel Lippitz, soprano; Deborah Richards, piano. Bietigheim-Bissingen: Bayer Records BR 100 206 CD, 1992.
5. Reich, Nancy B. Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
David Kenneth Smith is an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.