Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2000

By Susanna Reich, Reviewed by Sindhuja Krishnamoorthi

Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso book cover

Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso by Susanna
Reich; Clarion Books: New York, 1999; $18

As her tender, pale fingers grasped the ivory keys of the grand piano, she could feel herself shaking with nervousness. If you are a musician, or have another talent which requires you to perform in public, then you have probably experienced the anxiety that Clara Schumann goes through. The anecdote that I have written above is something that I made up. Although I had never met Clara in person or gone to a movie with her, this book gave me a pretty good idea of the person she was, and the things she did.

Almost every day, I hear my mother telling me to practice, and to get my projects done. I’ve heard a lot of people say that “practice makes perfect.” This saying seems a little misleading. Do they mean that after a lot of practice you’ll be perfect? If so, what happens after that? Do you still have to practice? Well, after I read just the first few chapters of Clara’s biography, I realized that Clara was a very dedicated person to practice at least five hours every day! Although she wasn’t perfect, she made fewer and fewer mistakes every day! Now I’ll know to listen more carefully when my mother tells me that it’s time to practice!

There are many morals that anyone can take home from this book. One example of that is believing in yourself and other people. Would you believe in a selfish man who has lost his wife because of his terrible greed for money? Well, I don’t think I would even trust him with a rusted penny! Clara, on the other hand, had such a man for a father, and trusted him to help her with her piano career. She took in compliments with a warm smile, and brushed back her tears when her father disapproved of her performance.

Another one of the morals is Clara’s dedication. If I had the choice of going outside to play, or practice my piano, I would definitely go with choice number one. Which sounds more interesting: the G-major three-octave scale, or a three-on-three game of basketball? If Clara were here, she would definitely choose anything that has to do with music. Not even once did Clara complain that her brothers didn’t have to play an instrument, but that she did. She loved the chance to weep with the low keys when she was sad, and to laugh with the high keys when she was happy. I could relate with Clara in this situation, also. Sometimes, when I am bored or angry, I’ll sit down at the piano and just play. It helps me to forget my anger and it gives me something to do.

Clara’s strength to pull herself and her family through the hard times in her life is a good lesson for anyone. Although she did not have the perfect childhood, she was raised in a decent way. Clara married her musician friend, Robert Schumann, who was a very hardworking, dedicated man. She had eight kids of her own and made sure that they had a good childhood. Clara had to face many tragic incidents in her life, such as the death of two children, her husband being sent to a mental hospital, and eventually becoming a widow at age thirty-six. But this didn’t stand in the way of her piano playing. Through all this pain and agony, I don’t think anyone could ever go back to playing an instrument that once brought them joy. But Clara still continued on her tours in order to raise money for her family’s needs. Although Clara’s children aren’t talked about much, I wonder what they were thinking at this point in their lives. Their father had died, their mother was almost always gone, and two of their siblings had passed away. I bet Clara’s children were as brave and strong as she was.

I definitely enjoyed reading this book, especially because I feel that Clara and I have so much in common. For instance, we both have two younger brothers, play piano, and like to compose music. While reading this book I could almost feel Clara’s stage fright as she stepped on the stage of the Gewandhaus (a historic hall in Germany) and the pleasure she got out of playing on a beautiful grand piano. After reading this book I strongly feel that Clara’s great accomplishments and beliefs should make her one of the greatest role models for all young girls aspiring to be great musicians.

Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso Sindhuja Krishnamoorthi

Sindhuja Krishnamoorthi, 12
Manhattan, Kansas

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