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Their Forbidden Love Was Kept Alive Through Music

Clara Wieck Schumann (1819 - 1896), and her husband Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)

When the young Robert Schumann fell in love with his piano teacher’s daughter, Clara Wieck, her father was not pleased and tried to keep them apart. How did they keep their passion alive?

Radio Script:

MUSIC: Pianist Murray Perahia playing Robert Schumann's Symphonic Etudes

Susan Lewis: Robert Schumann composed his Symphonic Etudes in the mid 1830s – just about the time the 26-year-old proposed marriage to 17-year-old piano prodigy, Clara Wieck. Her father refused to permit it – forbidding them to meet or even exchange letters. Pianist and musical storyteller, Jeffrey Siegel.

Jeffrey Siegel: Strangely enough, what Papa Wieckdid allow was that their original musical compositions could be exchanged.

SL:  So, what did the two musicians do? Communicate with their music.

JS: These became musical love letters. One sees over and over again, major melodies of their compositions being constructed with five descending scale steps.

MUSIC: Jeffery Siegel playing a scale

SL:  Siegel, who shares stories before performing in his Keyboard Conversation concerts, points to Schumann’s Variations on a Theme by Clara Wieck. 

JS:   We hear the five notes...but listen to the dark harmonies that Schumann will use to harmonize Clara’s melody, and the rhythm is that of a funeral march.

MUSIC: Jeffrey Siegel plays from Schumann's Variations on a Theme by Clara Wieck

SL:  Schumann, says Siegel, was distraught – writing in one letter that did get through...

JS:   [Quoting Schumann] - "I fear every morning, I’m going to pick up the newspaper and see that you are engaged to someone to be married."

SL:  Robert and Clara eventually wed in September 1840, and were married until 1856, when Robert died.  Along with two careers, they had eight children.

Listen to pianist Jeffrey Siegel, host of Keyboard Conversations, talk about the intersection of Robert Schumann's music and love life.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.