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Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann (1819-96) was the wife of Robert Schumann. Idolised by Brahms, she was one of the foremost pianists of the age and an upholder of the classical tradition of playing and composition, whereas she regarded Raff as a member of the Liszt/Wagner New German school to which she was so opposed. The two had never met before he approached her at a recital she gave in Frankfurt in February 1878. She wrote in her diary: "Briefly Herr Raff comes and offers to me a place at the Dr. Hoch Conservatory, using all the possible arts of persuasion to arrange (my) immediate acceptance".

She went on to ask herself: "can I work at the institute with Raff, who is quite unsympathetic to me as a musician? I saw Raff for the first time. He has something open but also strong, and on subsequent inquiry I heard nothing to contradict this; at the same time however he always maintained a correct character". Brahms persuaded her to take up the post as principal teacher of piano.

It was a real coup for Raff to secure Schumann for the faculty. Her appointment was seen as ground breaking but he made it clear in 1879 that "with the exception of Madame Schumann there is no woman and there will not be any women employed in the Conservatory. As for Madame Schumann, I count her as a man". Although he accorded her great respect, he nonetheless formed the habit of visiting classes, rehearsals and evening performances to check on the standards being achieved by students. Schumann made it clear to him that he should trust her judgment about the degree of accomplishment of her pupils, after which he backed off, at least in her case.

Schumann never fully overcame her hostility towards Raff's artistic precepts, but she was the first to acknowledge his dedication to the conservatory. She wrote to Brahms in June 1882 that Raff "thought day and night about the institute and worried about it". Of Raff's music, as distinct from his musical sympathies, she knew little. Raff made a point of banning performances of his own works at the conservatory and didn't go out of his way to promote them. On one occasion, Schumann heard and enjoyed a performance elsewhere of a symphony of his and asked Raff for a copy of the score to study. He bowed politely in seeming acquiescence, but never sent the score to her, explaining to his fuming wife Doris, "Frau Schumann doesn’t need to know that I compose". Her ignorance continued. After his death, she played at the memorial concert; beforehand, when asked which of the trios should be chosen, she had said "you’ll have to send me a number of them since I know nothing by Raff".

To mark the 50th. anniversary on 20 October 1878 of Schumann's first public appearance, Raff honoured her with a surprise celebration. He made a speech which was "full of warmth and quite moving", whilst she was seated in a garlanded chair. There followed a concert of her own compositions given by the students and the ceremony ended with her being surrounded in her open carriage by young enthusiasts who showered her in floral bouquets. After a visit by Liszt to the conservatory the next year, she played four hands with him in Raff's apartment, entrancing a crowd which had gathered on the pavement outside, listening through the opened windows. The unveiling in 1880 of a memorial in Bonn to her husband Robert was observed at the conservatory by another celebration.

She obviously grew to respect Raff. In October 1880, at the height of his dispute with his rebel singing professor Stockhausen, she wrote to her half-brother Woldemar Bargiel about "the very deadly business between Stockhausen and Raff. The first has published an awful article against Raff - one wants to sign an address to present to the latter from the faculty and from all the teachers, where one expresses to him our regret etc..."

The dispute, although resolved in Raff's favour, affected his health and he suffered a heart attack early in 1882. In April Schumann wrote to Brahms: "I found Raff quite changed, he looks very bad, and I felt concern and compassion towards him. Naturally I was silent, however.... I now fear the worst for him at work".

She wrote in her diary on 24 June that the conservatory's governing body were eager to make changes to its organisation which she would welcome, but that Raff "is actually dangerously ill and the gentlemen are afraid of the consequences for him if they make energetic changes". Raff died that night.

Clara Schumann, anticipating posterity's judgment of Raff, wrote these maudlin sentiments in her diary after the commemorative concert at which she had played his Piano Trio No.2 with Hugo Heermann and Bernhard Coßmann: "there was a man created, restless with talent and destiny, as well as fantasy, and what of him now? One has him celebrated, ...hear two hours of his music and with that believe that everything has been done and think no more about him! I think his gift deserves better and find it terribly sad...."

Schumann retired from the Dr Hoch Conservatory in 1891.

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