Celebrating Clara Schumann: an icon for women in music

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Kathryn Knight, CEO of music technology company Tido, discusses how pianist and composer Clara Schumann (1819–1896) is an inspirational figure for women today.


What do most people know about Clara Schumann? If they know anything about her at all, they might say that she was Robert Schumann’s wife; that she was a talented pianist; and or perhaps… didn’t she have a thing going on with the young Brahms at some point?!

How has it come to this, that Clara Schumann – one of the most accomplished, famous musicians (note I did not say female) of the 19th century – is described only as some sort of adjunct to these two, great – male – composers? And that, even if she is remembered as a pianist, the fact that she was also an exceptionally fine – and admired – composer in her own right, was virtually expunged from the record after her death?

The High Priestess of Art

Clara was a 19th-century phenomenon: a superstar of her day, described as the ‘High Priestess of Art’. In the early years of her marriage to Robert Schumann, her performing career made her the main breadwinner of the household. She had no less than eight children. At the age of just 37 she became a single mother on the death of her beloved Robert, and she continued to tour extensively throughout her life. She became the first ever female music professor (at the Dr Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt). And she wrote some utterly exquisite music as a composer…

200 years on, and I am utterly in awe of Clara Schumann. As a female CEO of a music technology company and a mother of three children in 2019, I am, unfortunately, still quite exceptional. We know the stats: although 65% of people working in the music industry aged 16-24 are women, a shocking 70% of senior executive posts are filled by men (and I’m afraid that these statistics are even worse in the tech space, with 90% of these posts being held by men). Unequal caring responsibilities, maternity discrimination and the gender pay gap are said to be major barriers to women being able to progress once they’ve had families. How on earth did Clara achieve what she did 200 years ago? How can we right the wrongs of the past, and learn from them to improve our present day?

An inspiration for us all

Crucially, we must tell the true and powerful story of Clara Schumann herself and share this story as widely as we can, so that she can become an inspiration for all of us in our own age. But we must also discover, listen to and perform her wonderful music…

I will never forget my first meeting at the Schumann-Haus in Leipzig in 2018 to discuss the Clara Schumann 200th anniversary project. I was in the company of talented music publisher Linda Hawken (Managing Director of Edition Peters Europe) and musicologist and Clara Schumann expert, Frances Falling (Research Assistant at the Schumann-Haus), along with Gregor Nowak, Director of the Schumann-Haus.

This meeting was to discuss the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth in 2019 and the launch of a unique collaboration between Edition Peters, the Schumann-Haus, and digital subscription service Tido Music. The project was the release of the ‘Clara Schumann Anniversary Songbook’: a selection of 14 of Clara’s songs, carefully chosen from the early years of the Schumanns’ marriage (1840–44), whilst they lived at the Schumann-Haus Leipzig.

Complementing the printed edition, I am proud to say that the ‘Anniversary Songbook’ is also available on the Tido Music iPad app and desktop website. The scores are synchronised with professional piano accompaniment recordings, and innovative pitch-shift and speed-shift tools allow the accompaniments to be adjusted for individual practice needs and for any vocal range.

As a singer myself, I have loved familiarising myself with Clara’s songs, feeling at once sorry that they are only just starting to get the recognition they deserve, but also thrilled that I am in this new wave of discovery. It was in fact one of Clara’s songs that inspired Frances Falling to pursue research on this remarkable composer: ‘My first introduction to Clara Schumann was actually her song Liebst du um Schönheit. It was through the beauty of that composition and my subsequent curiosity about this female Schumann that I discovered what an amazing woman and artist lies behind that name. Her achievements, despite the circumstances she faced, continue to inspire me and many others today.’

I urge you all to go on a voyage of discovery this year to discover Clara Schumann’s wonderful music, and to learn more about her extraordinary life. Clara Schumann is an inspiration: truly an icon not just for women, but for us all. Through Clara, I have had the opportunity to work with two exceptional leaders in the field of music today: Linda Hawken and Frances Falling. I sort of think that Clara would have liked that…

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