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The Challenge of Clara '96

Nations commemorate their births with fireworks. But in the world of music, upon the centennial of a composer's birth or death, many conservatories and concert halls give special revivals of that composer's music. Often special lecture series are held, and scholarly articles about that composer appear in greater numbers that year.

Many may remember the special emphasis on Stravinsky's music during 1982, the 100th anniversary of his birth. And in 1991, the bicentennial of Mozart's death, there was much attention given to his music. In fact, during that year, Lincoln Center in New York sponsored a series of concerts in which every single piece written by Mozart was performed. Now that was an historical feat!

Each celebration of this kind affords performers and audiences a rare experience. Not only do they commemorate an historical event, but they participate in the creation of a new historical landmark.

A singularly rare occasion awaits music lovers around the world in the year 1996. Clara Wieck Schumann, the preeminent concert pianist, composer, editor (and incidently, wife of Robert Schumann), died in the year 1896. The centenary of her death is upon us. It would be more pleasant to celebrate her birth, but another 23 years must pass before her bicentennial year.

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.

It's not that difficult a task. She wrote only 66 pieces. In fact, her complete lieder were recently recorded by a single artist. Compared with the challenge of Lincoln Center and the numerous works of Mozart, this is easily achievable by any dedicated band of musicians.

If Clara Schumann wrote only 66 pieces, how could she have been a great composer? That is the answer we seek. Obviously the quantity of output does not mean a high quality. Several composers' fame rests on a mere handful of masterpieces, such as Bizet, Duparc, and Leoncavallo. Only by performing, studying, and hearing Clara's music will her greatness be discovered.

Clara Schumann was a female musician. Is this some kind of affirmative action? Too often the music of women composers is condemned to particular concerts "For Women Composers Only". Rather than exalting their creativity, this practice gives the impression that women composers need special assistance, that their music is inferior, and that they require affirmative action. Instead, their music should be allowed to stand on its own, freely mingled and compared with music of men composers, especially their colleagues: those with whom they interact and share influence.

Won't a special concert of Clara Schumann be another "For Women Composers Only" occasion? No. Never before has the music of one woman been the focus of musicians for an entire year. If Clara's music is performed in a concert among that of other composers, or as 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. Only this way can her music have a chance to achieve the status held by the other great composers of the canon. Only this way can the discerning listener be able to objectively assess the imagination and craft of any composer, and praise the genius of those worthy.

If Clara Schumann's music fails, it fails. But it must be heard. In 1996.

What can I do?

Perform a concert. Send in your program. Become a member of the Clara Schumann Society.

Do research. Send in a citation. Become a member of the Clara Schumann Society.

Go to information on Membership.

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