The Greatest Singer

"These were wonderful days, which now, on looking back, seem steeped in eternal sunshine. But the most wonderful of them was the day on which Mamma began to practise after a fair interval of rest. Directly after breakfast the grand piano was opened and the house flooded with sound. Scales rolled and swelled like a tidal sea, legato and staccato; in octaves, thirds, tenths, and double thirds; sometimes in one hand only, while the other played accompanying chords. Then arpeggios of all kinds, octaves, shakes, everything prestissimo and without the slightest break, exquisite modulations leading from key to key. The most wonderful feature of this practising was that although the principle on which it was based was always the same, it was new every day, and seemed drawn ever fresh from a mysterious wellspring. Irresistable inspiration, perfect rhythm, such as springs from the souls of only the greatest artists, combined with absolute mastery of technique, made these exercises a wonderfully spiritualised achievement. A distant relative of ours, when she was staying with us, said that she had never believed the story told of Paganini, who made people weep with the playing of a scale; but now that she had heard Mamma practise, she could understand it. Though I was still so young, my mind was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction, and this has continued throughout my life, to the day when we heard it for the last time."

"...Mamma sat down and played. Tears of emotion poured from my eyes; from that moment I buried every hope I had of reaching my ideal. How the legato of the melody hovered above that of the bass, while the semiquavers subordinated themselves severely to the rhythmic design, and yet displayed a beauty of their own! How these three, melody, bass, and semiquavers, were blended in perfect poetry, equal to that of poet and composer! Yes, that touch was unattainable!

'To Frau Klara Schumann, the greatest singer.'

With this inscription Brahms, as a youth, had dedicated to her a copy of his second opus of songs, sent from Hamburg in November 1854. Nothing truer or more apposite has been said of her touch, which conveyed, like a beautiful human voice, every shade of emotion. Her faultless legato gave soul to the melody, carrying-power to her piano, and that extraordinary strength to brilliant passages, which Goethe had said, as early as 1831, 'The girl has more power than six boys.'"

From The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms: the memoirs of Eugenie Schumann

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Adelina de Lara speaks on Clara Schumann (1949)