Clara Schumann in words and music


I, Clara
St James' Church, Chipping Campden

The relationship between the two Schumanns (Robert and Clara) and Brahms is a complex and loving one, and Brewin Books are in fact publishing a novel about the trio at the end of October. In her fascinating Composer Portrait "I, Clara", Lucy Parham has focussed on the life of Clara, both as an internationally-renowned pianist and a highly regarded composer, forced to juggle her own professional activities with the responsibilities of supporting her tormented genius of a husband and raising their many children.
This words and music presentation served in a pivotal position as both the final event in this year's wonderful Chipping Campden Music Festival and the opening one in the town's Literary Festival, and brought Joanna David reading Lucy Parham's script compiled from Clara's own words, with Parham performing piano music by Clara herself as well as those in her surrounding circle: Brahms, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and of course husband Robert.
David, a late replacement for the announced Harriet Walter, achieved heroics in this difficult acoustic. It was impossible to catch every word in her well-paced delivery; discreet amplification would certainly have helped. Clara did not come across as an entirely sympathetic character, never forgetting to remind us of her artistic achievements as she chalked up over 1500 concert appearances, though she was entitled to the chips on her shoulder derived from her father's exploitation of her and Robert's dependence upon her as well as siring so many children upon her.
Parham's musical commentaries were conscientiously performed, though depth of personality was missing. The most striking pieces were Clara Schumann's Romance in E-flat minor and Robert's Intermezzo in the same key. And what should have been a consummate, beatific ending with Liszt's fiendish piano transcription of the ravishing song Widmung Robert dedicated to Clara in their joyous wedding year came across as disappointingly low-key.
Christopher Morley

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