We have touched briefly once before on Robert Schumann’s parents (https://mtochambermusic.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/johanna-schumann/) and on the relationship that the Schumann’s had with Johannes Brahms (https://mtochambermusic.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/brahms-and-friendship/) but we haven’t really written about the Schumann’s as either a couple or individually. This week let’s look briefly at the couple.
Robert Schumann was 9 years older than Clara and a pupil of her father. They met when Clara was a young teenager and the relationship developed over a few years. Robert was a bit of a womanizer in his school days. But his relationship with Clara seemed to change that. When he decided to tell Clara’s father of his intention to marry her, Robert was met with resistance. A lot of hostile resistance. The couple spent two years in a legal battle with her father, Frederick Wieck. They won the case and married one day before Clara’s 21st birthday – when she no longer would have needed her father’s permission to marry. They did eventually reconcile with her father a few years later.
They were a good match. Robert, while a brilliant composer, was not a well man and was eventually committed to an asylum at his own request. Clara, an accomplished pianist, had a keen business sense. She encouraged her husband in his compositions and critiqued when required. She helped grow interest in her husband’s music while he was alive and for years after his death. While they created a business together, they also created a family. With seven surviving children and two working parents, it was sure to be a busy household!
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was born in 1899 and died in 1963 a few weeks after his 64th birthday. A French composer and pianist, he was born and died in Paris.
Poulenc comes from a prominent family. His father, Emile, worked for the family business – the Poulenc Brothers Company, a pharmaceutical company. The company was started by Emile’s father. Poulenc did not follow in his father’s footsteps. Like many of the pianists we have looked at, he started to play the piano at a young age (5 years old) and his first lessons came from his family, in this case his mother, an amateur pianist. He became a pupil of Ricardo Viñes at the age of 14. In addition to playing the piano, Poulenc composed. He was mostly self taught in composition. He did study composition formally for about 4 years starting at the age of 22.
Around the age of 17, he was introduced to the world of poetry and to several poets through mutual friends. He would set some of this poetry to music over the years. At around the same time, Poulenc met several other young composers. They would become known as Les Six and collaborated on concerts and recordings until the early 1920s.
We have the pleasure of hearing two of Poulenc’s pieces this coming season. Pianist Simon Trpčeski will play a selection of Poulenc’s piano pieces in November and baritone Elliot Madore treats us to Banalités in March.
Brahms lived a good and relatively long life. He lived to be 63 years old and spent pretty much his entire life working in a vocation he loved. It is said that in his old age he was a bit surly with adults but that his good-natured side was always seen when talking with children. It sounds like he was a big softy at heart. He loved nature and walking in the parks. He travelled for business and pleasure. He made strong and lasting friendships. His works sold well, he was financially savvy and was well off for the later half of his life. It sounds like a pretty good artist’s life!
With that artistic temperament also comes a down side. At one point he had decided to give up composing but that wasn’t to be (thankfully!) and he continued to compose until close to the end of his life. He did destroy a number of his early works though. Brahms was a bit of a perfectionist it seems. Things that he felt weren’t good enough he destroyed completely. Though he composed many great pieces in his later years, it makes you wonder what other gems we would have had from him had he not lived long enough to look back and decide that his early work needed to be purged.