Week 220: “Liebst Du Um Schonheit” by Clara Schumann


Clara Wieck’s father Friedrich decided that she was going to be a musician well before she was old enough to make the decision for herself. He gave her music lessons using methods he had developed himself, and he managed her career down to the smallest detail. He was like Steffi Graf’s dad, 250 years earlier.

When she was eight, she played at a recital in Leipzig, where a teenager named Robert Schumann was blown away by her skill. He decided to quit law school so that he could take music lessons with Friedrich Wieck. He moved in with the family, and became part of the family. Too much a part of the family, as far as Friedrich Wieck was concerned.

13 years later, despite her father’s disapproval, Clara and Robert were married. In the year following their marriage, Clara wrote this piece for her husband. The words are by the poet Ruckert, whose first name, funnily enough, is Friedrich.

Robert Schumann’s life ended too early and too tragically, but Clara’s career spanned 61 years, and she was one of the most celebrated performers of her time. But beyond that, her skills as a composer remain vastly underrated to this day.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening piano lines. They remind me of the wave-like sound of the opening bars of this piece by Debussy.

2. The fact that it’s a duet. Mahler’s setting of the same text is nice, and richly orchestrated. But the simplicity of piano and voice make it seem more honest somehow.

3. The lyrics. Read them here. A simple but profound take on love.

Recommended listening activity:

A picnic for two with take-out fish and chips.

Buy it here.