Married the day before her twenty-first birthday against her father’s wishes, Clara Wieck was a concert pianist, composer, editor, supporter of Brahms, promoter of her husband Robert Schumann’s music – oh, and mother of eight children, of whom one died in infancy.
To introduce the Schumanns and their family, below is Robert Schumann’s Schlummerlied, composed on Christmas day 1841; the Schumann’s daughter Marie [left, aged about 30] had been born that year. Some charming photographs of the children accompany the recording.
Two years earlier, in 1839 , Clara received Three Romances Op 28 from her fiancé Robert as a Christmas present. Robert did not consider them to be ‘good or worthy enough’ to be dedicated to her. In protest, Clara wrote to him on 1st January 1840 ‘… as your bride, you must indeed dedicate something further to me, and I know of nothing more tender than these 3 Romances, in particular the middle one, which is the most beautiful love duet.” Despite her enthusiasm for them, Clara also suggested that he revisit them, and some revisions were made before publication in October 1840. The couple had married the previous month. Robert later considered the Romances to be included among his most successful works, particularly the ‘middle one’ – even so, he dedicated them to someone else.
Marked Einfach – simply, (although the autograph uses the word Andantino,) this serene second Romance is written on three staves, with the thumbs playing an inner duet surrounded by the gently undulating accompaniment in the radiant key of F sharp major.
In ternary form, the middle section is more troubled; the melody, now in a serious, minor key, moves to the outer RH fingers, and the LH plays concerned octaves in dialogue with the RH. A syncopated rhythm creates a hemiola effect as the music moves towards the dark regions of C sharp minor, the LH settling on the ocean bed of the piano’s lowest range. An anxious rising sequence and disturbed rhythm contribute to the tension, beautifully resolved by the LH eventually reaching for a low C sharp as the dominant of the home key, turning the music back towards tonal safety.
There is a further climax and a pause; richly embroidered counterpoint creates a glowing tapestry of great beauty, concluded by the comforting reassertion of the tonic key. The postlude repeats the dotted rhythm of the main melody quietly, again and again, as the music draws to a close, hovering, suspended in mid-air.
Here is Benno Moiseiwitsch in two recordings, twenty years apart: