Robert and Clara Schumann’s Three Romances: A Window to One of Music’s Greatest Love Stories
by Geoffrey Larson
Note: These pieces are featured at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, Friday, July 12, 2013 at 8pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall. Hear the broadcast LIVE on KING FM 98.1 or streaming online.
Part of the great power of music is its ability to provide a window to the feelings and experiences of composers living long ago. Two such musicians of the Romantic era, Robert and Clara Schumann, are known not only for their masterful compositions but also for a love full of shared struggle, great happiness, and tragedy.
Robert’s descent into insanity near the end of his life ended a long happy romance that had overcome fierce opposition from Clara’s father and the turbulence of mid-19th Century Germany. Two beautiful examples of how the music of both composers was profoundly influenced by their love for one another are Robert’s Three Romances for oboe (or violin) and piano of 1849 and Clara’s Three Romances for violin and piano of 1853.
Robert Schumann’s music is exemplary of the sehnsucht of romantic-era composers, referring to a lustful longing or feelings of unrequited love, and although many of his works define him as a composer of such “romantic distance,” the Three Romances show a different character. The sinuous, tender phrases of the Romances come from a place full of intimate feelings of love and happiness, conveying a special tenderness and affection for his wife Clara. Of the revolutionary violence that defined the year of the work’s composition and forced the family to flee their Dresden home, Schumann said: “it’s been my most fruitful year – it seemed as if the outer storms compelled people to turn inward.”
Clara’s work offers a similar insight into her feelings of affinity for Robert, and reflects the love of a couple depending on one another for support. Seattle Chamber Music Society has innovatively paired these two works together so we may hear the voices of these two great composers speaking almost in conversation, offering us an intimate glimpse of a romance long ago.