Classical Album of the Week: Recognizing Chamber Music of Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn
March 1, 2021. We're kicking off our celebration of Women's History Month with sparkling music by Schumann and Mendelssohn presented by The Nash Ensemble of London. But it’s not Robert and Felix who have written the three pieces we’re spotlighting, but Clara and Fanny.
Clara was Robert’s wife and Fanny was Felix’s big sister. Eclipsed by the men bearing those names, both women were extremely talented composers and performers, respected even during those misogynistic times.
The Nash Ensemble brings us the final work by Fanny Mendelssohn, which she wrote for her little sister Rebecka as a birthday present in 1847. Fanny was the oldest of the four Mendelssohn children and one of the customs of the family was writing a piece of music in celebration of a birthday or other milestone.
Fanny never lived to hear her piano trio in D minor performed publicly. She died a month later of a stroke. The Nash Ensemble brings a lovely pathos to Fanny’s last major composition. Over the course of her musical career, Fanny wrote over 450 pieces, mostly for piano and voice.
The Nash Ensemble is the Gramophone award-winning resident chamber orchestra at London’s Wigmore Hall. In this album, besides Fanny Mendelssohn’s trio, they perform her String Quartet in E-Flat Major, as well as Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in G minor Op 17.
Clara Schumann, as Clara Wieck, was a woman ahead of her time. She had a brilliant career as a concert pianist, and was the first performer to play from memory, something unheard of at the time. It’s because of her that all soloists play without the aid of a score. Although she composed music throughout her life, her works didn’t gain the prominence they have now achieved until after her death.
The piece on this album is the only piano trio she composed. She wrote it during the time that Robert was very ill, and listening to it, her heartfelt concern for her husband can be deeply felt. It was this trio that brought Robert to write his own piano trio, and her influence can clearly be heard in his.
Listen to the Nash Ensemble perform excerpts from all three works:
Learn more about the young Clara Wieck and her musical career after marrying Robert Schumann :
Learn more about Fanny Mendelssohn and her struggle to remain true to her calling as a composer:
The Nash Ensemble was founded in 1964 by two students at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They named their chamber ensemble after the Nash Terraces that surrounded the Academy. Celebrate Women’s History Month with their lively and nuanced interpretations of the three works by Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn in our Classical Album of the Week.
Women’s History Month on WRTI is supported by Temple University, which celebrates the legacy of Agnes Berry Montier, class of 1912, and the first Black woman to earn a medical degree from Temple.