I feel a degree
of guilt these days when I remember a time, albeit a very
long time ago, when I was unaware that there were any women
composers. I know better now and, in fact, recently discovered
that the ‘New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers’ lists no
fewer than 875. Clearly there has been some kind of cultural
conspiracy at work throughout the centuries to play down the
work of women composers. I was, therefore, pleased to read
that this disc was produced under the auspices of the Pasquale
Valerio Foundation for the Study of the History of Women.
The Foundation was founded in 2004 “with the object of highlighting
and increasing the general appreciation of the role of women
in many different areas of society.” The liner notes further
explain that “The Foundation’s intention is to give prominence
to those women patrons of the arts, supporters, performers
and composers who have made a contribution to musical history,
and, in the future, it plans to promote other musical events
designed to turn the spotlight on today’s female talents and
to rediscover the works of earlier women composers, which
have hitherto been neglected and insufficiently appreciated.”
A laudable aim! This disc would have been an obvious choice
for that organisation to be involved with since it is of the
best known works by probably the most well known woman composer:
was born in Leipzig in 1819 and her father Friedrich Wieck,
a piano teacher, tutored her as a pianist from an early age.
Whatever has been said about him, it should be acknowledged
that he was prepared, and eager, to see his daughter become
an accomplished pianist who could earn her living as such.
This was something rare in those far-off days when women writers
had to assume male pseudonyms in order to get published and
women composers were as rare as hens’ teeth!
Clara made her
public debut at the age of 9 in a piano duet and made her
solo debut when she was 11. She began writing the piano concerto
when she was 14 and completed it in time for Robert Schumann,
her father’s piano pupil, to orchestrate it by February 1834.
She gave its first performance in November 1835 with the Gewandhaus
orchestra; Mendelssohn conducting.
By any criteria
the Piano Concerto is a truly remarkable piece for
a 14 year old. It is a work with memorable themes and a sunny
vision throughout and which achieves Clara’s aim of doing
without what she considered the more flamboyant excesses often
found in similar compositions by her male colleagues. The
themes are simply stated though the work requires a fair degree
of virtuosity by the pianist. If you didn’t know the authorship
of the work you might very well be tempted to guess at her
future husband or even Mendelssohn or Chopin. All three men
had been born in the same year 1810 - though as stated above
the music is without the more obvious demonstrations of machismo.
On this disc it is played very well by both soloist and orchestra
and an eloquent case is made for other pianists to record
The Piano Trio
is no doubt better known than the concerto and was the
fruit of several more years of study and experimentation written,
as it was, in 1846. The music is beautifully lyrical with
lush melodies, the themes superbly shaped and the three instruments
each fully exploited, none of them being weighted more than
the others. There is a sadness there which feels all the more
poignant when you learn that Clara’s fourth child Emil, born
that February, was to die a year later and that during the
very summer she composed it she suffered a possible miscarriage
whilst on holiday with Robert on the north sea coast at Norderney.
This performance is well recorded revealing all the detail.
The disc is another
feather in Naxos’s cap. As I often find myself saying in similar
circumstances - if you don’t know Clara Schumann’s abilities
then this disc is an excellent introduction at a tiny price.
see also Reviews
by Evan Dickerson and Colin