The milieu where Clara Wieck grew up was, at the same time, profoundly musical and the opposite of harmonious. Her parents were both professional musicians of a very high level and standing; yet their relationship was unhappy and would end in a divorce, with Clara’s mother leaving the family home and virtually abandoning her child. Even before that, the atmosphere was tense. Clara did not learn to speak until her fifth year of age, possibly as a consequence of this situation; however, since her mother’s “language” was music, Clara was deeply attracted by the piano and could play it much earlier than she could speak. Throughout her life, music would remain her favourite language; it was therefore not by chance that her most intimate, deep and profound relationships were also those in which music played a prominent role.
Clara grew up as a child prodigy, taking Europe by storm with her impeccable piano performances and with her youthful compositions; her musicianship was probably the first spark which would later ignite love in the heart of Robert Schumann, who was her senior by nine years. Robert used to study under Clara’s father’s guidance, to whom, as he frankly acknowledged, he owed much. When Clara was just thirteen, she wrote a Romance varié (op. 3), dedicated to Robert Schumann; impressed by the gift, Robert used Clara’s theme for his own Impromptu sur une Romance de Clara Wieck, op. 5, which he dedicated to her father, Friedrich Wieck. The relationship between Robert Schumann and Friedrich Wieck grew increasingly uncomfortable, and reached a rupture point when Robert and Clara sued him in court in order to obtain the permission to get married to each other, in spite of Wieck’s persistent disapproval.
Since Wieck could not stand the idea of having Schumann for a son-in-law, and also given the role of music in the lives of the two young lovers and in their relationship, it comes as no wonder that their courtship and engagement were interwoven with music. In particular, there is evidence that Robert Schumann started to symbolize Clara through a descending scale of at least five notes, especially from the time of the forced separation they had to endure in 1836-7. Moreover, many scholars agree that Robert made use of a cipher system whereby all the letters of the alphabet (and not just the first eight) could be associated to pitches, thus allowing him to hide allusions, messages and references in his music by means of motifs. Thus, Clara’s name was “written” as C-B-A-G-A, a theme which is frequently found in his most important works between 1834 and 1841. It mattered little that virtually no hearer could discern the reference: in fact, it is likely that he delighted in this kind of musical secret language precisely because it was secretive and mysterious.
Among the other works in which he employed it, there is a beautiful miniature which would later become No. 4 of Robert Schumann’s Bunte Blätter, a collection of earlier works which had initially been conceived as belonging to other piano cycles (such as Kinderszenen, Papillons, Album für die Jugend etc.) and had been discarded from their original destination. The eventual cycle, somewhat confusingly, is therefore made of three “Little Pieces”, five “Album Leaves” and a further six pieces with individual titles (9-14); No. 4 thus is the first of the “Album Leaves”, and this element already points to the piece’s role as a memory, as a trace of somebody, like the signatures, dedications, sketches and mementos people used to write in each other’s “albums” in the nineteenth century. Written in 1841, it features the “Clara theme” very prominently, and it is strongly reminiscent of the “Andantino de Clara Wieck” found in Robert’s Grand Sonata no. 3, op. 13 (“Concerto sans Orchestre”). In spite of its very small scale, this beautiful miniature is a self-contained piece, with an exquisite melancholy and longing.
The collection, as it is known today, was compiled in 1852, i.e. just one year before Robert Schumann’s mental collapse and breakdown, but the individual works were written at different moments in his life. Among them, also the first “Little Piece” (composed in 1838) had been intended for Clara, as it is an untexted Lied he gave her as a Christmas present. Other pieces resemble Characterstücke, character pieces, such as for example No. 3, originally titled “Jagdstück” and evoking a hunting scene, or No. 5 “Fata Morgana”, or those which retained their titles (such as “Marsch”, “Abendmusik” and the other March which closes the series).
The year after Schumann had gathered the Bunte Blätter, Clara – by then his wife of thirteen years – decided to resume her own compositional activity, which she had gradually abandoned after her marriage. In a diary entry of May 29, 1853, she noted: “Today I began for the first time in years to compose again. I want to write variations on a theme of Robert’s out of Bunte Blätter, for his birthday. But I find it very difficult – the break has been too long”. We have to believe her words, even though nothing in her finished work betrays this difficulty: neither the time it took her to finish her composition (a mere six days!), nor the quality of the completed piece, the set of Variations which would eventually be published as her op. 20. She was able, therefore, to present her composition to Robert on his birthday, with a very humble dedication: “For my dear husband, for June 8, 1853, a weak attempt once more on the part of his Clara of old”. This “Clara of old” was Clara the virtuoso pianist (though she continued concertizing until a very old age), Clara the composer who had relinquished her creative talent, at least partly, Clara the muse of Robert’s works (the “Clara theme” was rarely used by Robert after 1841) and Clara the young creator of the Romance varié op. 3. In fact, in 1854, Johannes Brahms (who was very close to the Schumanns and substantially helped Clara during her husband’s mental illness) took up Clara’s Variations and studied them, since he wished to compose a set of variations of his own on the same theme by Schumann used by her. While he was analysing Clara’s work, he realized that her third variation could be combined with the theme from her own Romance varié, used by Robert in his Impromptu. Clara was thrilled, and she noted in her diary: “Brahms has had a splendid idea, a surprise for you, my Robert. He has interwoven my old theme with yours – already I can see you smile”.
Clara was living a terrible moment of her life: in May 1854 she was nine months pregnant, she had been forbidden to see her husband in the asylum where he had had to be hospitalized, and in that situation she played her Variations for Brahms and some friends. A piece which spiritually symbolized her union with her husband, a union physically embodied in the child she was bearing, was being played when she was separated from her husband. She wrote: “It is just a year since they were composed, and I was so happy thinking of surprising him with them. This year I must spend his birthday alone, and he will not even know the day”. Brahms’ choice to write his own Variations on Schumann’s theme was felt by her as an attempt at consoling her in her grief, as she stated: “Brahms sought to comfort me; he composed variations on that wonderfully heartfelt theme that means so much to me, just as last year when I composed variations for my beloved Robert, and moved me deeply through his sweet concern”. Fascinatingly, Brahms would model his ninth Variation on Schumann’s op. 99 no. 5, thus building a further artistic and human connection between the three artists and their works (his dedication on the manuscript is touching: “Little Variations on the Theme of His, dedicated to Her”).
Also Clara’s Trois Romances op. 11, written well before this sad epilogue (in 1839, the year preceding their wedding) are a homage to her fiancé; in particular, the second Romance was felt by Schumann as a symbol of their love: “In your Romance”, he wrote, “I can hear again that we are destined to be man and wife. You complete me as a composer just as I do you. Each of your thoughts comes from my very soul; indeed, it is you I have to thank for all my music. There is nothing to change in the Romance; it must remain exactly as it is”. The three pieces are imaginative, skilfully written and touchingly expressive, from the plaintive Andante in E-flat minor, to the G-minor movement which pleased Robert so much, to the carefully built third Romance, in A-flat major.
A style similar to that of the Romances is found also in the beautiful Quatre pieces fugitives, written in 1840-4 and dedicated to Clara’s half-sister, Marie Wieck, who was following in her footsteps as a budding concert pianist. Similar to many of Robert’s works, these pieces are Characterstücke, revealing her appreciation of certain signature traits of her husband’s style such as his predilection for the lower registers of the piano. In spite of Clara’s dedication to Marie, here too an homage to Robert is found: the final Scherzo corresponds to the Scherzo found in a Sonata Clara had written for Robert, once more as a Christmas present, in 1841.
This extraordinary couple, with their complicated and difficult family life, with their circle of musical friends (first and foremost Mendelssohn, Brahms and Joachim) was and remains possibly the most extraordinary symbol of how music can truly become the language of love; the works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album, with their stories, allusions and meanings, but first and foremost thanks to their exquisite musical beauty, are a living testimony of how deeply Clara and Robert’s love can still inspire and touch us.
With flair and passion, Italian pianist Sara Costa walks on international stages, playing as soloist and chamber musician. Her vast repertoire spans from Bach to Kurtag.
In Italy she’s a regular guest artists in the main Festivals and Concert Institutions of the country. She performed in Rome for “I Concerti del Quirinale” live on Radio3 and at Auditorium Parco della Musica, in Sala Puccini (Milan) for “Società dei Concerti”, at Fazioli Concert Hall in Sacile, at Teatro Donizetti and Sala Piatti in Bergamo, just to name a few. Abroad, Sara has performed in Europe, China, Japan and Israel. Among the others, in Europe Sara has played at Royal Albert Hall and Saint Martin-in-the-fields in London, at Hr Sendesaal in Frankfurt, at Grunewaldsalen in Stockolm, at Huqyaldy Festival (Czech Republic), at Zagreb Concert Hall (Croatia), at Ptuj Festival (Slovenia). Outside Europe, recent highlights include China (Beijing National Library Arts Centre, Tianjin Grand Theatre, Chengdu Concert Hall, Yangzhou Grand Theatre and Harbin Concert Hall), Japan (Phoenix Hall and Opus Hall in Osaka) and Israel (Eilat Festival). As a soloist, she’s worked with Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana, Roma Tre Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica of Chioggia, Orchestra “Il Clavicembalo Verde”, “Musica Festival Donizetti” Orchestra in Bergamo, with italian conductors such as Stefano Ligoratti, Pietro Perini, Giovanni Pelliccia and Paolo Belloli. Sara’s charismatic musicianship and devotion for chamber music has created numerous human and artistic collaborations across the globe with artists such as Pavel Vernikov, Igor Volochine, Alexander Zemtsov, soloits of the prestigious Berliner Philarmoniker, and in Italy with violinist Christian Saccon. From 2014 she has a piano duo with Fabiano Casanova and they have released in 2019 their first four hands CD for Da Vinci Classics label, winner of Global Music Award in California, USA (Best Album and Best Duo). Her discography includes also a CD with violinist Christian Saccon (2011 - Wide Classique), a CD with violinist Germana Porcu which got a 4 Stars review on “Musica” newspaper ( June 2018 – Da Vinci Classics) and a CD with Trio Carducci (December 2018 – Brilliant Classics). Born in 1984 in Bergamo, Sara started to play piano at the age of 8 under the guidance of her father, who is an amateur organist and grew up in a family with a strong love for music. Her training is rooted in some of the best international pedagogical traditions. After graduation with highest honors at “G. Donizetti” Conservatory in Bergamo as student of Maria Grazia Bellocchio, from 2007 she focused her studies on the Russian School under the guidance of Konstantin Bogino, at Santa Cecilia Academy in Bergamo and Accademia Perosi in Biella. In 2011 she obtained with highest marks the Chamber music Degree at Pianistic Academy “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola, under the guidance of Tchaikovsky Trio. In 2019 she got a II Level Master in Piano and Chamber music at “C. Pollini” Conservatory in Padua (IT). Sara has also been selected to participate in many prestigious masterclasses by Norma Fisher, Martin Roscoe, Andrzej Jasinski, Sergei Dorensky, Vasilly Lobanov, Pavel Gililov, Mats Widlund, Alexei Kornienko and Marian Rybicki. Sara is recipient of many awards: Mayr Award, Edoardo Gavasso Award, First prize in the International Piano Forum in Chioggia, Third Prize at Open Piano Competition in London (2013). She received as well scholarship from Accademia Perosi of Biella (2008) and Royal Academy of London (2011). Sara’s concerts are often broadcast by national public radios, such as Rai, Radio Classica and Radio Vaticana. Her interest for synaesthetic experiences in music led Sara to give life to an association, together with other friends, with the aim to promote music and contamination among arts. Associazione Cluster has also the purpose to promote young talents, giving them the possibility to perform. She is Artistic Director, together with Fabiano Casanova, of “Il Castello Armonico” Concert Season. Sara is also a beloved and passionate teacher. From 2013 she’s Piano professor at “G.Donizetti” Conservatory in Bergamo. Her love for sharing emotions and music experience have established Sara among the finest and versatile Italian concert pianists of new generation.
Clara Schumann (b Leipzig, 13 Sept 1819; d Frankfurt, 20 May 1896). German pianist, composer and teacher. One of the foremost European pianists of the 19th century and the wife and champion of the music of Robert Schumann, she was also a respected composer and influential teacher.
Robert Schumann: (b Zwickau, Saxony, 8 June 1810; d Endenich, nr Bonn, 29 July 1856). German composer and music critic. While best remembered for his piano music and songs, and some of his symphonic and chamber works, Schumann made significant contributions to all the musical genres of his day and cultivated a number of new ones as well. His dual interest in music and literature led him to develop a historically informed music criticism and a compositional style deeply indebted to literary models. A leading exponent of musical Romanticism, he had a powerful impact on succeeding generations of European composers.