Johannes Brahms entered the picture shortly before the incarceration and fell deeply in love with Clara but was just as deeply indebted to Robert for getting his first six opuses published within weeks of their meeting. Clara was forbidden to see Robert in the asylum because the doctors feared she would excite him too much. Brahms became a go-between for the couple, ferrying messages to and fro, but both loved Robert too well to abuse his trust. Brahms learned instead to associate deep love with deep renunciation-and, coupling this love with early experiences of playing dance music for sailors and prostitutes in Hamburg's dockside bars, he became a victim to the Freudian conundrum: where he loves, he feels no passion, and where he feels passion, he cannot love.
Germany grows in the hinterland of the story from four hundred-plus principalities to one nation under Bismarck. The great composers of the century (Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner among others) have their entrances and exits, and the ghosts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert are never distant.
Though firmly grounded in fact, the book unfolds like a novel, a narrative of love, insanity, suicide, revolution, politics, war, and of course, music.
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(A Novel Biography of the Schumanns and Brahms)
By Boman Desai
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Boman Desai
All rights reserved.
TO THE GEWANDHAUS
Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann was not precocious, not as a composer, no Mozart, no Mendelssohn, but no less a prodigy as a performer, certainly more than Schumann, probably more than Brahms, perhaps even Beethoven, matching the men on their own turf, the only woman worth mention in the arena, among Kalkbrenner, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Thalberg, inflaming the imagination of all who heard, a girl to their eyes, a woman to their ears – indeed, a man to their ears.
She had eyes large as almonds, blue as midnight, and a nose sharp and narrow and full of command – the first things Robert Schumann noticed on meeting her at the house of Dr. Carus, a mutual friend of their fathers, she just nine, he eighteen. Their hostess, Agnes Carus, agog with Rousseau's theories of childrearing, noticed as well her thin lips, the sad triangle of her face, and upbraided her pappa for stealing from Clara her childhood for his own gain, even attempting to punish him by refusing him introductions for Clara's benefit in Paris. Friedrich Wieck had written to his wife, his second, the former Clementine Fechner, Clara's stepmother, not without pride, that their hostess had kept her introductions – and he had kept Clara.
That was in 1831, the year of the first Paris tour, but she had been established from the start (her first concert, in Leipzig, at the Gewandhaus, in 1828) though it had been almost a bad start. She was to play the treble in Kalkbrenner's Variations, with Emilie Reichold, another of her pappa's students, but she was so small of stature, so skinny, that she seemed lost in her blue evening dress. In the parlor mirror she looked like a puppet, curtseying to herself – but waiting for the brilliant glass coach of the Gewandhaus she imagined herself a princess, smiling through the window as they clopped through the streets, waving a motionless wave.
Her pappa was at the hall: there were always modifications to be made, regarding tickets, hand bills, refreshments, the instrument, all the logistics concerts entailed.
Her brothers played in the adjacent room, Alwin seven, Gustav five, Alwin beating Gustav as he was always beating Gustav with the advantage of his years. Her pappa beat Alwin more than he beat Gustav, but he never beat her. She had been the favorite since she had shown promise at the piano, beginning lessons shortly after her mamma had remarried and left for Berlin. She had been five, taking her mamma's place in her pappa's affection, prevailing over even his second wife. She was his creation, the advertisement for his Method, to be revealed for the first time in public that day.
The call boomed from outside. Nanny came into the room. "Clara, it is time."
Clara swung from the mirror. "I am ready." She rushed down the stairs with Nanny to the street, prepared for anything except what she saw, a bus drawn by four nags, heads drooping, spines sagging, as if in former lives they might have borne Sancho Panzas and Falstaffs. Inside, two benches faced each other, their backs to the windows and street – wooden benches, without cushions, not even sheets, not to be compared with the glittering seat, soft and white and wide and upholstered, that she had been promised in the magical Gewandhaus coach. Worst of all, the bus was full of the commonest girls. They wore party dresses, but might as well have been wearing day clothes for the way they stared and pointed and giggled.
An older woman smiled from one of the benches.
"Come. Get in. Sit by me."
She must have looked as scared as she felt for the woman to have invited her to sit next to her.
Nanny squeezed her arms, pushing her gently. "Luck to you, little Clara. Auf Wiedersehen."
Clara nodded, pursed her lips to keep from crying, and got in without a word.
The driver flicked the reins. "GEE! HAW!"
Nanny waved as the bus jolted to a start, but Clara stared at the street between the heads of two girls across from her, conscious only of the low slow rumble of the wheels grinding the cobbles, reverberating around the second E flat below middle C.
She wasn't nervous, she had never been nervous when she played, not even for her pappa's friends in Dresden, once even with an orchestra (two violins, two violas, one cello, one flute, two horns), the Piano Concerto in E flat by Mozart, at a rehearsal for someone else's concert, about which she had written to her mamma in Berlin that she had made no mistakes – but the applause, roaring like a river, had frightened her.
"Whoa, Hans! Whoa, Bruno, Hilda, Greta! WHOA!"
The bus jolted to a stop.
The door was opened, a new girl got in, dressed for a party, the older woman confirmed her name, "Fraulein Antonie?" and the bus was off again with another flick of the reins, another "GEE! HAW!" another jolt, and more desultory clopping along the cobbles. Clara couldn't imagine who the girls might be, but after the bus stopped again, picked up yet another girl, and showed no signs of picking up speed, she was afraid she would be late. She might yet have said nothing, but instead of turning down the Neumarkt and around the corner to the Gewandhaus the bus turned the other way. She turned to the older woman. "This is not the way to the Gewandhaus, is it?"
The woman's eyes opened as wide as Clara's. "To the Gewandhaus? Oh, no! We are going to Eutritzsch."
Clara said nothing, but her deep blue eyes grew larger as they grew blurrier.
The woman frowned with puzzlement. "What is it, Liebchen? Why do you cry?"
She remained dumb, the focus of all eyes. She was bad with words, better with notes. Her pappa had thought her stupid because she wouldn't talk, but notes had given her courage for words. She could pull notes from a piano as she couldn't pull words, and her pappa had encouraged her with words only after he had seen what she could do with notes. Nanny, with whom she had spent much of her babyhood while her mamma and pappa resolved their differences, was no better with words – but there had always been music in the house. Her mamma played, her pappa taught, which was how they had met.
She was saved by the drumming of hooves behind them. Girls and woman turned as one. The glass coach of the Gewandhaus swung around a corner into the street, the driver hailing them to stop. Clara filled with light and color to see her dream rise from the dead. Two horses, white and muscled, snorting and panting, glistening with exertion, rose on hind legs as the coachman pulled their reins.
Bus and coach screeched to a halt in clouds of dust. The door of the coach swung open. The porter's daughter, also named Clara, stepped out. The bus was headed for a country ball. Two Claras crossed paths, one tripping from coach to bus, the other floating from bus to coach. The ride to the Gewandhaus was not what she had expected, too fast for comfort, but in her anxiety – that she would be late, her pappa angry, the audience impatient – she no longer imagined herself a princess waving.
The Gewandhaus itself was unimpressive, the Clothiers Building, a converted warehouse, foursquare structure on the Neumarkt, without a formal approach, no portico, no column, no approach at all, a single step led off the street into the building, narrow wooden steps led to the narrow hall, bare walls, seats like pews, above the stage an inscription: Res Severa est Verum Gaudium, the Truest Joy Comes Through Seriousness.
She was afraid of what her pappa would say, but he approached with a papercone of sugarplums. "Clarchen, I forgot to tell you." He was smiling, her stern pappa who smiled only when he saw his advantage. "Performers are always taken to the wrong house the first time they play – always. It is the custom. Do not be afraid."
Seeing her pappa's lack of concern, she lost her own, matching him smile for smile. He patted her head, careful not to upset her bow, and handed her the cone, popping a plum into her mouth.
Onstage, both girls (even Emilie, though older, was hardly a woman) were graceful to watch – smiling, stately, never lifting eyes from notes, hands from keys – but their attack was as feral as their appearance was not, particularly Clara's, befitting the feral Variations. The discrepancy between what was seen and what was heard was startling, the performers still as madonnas, extensions of the piano, the music hard, brittle, brilliant, disquieting – and irresistible, the songfulness of the Variations being the essence of her pappa's Method.
Watching her one might have thought her concentration was absolute, but it wasn't that kind of work. The magic was mechanical, murder on her fingers more than her mind, and her fingers were trained too well to surrender however her mind turned, as it was turning then to how she would tell Alwin and Gustav her story, how they would laugh – and how she would tell Herr Schumann the next time she met him at Dr. Carus's house.
She was thinking also of the curtsey to follow, the descent from the bench, facing the sea of strange smiling faces, the staccato slap of hands more fearsome than the performance itself. Later she felt she had curtseyed too quickly, bobbed more than curtseyed, but it hardly detracted from her success.
The concert was reviewed the next morning in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung: It was especially pleasing to hear the young, musically talented Clara Wiek [sic], just nine years old, perform to universal and well-earned applause Kalkbrenner's Variations on a March from Moses. We may entertain the greatest hopes for this child who has been trained under the direction of her experienced father, who understands the art of playing the piano so well and teaches with devotion and great skill.CHAPTER 2
MOZART – BUT!
The experienced father, Friedrich Wieck, had drawn forth Clara's smile when she had needed it most, but as always it had been calculated. She was the principal proponent of his Method and he had needed her smile no less than she. He was an actor, a lawyer, a politician – not literally, but he used their techniques. He was a businessman, the prototypical professional, manufacturing smiles to his purpose, his face as plastic as a banker's, ugly as a robber baron's. His jaw, tapering under sunken cheeks to a narrow chin, was thrust forward, clamped by the thin, wide, concave, scowling vise of his mouth – arced like that of a shark. His eyes, narrow and piercing, glared over high cheekbones, heavy eyebrows plunging into the bridge of his commanding nose, the feature most visibly bequeathed to his daughter. His brow reached deep into his scalp, webs of white clouding his ears. Clara liked his hair best fanned by the wind, the romantic look, like a hero out of a poem by Lord Byron, but he preferred to adopt the latest fashion, wetting and combing it toward his temples like Napoleon, tucking his hand between the buttons of his coat
He maintained a piano dealership, sales and rentals, devices to aid the pedagogy of pianowork (silent keyboards, wrist guides, finger stretchers), and a music library. He corresponded and consorted with pianists and piano manufacturers in Vienna, had once visited Beethoven – but success was not his dream. Success was the bridge, money the tool; successful businessmen were common, industry made success of a monkey, but as a pedagogue he was unique, as a pedagogue he was divine, spreading his Method, teaching his students to make the piano sing. That was his achievement, and Clara his creation, his masterpiece and testament. It took two, he would have nodded vigorously, Clara was indispensable, but another pedagogue would not have mined her talent as effectively, another pedagogue would have lacked his Method, another pedagogue would have lacked the skill to encourage without making her complacent, to challenge without taxing her, to exploit without exceeding her limit – though her ability, Wieck marveled, appeared without limit and expanded continually with maturity. Watching her performances his smile was never mechanical, but winged with triumph more than tenderness as he pocketed the amazement of the audience: he had earned it, he owned it, and he prized it.
Clara was drawing to the end of the Bravura Variations by Herz in the drawing room of Dr. Ernst August Carus. Had their eyes been shut the audience might have sworn there were four hands at the piano. Even with eyes open Ludwig Berger imagined ventriloquism in her fingers. Bernhard Klein leaned forward, the better for his eyes to verify the evidence of his ears. Wieck was exultant to see everyone in the room, Wilhelm Taubert, Julius Knorr, Dr. Carus and his wife, Agnes, among others, splayed in the same incredulous attitude, enthralled by his accomplishment, all but young Robert Schumann, recently from Heidelberg, student of law, sometime poet, amateur pianist, dilettante supreme, lolling in an armchair, dandling a cigar between his fingers, eyes bright with intelligence, smile more tolerant than admiring, the only listener still possessing presence of mind. Their glances met: Robert rolled his eyes; Wieck raised an eyebrow at the impudence, but surrendered his glance.
Still a boy, barely twenty, yet to prove himself, Robert had all the pretensions to manhood apropos of his age. He thrust his mouth forward when puffing on the cigar to keep smoke from his eyes, squinting all the while and grimacing like a monkey. He was too soft, spoiled, indolent, fond of luxury, inclined to fat, for Wieck's pleasure, but Wieck had heard him discourse on music and found himself in sympathy with his views, found himself surprisingly affronted not to have won him to his Method as he had Berger, Klein, Taubert, and the rest – even including Robert's cohorts, the two Carls, Becker and Banck, and Ludwig Schunke, all mesmerized on the divan, eyes and ears for Clara alone – but Robert shifted restlessly, ready it seemed to sling a leg over the arm of his chair. He fingered the sconce on the table beside him, blowing gently to make the flame flicker, sipping cognac from a goblet, tapping his cigar over an ashtray, examining the tapestry behind him, the flame of the sconce through his cognac, and yawning – not that he was bored, of that Wieck was certain, but that he wished to appear a man of the world, not easily impressed. There was much of the poseur in Robert.
Clara struck the last chord. Applause surged into its wake laced with cries of Brava and Encore among other encomiums. Carl Banck applauded, getting to his feet. "Brava, Clara! Brava! Bravissima!" He was Robert's age, but taller, more muscular. His face was rounder, straight hair falling across his forehead which he tossed frequently to clear his eyes. There might have been no one else in the room for the way he stared at Clara.
Clara turned in her chair to acknowledge the applause. "Danke! Danke Schon!"
The cries still swept the room: Brava! Encore! but Agnes Carus rose. "I am very sorry, indeed, but the encores will have to come after the intermission. First we must replenish our plates and glasses." She opened her arms in invitation and smiled. "Come, please, all, I beg you."
Robert looked at her, raised his cognac, and nodded approval – whether of the cognac, of what she had said, or of Agnes herself, was a matter for conjecture. He watched her cross the room to the sideboard. A servant was lighting the candelabra, bringing cakes, currant bread, coffee, and cordials once more into view as the guests followed Agnes. Robert stayed in his chair, turning his attention from Agnes to Clara, speaking ironically. "Yes, little Clara, brava, indeed – and the next time you must try to finish more quickly yet. I find Herr Herz played best when he is played the quickest, do you not?"
Wieck, too, had stayed behind watching Banck watching Clara, Clara watching Robert, and Robert watching Agnes until he had turned his attention to Clara. There was a moment of silence, the closer heads turned toward Robert, the farther continued toward the sideboard. His tone was unmistakable, but he smiled to soften the irony. "And it follows as day follows night, does it not, that he is played best of all when he is played not at all – the quickest of all?"
Clara was too sure of herself to be intimidated, but she was surprised. If she had one fault it was that she played too quickly, a fault Herr Schumann had been quick to catch, no less to advertise – for which she could only be grateful since no one else would have said anything except her pappa, later – but on this occasion her pappa defended her, fixing his eyes on Robert. "A hundred musicians, Herr Schumann, often mean a hundred opinions – and what good is that?"
Excerpted from Trio by Boman Desai. Copyright © 2015 Boman Desai. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
BOOK ONE / THE SCHUMANNS ...,
PART ONE ROBERT AND CLARA,
ONE / TO THE GEWANDHAUS, 9,
TWO / MOZART - BUT!, 13,
THREE / DOPPELGANGERS, 23,
FOUR / FR AU GEYER'S SON, 34,
FIVE / THE FIRST PARIS TOUR, 38,
SIX / ON THE ROAD TO CONNEWITZ, 47,
SEVEN / THE SICKNESS OF THE SCHUMANNS, 56,
EIGHT / CLARA'S GENTLEMEN, 69,
NINE / MENDELSSOHN COMES TO DINNER, 72,
TEN / A VISIT FROM CHOPIN, 82,
ELEVEN / ERNESTINE'S SECRET, 88,
TWELVE / DRESDEN RENDEZVOUS, 94,
THIRTEEN / A DUEL, 106,
FOURTEEN / A SIMPLE "YES", 110,
FIFTEEN / THE VIENNA LETTERS, 128,
SIXTEEN / A PLAN, 138,
SEVENTEEN / ROBERT IN VIENNA, 146,
EIGHTEEN / THE SECOND PARIS TOUR, 153,
NINETEEN / A GIRL DEMOR ALIZED, 169,
TWENTY / LISZT IN LEIPZIG, 174,
TWENTY-ONE / A NEW LIFE, 188,
PART TWO ROBERT AND CLARA AND BRAHMS,
TWENTY-TWO / A TUNE IN A THIMBLE, 199,
TWENTY-THREE / THE MAN IN THE BLUE BERET, 208,
TWENTY-FOUR / FIRST DISCORD, 211,
TWENTY-FIVE / A PLEASANT AFTERNOON, 219,
TWENTY-SIX / MARXSEN OF ALTONA, 224,
TWENTY-SEVEN / RUSSIAN WINTER, 231,
TWENTY-EIGHT / ZUR SCHWARZEN KATZE, 244,
TWENTY-NINE / DISCONTENT IN DRESDEN, 255,
THIRTY / WINSEN, 265,
THIRTY-ONE / LISZT COMES TO DINNER, 272,
THIRTY-TWO / THE FIRES OF DRESDEN, 284,
THIRTY-THREE / A PACKAGE FOR DOKTOR SCHUMANN, 292,
THIRTY-FOUR / REMENYI, 298,
THIRTY-FIVE / DEBACLE IN DUSSELDORF, 304,
THIRTY-SIX / A VISIT TO WEIMAR, 314,
THIRTY-SEVEN / TRIO, 329,
THIRTY-EIGHT / NEW PATHS, 342,
THIRTY-NINE / THE LURE OF LORELEI, 354,
PART THREE CLARA AND BRAHMS,
FORTY / CONSECRATION, 371,
FORTY-ONE / THE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM, 381,
FORTY-TWO / TIME AND CLOCKWORK, 394,
FORTY-THREE / A RELEASE, 402,
FORTY-FOUR / ANOTHER RELEASE, 409,
BOOK TWO / ... AND BRAHMS,
PART FOUR A MANIFESTO,
FORTY-FIVE / DETMOLD, 421,
FORTY-SIX / GATHE, 434,
FORTY-SEVEN / THE HAMBURG FR AUENCHOR, 450,
FORTY-EIGHT / A MANIFESTO, 462,
FORTY-NINE / THEIR WEDDING NIGHT, 465,
PART FIVE A GERMAN REQUIEM,
FIFTY / VIENNA, 473,
FIFTY-ONE / SNOWWHITE, 480,
FIFTY-TWO / LICHTENTHAL, 484,
FIFTY-THREE / VIENNESE ACQUAINTANCE, 495,
FIFTY-FOUR / OVER PANCAKES AND SALADS AND BAKED PORK, 502,
FIFTY-FIVE / DEDICATION AND CONSULTATION, 513,
FIFTY-SIX / IN THE SHADOW OF BISMARCK, 518,
FIFTY-SEVEN / A GERMAN REQUIEM, 526,
PART SIX THE C MINOR SYMPHONY,
FIFTY-EIGHT / ALTO RHAPSODY, 539,
FIFTY-NINE / A GERMAN STR ASBOURG, 545,
SIXTY / THE SCHUMANN FESTIVAL, 551,
SIXTY-ONE / ELISABET AND AMALIE, 558,
SIXTY-TWO / DISCOMPOSED COMPOSERS, 563,
SIXTY-THREE / THE BULLFROG POND, 575,
SIXTY-FOUR / BAYREUTH, 581,
SIXTY-FIVE / THE C MINOR SYMPHONY, 584,
PART SEVEN THE GLORY DECADE,
SIXTY-SIX / THE VIOLIN CONCERTO IN LEIPZIG, 589,
SIXTY-SEVEN / THE ITALY LETTERS, 594,
SIXTY-EIGHT / BEETHOVEN'S EAR, 600,
SIXTY-NINE / THE JOACHIMS, 607,
SEVENTY / HER CABINET MEETING, 619,
SEVENTY-ONE / HERMIONE-OHNE-O, 627,
SEVENTY-TWO / A DIFFERENCE WITH BULOW, 634,
SEVENTY-THREE / THUN SUMMER, 638,
SEVENTY-FOUR / ZUM ROTEN IGEL, 649,
SEVENTY-FIVE / FR AU CELESTINE TRUXA, 657,
SEVENTY-SIX / A DOUBLE CONCERTO, 661,
PART EIGHT CLARA AND BRAHMS,
SEVENTY-SEVEN / A CLUTCH OF COMPOSERS, 669,
SEVENTY-EIGHT / FLIES ARE A NUISANCE, 680,
SEVENTY-NINE / HERZOGENBERGS, 684,
EIGHTY / PURSE AND CUTPURSE, 688,
EIGHTY-ONE / COMFORT AND JOY, 702,
EIGHTY-TWO / ECCLESIASTES, 705,
EIGHTY-THREE / hep. hyp. m., 708,