Clara’s musical training was all-encompassing, quite apart from the piano training she received at the hands of her father, Friedrich Wieck. She studied theory and harmony with Theodor Weinlig, Cantor of St Thomas’s in Leipzig, as well as composition with Heinrich Dom in her home town and with Carl Reissiger in Dresden. She studied singing with Johann Miksch, and even began to study the violin. Her father prided himself as an expert on singing as well as on piano playing (he wrote a book which was translated into English under the title Piano and Song) so it seems hardly surprising that Clara turned to song-composition at various times in her life. Indeed, if it were not for her natural modesty and diffidence in comparing herself to her husband’s genius, she might have written a great deal more. Her very first compositions pre-date her meeting with Robert, and these were naturally for piano. Quatre Polonaises by an eight-year-old (1827) were duly published in 1831 – the same year that Schumann saw his Abegg Variations and Papillons in print. She went on to write pieces that, although once forgotten, have aroused great interest and respect in recent years. Among these are the Piano Concerto, the wonderfully accomplished Piano Trio, and the Romances for violin and piano. She was all too aware, however, that women composers were not taken seriously, and she was not of the temperament to fight this sort of injustice. In 1839 she wrote this rather woebegone entry in her diary: ‘I once felt that I had creative talent, but I have since abandoned this idea. A woman should not wish to compose – there still hasn’t been a female composer; why should I be the first? That would be presumptuous, a result of the misconception my father instilled in me in earlier years.’ One must point out, however, that these remarks were made within the context of an international career where Clara enjoyed huge fame and universal acclamation, not only as a piano virtuoso but as an exponent of Werktreue – faithfulness to the original text. She was one of the first deeply feeling pianists who put the composers’ wishes above glittering success.
The story of the genesis of the Clara’s songwriting as a married woman is recounted in the article in this booklet on the Rückert Liebesfrühling settings of Op 37. So successful had been that collaboration, and Robert had derived so much pleasure from the creations of his wife, that it became a custom in the household for Clara to write something for her husband’s birthday in June of each year, and another work at Christmas. The song on this track was one of three written in 1843 as a present for Schumann’s 33rd birthday, the collection inscribed ‘To my beloved husband’. The Heine setting written at that time (Lorelei) will be heard on a disc in this series given over to that poet, and the other Rückert setting (Ich hab’ in deinem Auge) will be heard within a complete performance of her Opus 13 songs, published in 1844.
O weh des Scheidens, das er tat was first printed in 1992, however, and it is decidedly different from the mood and style of Clara’s published Rückert settings. The songs of Op 37 are melodically polished (surely showing a sign of Robert’s revising hand), but there is something admirably raw and direct about this recitative-like song which is in E minor but takes some time to settle into the home key, and ends on a questioning (and magisterial) dominant chord. If Clara does not possess the melodic fecundity which is the mark of Schumann’s 1840 songs, she has a real sensitivity to the speech inflections of the poem, and its Heine-like sense of drama is turned into something quite different with a female narrator. Indeed this song could only be sung by a woman and is thus a mirror image of the male-dominated imagery of Schumann’s Heine settings. This music has much in it that prophesies the Schumann late style, and it was written some years before Schumann adopted many of its characteristics: recitative cell-like fragments of arioso as opposed to developed melody; a chromatic palette of harmony which fills the song with unease and contributes to a feeling of incompleteness and lack of fulfilment; a meaningful doubling of the vocal line by the accompaniment; piano interludes (as after ‘des Weinens seiner Tränen!’ in this song) which echo the rhythm of the vocal line without attempting to duplicate its melody. In this short, rather bare work there is evidence of real temperament. In its passionate conclusion it would perhaps be fanciful to find biographical evidence of suppressed anger; but on this showing it is clear that Clara Schumann is both a real talent and a formidable woman. This side of her nature was to emerge more clearly after the death of her husband when even such close friends as Johannes Brahms found she was not to be trifled with.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000