Clara Wieck was one of the most important composers and pianists of the 19th century but for years her genius was concealed beneath the assumptions about the place of women in music within the early romantic period.
Beloved Clara draws on original letters and diaries, from those most intimately involved with the Schumann’s, to tease out the complex triangular relationship between Clara and Robert Schumann and their close friend Johannes Brahms.
That Clara worshipped her husband is not in doubt, it shines through her letters and her refusal of offers of marriage once Robert had died.
At the same time Robert – even if we can overlook the dreadful impact of his mental illness – regarded Clara both as a woman and his wife, as essentially a support to him and at times objected to her having a professional life of her own even when then needed the money.
All this is couched and supported by short piano works that go a long way to help us understand the complexity and intimacy of the unfolding story. Early works by Schumann, easily linked to Mendelssohn who knew both of them in their early years, gave way to more demanding works by the young Brahms, and it is his works which dominated the second half.
That the evening draws to a close with Liszt’s glorious arrangement of Schumann’s Widmung was moving and entirely fitting.
In a comfortably domestic setting Lesley Sharp and Simon Russell Beale bring not only the Schumann’s to life but Brahms and other members of the close family. Their ability to create warmth and intimacy was constantly moving, and the complexity of emotional response throughout was far more engaging than any simple retelling of a love story.
To give us time to digest and meditate on the letters and diary extracts Lucy Parham played 15 short pieces, carefully chosen to reflect the narrative rather than simply fill in the gaps and these proved to be highly apt throughout.
The afternoon was a fund-raising – and awareness-raising – event for the development of the HIPCC as it takes its programme forward to develop educational outreach for young people in the 1066 area, and a new range of events in spring 2020.
The afternoon was very well supported – rightly so given the quality of the performers – and bodes very well for the programme next year.
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