Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Clara Schumann Love Affair

Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann: lovers? What do you think? Though historians do not have solid evidence revealing the nature of their relationship, it seems obvious that the two nineteenth-century composers did care for each other. Countless correspondences show Brahms’ overwhelming passion for Clara, who often times gave him gifts such as a watch chain, coffee set, and her husband’s piano! Brahms was known to be zealous when writing letters, so do his words to Clara have any deeper meaning? Here are a few quotes from his surviving correspondences:

“I love you [Clara] better than myself or than anyone or anything in the world.”
“…through our letters you can make me forget for a little while that you are far away.”
“With all my love and devotion…”
“Ever lovely, lofty Lady…”
“Love me well, as I do you.”
“I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you, and give you as much kindness and goodness as I wish for you. You are so infinitely dear to me that I can’t begin to tell you. I constantly want to call you darling and all kinds of other things, without becoming tired of adoring you. If this goes on, I will eventually have to keep you under glass, or save money to have you gilded.”
“I wish I could be there. And also here. And also have my Clara here.”

Unfortunately many of Clara’s responses no longer exist, leaving a gap in the mystery.
We do have a surviving diary entry written as a letter to her children following Brahms’ departure from the German town where her family resided. In the letter she stated that Brahms meant very much to her and they all would forever be indebted to him for serving their family during Robert’s illness and following his death.

Johannes Brahms remained a bachelor his entire life, admitting that Clara was his best friend following her death in 1896. He died a year later.

Did Johannes and Clara love each other as close friends and musical companions, or did their feelings go deeper? Brahms’ intense enthusiasm cooled a bit following Robert’s death, perhaps because he felt guilty for pursuing his unfortunate friend’s beloved wife. The reality of the relationship, however, will forever remain a mystery.

How does your interest in the music of Johannes Brahms increase after hearing more of his story?