Paris Mozart Orchestra plays Piano Concerto Clara Schumann – from which she cleared Robert’s ‘improvements’

In March 2022 the Paris Mozart Orchestra tours Europe with ‘Diversita #3’, a programme featuring works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky, Clara Schumann and Silvia Colasanti. Isata Kanneh-Mason will play the solo part in the Piano Concerto Clara Schumann composed between 1833-1835. The orchestra will present its programme on 12 March in De Doelen, Rotterdam, and on 15 March in Concertgebouw Amsterdam.

Clara Schumann was brought up on music. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a music publisher, singing teacher, pianist and piano therapist; mother Marianne Tromlitz was a successful singer and pianist. Because of his frequent outbursts of anger, she left Friedrich when Clara was only five years old.

As a pedagogue, however, Friedrich was very gifted. He taught in a playful manner and made ear training and other training into enjoyable activities. Soon, Clara could sight-read very well; moreover, she turned out to be a great improviser.

Clara Schumann in 1838, pastel by Andreas Staub

Everyone who mattered at the time came to the Wieck house, where her father organised soirées at which Clara played for an interested but critical audience. This is how she got to know Robert Schumann, who moved into the family when she was eleven. Two years later she started what would become her Piano Concerto in A minor.

At the end of 1833, she completed a one-movement ‘Konzertsatz’ that she orchestrated herself. Robert made some ‘improvements’ to the instrumentation, after which she performed the piece in several concerts as a 14-year-old child prodigy. After this, she gradually expanded it to a three-movement concerto, with the original Konzertsatz serving as the finale.

In 1834 she wrote the first movement, which opens with a martial theme in majestic chords from the orchestra, followed by a virtuoso piano part. The following year she composed the middle movement, the intensely lilting ‘Romanze’ for cello and piano.

The two instruments circle each other like a pair of lovers – at the time Clara was in love with the cellist August Theodor Müller. The orchestra remains silent, but towards the end soft timpani rolls mark the transition to the third movement, which opens with clarion calls and a powerful, rising motive in octaves from the pianist.

A year later, Clara orchestrated the piece once more, undoing Robert’s revisions. Twelve days before her sixteenth birthday in September 1835, she completed this new version of her Piano Concerto. In November she played the premiere herself, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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