31 Days of Classical, Day 29: Long live Clara

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
July 29, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — Each day throughout July, I'll share with you a piece of classical music. Thirty-one days, thirty-one pieces.

The list is by no means definitive, nor is it necessarily a list of all of my favorite music from the classical world. Every morning, I start my day with music that inspires me in some way, whether I'm inspired by its happiness, its loneliness, the instrumentation, the harmony, the colors, the melody -- each piece is special in some way -- and offers an opportunity to either hear something you've never heard, or hear something new in a piece you've known your whole life.

Clara Schumann, Prelude and Fugue, Op. 16 No. 1

Clara Schumann would've easily qualified as Time's "Human of the Year" any time, but certainly after 1854 when her husband, Robert, tried to commit suicide and ended up in a mental institution for the final two years of his life. Not only was she left to take care of the eight children, four of those children also died before her, leaving her their kids to raise and care for.

On top of all of that, Clara was a virtuosic pianist and a talented composer. Clara performed quite a bit, and this is one distinction that separates her from Fanny Mendelssohn, who was also an accomplished pianist and composer in the Romantic era. However, Fanny was upper class, and upper class women were sheltered from performing. Clara's "lower class" status allowed her to perform as a concert pianist for many years. Due to her responsibilities as mother and grandmother, though, she performed and composed less and less frequently over the years. Eventually, she went deaf.

Clara was an outstanding human, and I adore this prelude and fugue she wrote — particularly the fugue. Fugues are not easy to write. Even if you know the things to listen for in a fugue (a subject, an answer, a countersubject, etc.), it can be hard to soak up the technical beauty of this piece of music. Long live Clara.

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