Saturday, July 21, 2007

Clara Weick Shumann

Every so often one reads about Asian parents who make their musically talented children practice hours and hours and enter this competition and that, study with this teacher and that ... and lo! and behold! the have prodigy careers and sometimes lifelong careers. Today that is frowned on by we enlightened Amercians who say we cherish childhood for it's carefree spirit and so on. Some parents [big city ones, it seems] push their children into top schools, urge top grades, want them to go to top colleges and become outstanding bankers, lawyers, doctors -- rarely musicians or artists. While other parents urge childen into athletics or generally ignore them as long as they're quiet at the TV or computer.

Once upon a time prodigies were very much shaped by their parents. We know that Leopold Mozart was a very heavy handed father. We're not so sure about Bach, maybe he just had so many children the only way they could get attention was by producing music also [I haven't read a biography]. Now I'm reading a biography of Clara Weick Schumann. I knew the outline and that Papa Weick was an orge ... indeed that's a kind word for a man who viewed his talented child as property [as every slave owner did] while battering her brothers, literally, and kicking them out of the house at ages15 and 16, while being only marginally kinder to her half-brothers. Clara was a docile slave for many years, earning a great deal of money for Papa and practicing the piano endlessly. She became a truly brilliant performer. She did not rebel until Weick refused to allow her to marry Robert Schumann who he, himself, had brought into the household [as a paying piano sudent]. I was aware of this part of the story although not of the absolute selfishness of Papa. And that's as far as I've come in the book so far.

Finally Clara broke with Papa, and in her twenties was able to establish a relationship with her own mother who Weick had divorced when she was small. She married Robert, concertized, continued composing herself, bore 7 or 8 children [I'll find out], and cared for Robert when he sank beyond depression in dementia. [How might their lives have turned out if Prozac had existed?] After Robert's death, Clara was on her own -- with chlidren to care but her prodigious talent intact -- with all the difficulties of a woman in a man's world. She befriended the morose [homosexual ?] Brahms ... all this part I want to know more about. So I'm going on through the very stodgily written book.

The first picture is of Clara at 18, the second at 57 ... the painter is more talented in the second picture, of course, but here we see a woman who has not had an easy time of it. There is not much character in the teenage portrait, but great character in the older one. I wonder, can anyone today actually prefer that insipid girl to the woman who knows what life is all about?

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