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Essay by Robert Schumann

Review of Clara's Music
September 12, 1837
Written for the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

The Museum
Clara Wieck:
Soirées for Piano, Opus 6

        There should also be a female head to adorn our museum.  And how better could I celebrate this day, the eve of a beloved’s birthday, than by devoting myself to one of her creations.  It may well be that her works derive from so exotic an imagination that mere practice alone will not suffice to pursue these rarely interlaced arabesques—or from so profoundly tempered a spirit that, once the graphic, the representational in her compositions recedes into the background, one does not immediately grasp the dreamlike and the introspective.  Thus, the majority will lay them aside after a quick glance; indeed, it is easy to believe that contest juries will award these Soirées, among a hundred entries, the last prize rather than the first, so far below the surface lie the pearls and laurel wreaths.  Nevertheless, I should be more than usually curious about the verdict of the academicians.  For the Soirées betray, on the one hand, and plain for anyone to see, a life effulgent and tender, apparently responsive to the  slightest stirring; on the other hand, a wealth of unconventional resources, an ability to entangle the secret, more deeply twisting threads and then to unravel them, something one is accustomed to expect only from experienced artists—and males!

        About her youth we would agree [the Soirées were written when she was about seventeen].  To evaluate the rest one must appreciate her position as one of the supreme virtuosos of the time, with insight into everything.  Let Bach penetrate to a depth where even the miner’s lamp is threatened with extinction; let Beethoven lash out at the clouds with his titan’s fists; whatever our own time has produced in terms of heights and depths—she grasps it all, and recounts it with a charming, maidenly wisdom.  At the same time, she has raised her own standards to a degree that leaves one wondering anxiously where it all may lead.  I venture no predictions.  With such talents one is confronted with curtain after curtain; time lifts them one by one, and what is revealed always differs from what was expected.  That one cannot contemplate such a wondrous phenomenon with indifference, that one must follow her spiritual development step by step, may be expected of all those who, in this singular time, acknowledge the natural intimate relationship of kindred spirits, past and present, rather than mere accident or chance.

        What do we have, then, in these Soirées?  What do they tell us?  Whom do they concern?  Are they comparable with the work of a master?  For one thing, they tell us much about music, and how it surpasses the effusions of poetry, how one can be happy in pain and sad when happy.  They belong to those who can delight in music without the piano, whose hearts swell to the bursting point at the sound of intimate yearning and inner song.  And they belong to those already versed in the fraternal language of a rare species of art.
 Are they, finally, a result?  Yes, the way a bud is a result before it breaks out in the splendid colors of the blossoms, fascinating and important as is everything that harbours a future.
        And then, of course, to hear them as she plays them!  One hardly knows what has struck him, or imagines how such a thing can be recorded in symbols and written out.  This, again, is an astonishing art, and it is all hers.  Whole books could be heard on the subject.  I say ‘heard’ advisedly.  Suspicious of our Davidsbündler resources, we recently asked a good connoisseur to write something about the character of her playing.  He promised to do so, and after some two pages concluded: ‘It would be desirable, some day, to learn something tangible about this artist’s virtuosity’, etc.  We know where he came to grief, and why we, too, shall stop right here.  Not everything can be told in the letters of the alphabet.

Florestan and Eusebius
September 12, 1837

The above exerpt is drawn from:
Schumann, Robert. Schumann on Music: A Selection from the Writings. Trans. and ed. by Henry Pleasants. New York: Dover Publications, 1988, pp. 122-3.



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