The following is an excerpt from a novel, offered here by Hansi, the
The artist should beware of losing touch with society. Otherwise,
he will be wrecked as I am.
ROBERT AND CLARA
ONE / TO THE GEWANDHAUS
Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann was not precocious, not as a composer, no
Mozart, no Mendelssohn, but no less a prodigy as a performer, certainly more
than Schumann, probably more than Brahms, perhaps Beethoven, perhaps even
Chopin, played with the big boys on their own turf, the only woman worth
mention in the arena, among Kalkbrenner, Chopin, Pixis, Liszt, Mendelssohn,
Thalberg, Hiller, Henselt, Herz, inflaming the imaginations of all who heard,
a girl to their eyes, a woman to their ears indeed, a man to their
ears. Goethe had said she played with the strength of six boys, this
girl of twelve.
You would have known her by her eyes, big eyes,
the eyes of a deer, the size of plums, blue as midnight and her nose,
sharp, narrow, commanding the first things Robert Schumann noticed,
meeting her the first time, at the house of Dr. Carus, a mutual friend of
their fathers, she still nine, he eighteen. You would have noticed
also her lips, tiny, her face, also tiny, a triangle, also sad, and you would
have understood the hostess, agog with Rousseau's theories of childrearing,
upbraiding her pappa for stealing from Clara her childhood for his own gain,
even attempting to punish him by refusing him introductions for Clara's benefit,
in Paris, where they were headed. Friedrich Wieck had written to his
wife, his second, the erstwhile Clementine Fechner, Clara's stepmother, not
without pride, that their hostess had kept her introductions and he'd
But that came later, 1831, the first Paris tour.
Her first concert, right there in Leipzig, at the Gewandhaus, established
her from the start, 1828, almost a bad start. She was to play the treble
in Kalkbrenner's Variations, opus 94, with Emilie Reichold, another of her
pappa's students. So skinny, so tiny, she appeared lost in her blue
evening dress, the shoulders puffed like cannonballs, making of her head,
black hair swept in a blue bow behind, another cannonball, and of her arms
sticks. In the parlor mirror she looked, even to herself, a puppet,
holding up her arms to curtsey but waiting for the coach, the brilliant
glass coach of the Gewandhaus, she imagined herself a princess, smiling through
the window as they clopped through the streets, and waving, just barely,
as waved princesses and queens.
Her pappa was already at the hall; there were always
modifications to be made, regarding tickets, hand bills, refreshments, the
instrument, all the logistics concerts entailed.
Her brothers played in the adjacent room, Alwin
then seven, Gustav five, Alwin beating Gustav as he was always beating Gustav
with the advantage of his years but her pappa beat Alwin, was always
beating Alwin, also Gustav, but mostly Alwin, with Gustav he was gentler,
or perhaps bored, because he was younger, always the younger. She smiled,
he never beat her, she had been the favorite since she'd shown promise at
the piano, begun lessons at five, shortly after her mamma had remarried,
left for Berlin, and she'd taken her mamma's place in her pappa's affection,
prevailing even over his second wife. She was his creation, the product
of and the advertisement for his Method, to be revealed for the first time
in public that day.
The call came from below, a booming voice; that
would be the coachman. Nanny came into the room. "Clara, it is
Clara swung from the mirror. "I am ready."
She rushed down the stairs with Nanny to the street, eager, excited, prepared
for anything except what she saw, a bus drawn by four horses, more like nags,
old from the way they carried their heads, as low as the reins would allow,
spines sagging as if in former lives they might have borne Sancho Panzas
and Falstaffs and fat, Sancho Panzas and Falstaffs themselves among
horses. Inside, two benches faced each other, backs to the windows,
to the street, wooden benches, without cushions, not even sheets, not to
be compared with the soft white upholstered seat she'd been promised in the
Gewandhaus coach. Worst of all, the bus was full of girls in party
dresses, but otherwise common; they might have been wearing their day clothes
for the way they stared, pointed, giggled, so without decorum.
An older woman smiled from one of the benches, appeared
"Come. Get in. Sit by me."
She must have looked as scared as she felt for the
woman to have invited her to sit next to her.
Nanny squeezed her arms, pushed her gently.
"Luck to you, little Clara. Bye-bye."
Clara nodded, pursed her lips to keep from crying,
got in without a word.
The driver flicked the reins. "GEE!
Nanny waved as the bus jolted to a start, but Clara
stared at the street between the heads of two girls across from her, conscious
only of the low slow rumble of the wheels on the cobbles, reverberating around
the second E flat below middle C.
She wasn't nervous, she'd never been nervous when
she'd played, not even for her pappa's friends in Dresden, once even with
an orchestra (two violins, two violas, one cello, one flute, two horns),
the Piano Concerto in E flat by Mozart, at a rehearsal for someone else's
concert, about which she'd written to her mamma in Berlin that she'd made
no mistakes but the applause, which came as a roar, had scared her.
"Whoa, Hans! Whoa, Bruno, Hilda, Greta!
The bus jolted to a stop.
The door was opened, a new girl got in, also wearing
a party dress, the older woman confirmed her name, "Fräulein Antonie?"
and the bus was off again with another flick of the reins, another "GEE!
HAW!" another jolt, more desultory clopping along the cobbles. Clara
couldn't imagine who the girls might be, but after the bus stopped again,
picked up yet another girl, and showed no signs of picking up speed, she
was afraid she would be late. Still she might have said nothing but
instead of turning down the Neumarkt and around the corner, the way to the
Gewandhaus which she knew well, the bus turned the other way. "This
is not the way to the Gewandhaus, is it?" she asked the older woman.
The woman's eyes opened as wide as Clara's.
"To the Gewandhaus? Oh, no! We are going to Eutritzsch."
Clara said nothing but her deep blue eyes shone,
she could no longer keep them dry.
The woman frowned with puzzlement. "What is
it, Liebchen? Why do you cry?"
She knew she was the focus of all eyes, but remained
dumb. She was bad with words, had learned music before words; her pappa
had thought her stupid because she wouldn't talk, but music had given her
courage for words, she could pull notes out of a piano, repeat them to herself,
learn them as she couldn't learn words. There was no piano from which
she could pull words, and her pappa had encouraged her with words only after
he'd seen what she could do with music. Nanny, with whom she'd been
left much of her babyhood while her mamma and pappa resolved their differences,
wasn't good with words either but there had always been music in the
house; her mamma played, her pappa taught, which was how they'd met.
She was saved by the clatter of galloping hooves
behind them. The girls and woman turned as one body. The glass
coach of the Gewandhaus swung around a corner into the street, the driver
hailed them to stop.
Both bus and coach came to a halt, the door of the
coach opened, and the porter's daughter, also named Clara, stepped out.
The mistake became clear; the bus was heading for a country ball; the two
Claras entered their rightful vehicles. The ride to the Gewandhaus
was hardly as Clara had expected, much too fast to see the street, to be
seen herself, much too fast for dignity, but in her anxiety that she
would be late, her pappa angry, the audience impatient she no longer
imagined herself a princess waving.
The Gewandhaus itself wasn't impressive, the Clothiers
Building, a converted warehouse, foursquare structure on the Neumarkt, without
a formal approach, no portico, no column, no approach at all, one step took
you into the building, off the street, narrow wooden steps led up into the
narrow hall, bare walls, seats like pews, above the stage an inscription:
Res Severa est Verum Gaudium, the Truest Joy Comes Through Seriousness.
She was afraid of what her pappa would say, but
he approached with a papercone of sugarplums. "Clärchen," he said,
smiling, her stern pappa who smiled only when he saw his advantage, "I forgot
to tell you. Performers are always taken to the wrong house the first
time they play, always. It is the custom. Do not be afraid."
Her pappa appeared so unconcerned she lost her own
concern, answered his smile with her own, couldn't hold back. He patted
her head, careful not to upset her bow, handed her the cone. She took
the cone, picked a plum, popped it in her mouth.
Onstage, both girls (even Emilie, though older,
was hardly a woman) were graceful to watch, smiling, stately, never lifting
eyes from the notes, hands from the keys, but despite their benign appearance
their attack was feral, particularly Clara's, befitting the feral Variations,
and the discrepancy between what was seen and what was heard was startling,
the women still as madonnas, the music hard, brittle, brilliant, roiling
but always irresistible, making of the Variations a song, the essence
of her pappa's Method, not to strike the keys, not to sound fingers on the
keys, only hammers on the wires behind, giving up fingers to the piano, not
conquering the piano but becoming the piano, keeping fingers close to the
keys, hovering in readiness, building energy, before sliding them forward,
building pressure, pressing the keys, mining the sound, the song.
You would have thought, watching her concentration,
that she had nothing else on her mind, but you would have been wrong; it
wasn't that kind of work, murder on the fingers more than the mind, mechanical
magic, and her fingers were trained too well to surrender however her mind
turned, as it was turning then to how she would tell Alwin and Gustav her
story, how they would laugh and how she would tell Herr Schumann the
next time she met him at Dr. Carus's house.
She was thinking also of the curtsy to follow, the
descent from the bench, facing the sea of strange smiling faces, the staccato
slap of hands, more fearsome than the performance itself. Later she
felt she'd curtsied too quickly, bobbed more than curtsied, but it didn't
matter, didn't detract from her success.
The concert was reviewed the next morning in the
Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung:
It was especially pleasing to hear the young, musically talented Clara Wiek
[sic], just nine years old, perform to universal and well-earned applause
Kalkbrenner's Variations on a March from Moses. We may entertain the
greatest hopes for this child who has been trained under the direction of
her experienced father, who understands the art of playing the pianoforte
so well and teaches with devotion and great skill.
TWO / MOZART BUT!
The experienced father, Friedrich Wieck, had drawn forth Clara's smile when
she'd needed it most, but it had been calculated, was always calculated.
He'd needed her smile no less than she, she being the principal proponent
of his Method. He was an actor, a lawyer, a politician well,
not literally, but he used their techniques. He was a businessman,
the prototypical professional, switching on smiles like so many electric
lights, his face plastic as a banker's, ugly as a robber baron's; his jaw,
tapering under sunken cheeks to a narrow chin, was thrust forward, clamped
by the vise of his mouth the thin, wide, scowling arc of his mouth,
not unlike the mouth of a shark. His eyes, always narrowed, always
piercing, peered over high cheekbones, glared under heavy brows plunging
into the bridge of his commanding nose, the feature most resembling
Clara's. His brow reached deep into his scalp, webs of white clouded
his ears. Clara liked his hair best fanned by the wind, the romantic
look, like a hero out of a poem by Lord Byron, but he wet it instead, combing
it toward his temples, in the latest fashion, like Napoleon. He looked
so fierce you looked twice, to confirm the impression, before continuing
on your way, praying you'd remained unnoticed.
He maintained a piano dealership, sales and rentals,
also devices to aid the pedagogy of pianowork (silent keyboards, wrist guides,
finger stretchers), also a music library, corresponded and consorted with
pianists and piano manufacturers in Vienna (had once visited Beethoven)
but success was not his dream. Success was the bridge, money the tool;
successful businessmen were common, industry made success of a monkey, but
as a pedagogue he was unique, as a pedagogue he was divine, spreading his
method, teaching his students to make the piano sing. That was his
achievement, and Clara his masterpiece, his testament. It took two,
he would have nodded vigorously, Clara was indispensable, but another pedagogue
would not have mined her talent as effectively, another pedagogue would have
lacked his Method, another pedagogue would have lacked the skill to encourage
without making her complacent, to challenge without taxing her, to exploit
without exceeding her limit though her ability, Wieck marveled, appeared
without limit, expanded continually with maturity. Watching her
performances his smile was never mechanical, but winged more with triumph
than tenderness, pocketing the amazement of the audience for himself; he'd
earned it, he owned it, and he prized it.
Clara was drawing to the end of the Bravura Variations
by Herz. If you closed your eyes you could imagine four hands at the
piano, but if you stared as Ludwig Berger was staring you would imagine
ventriloquism in her fingers. Bernhard Klein leaned forward, as he'd
leaned since she'd begun, staring to verify the evidence of his ears.
Wilhelm Taubert, Julius Knorr, Dr. Ernst August Carus himself, the host,
his wife, Agnes, all in the room, all were splayed in the same attitude,
all in thrall to his accomplishment, all but young Robert Schumann, recently
from Heidelberg, student of law, sometime poet, amateur pianist, dilettante
supreme, lolling in an armchair, dandling a cigar between his fingers, eyes
bright with intelligence, smile more tolerant than admiring, the only listener
still possessing presence of mind. Their glances met: Robert rolled
his eyes; Wieck raised an eyebrow at the impudence, but surrendered his glance.
Still a boy, barely twenty, yet to prove himself,
Robert had all the pretensions to manhood appropriate to his age. He
thrust his mouth forward when he puffed on the cigar to keep the smoke from
his eyes, squinting all the while, grimacing like a monkey. He was
too soft, spoiled, indolent, fond of luxury, inclined to fat, for Wieck's
pleasure, but Wieck had heard him discourse on music and found himself in
sympathy with his views, found himself surprisingly affronted not to have
won him to his Method as he had Berger, Klein, Taubert, Hammond, and the
rest even including Robert's cohorts, the two Carls, Becker and Banck,
and Ludwig Schunke, all mesmerized on the divan, eyes and ears for Clara
alone, but Robert, sitting apart, shifting so uncomfortably, so continually,
appeared ready to sling a leg over the arm of his chair. He fingered
the sconce on the table beside him, blew gently to make the flame flicker,
sipped cognac from a goblet, tapped ash into an ashtray, turned his head
to examine a tapestry behind, examined with one eye closed the flame of the
sconce through the cognac, yawned not that he was bored, Wieck was
certain, but that he wished to appear bored, fashionably bored, not easily
impressed. There was much of the poseur in Robert.
Clara struck the last chord, applause filled its
wake as usual, laced with cries of Brava and Encore among other encomiums.
Carl Banck stood up from the divan applauding, "Brava, Clara! Brava!
Bravissima!" He was Robert's age, but taller, more muscular, with
straighter hair, sandier, falling across his forehead over his eyes, allowing
him to flick his head to clear his eyes. His face was rounder, his
white shirt tucked in a waistcoat. There might have been no one else
in the room the way he stared at Clara.
Clara turned in her chair, acknowledging the applause,
smiles, nods. "Thank you. Thank you."
The cries still swept the room: Brava! Encore! but
Agnes Carus rose. "I am very sorry indeed, but the encores will have
to come after the intermission. First we must replenish our plates
and glasses." She opened her arms in invitation, smiled. "Come,
please, all, I beg you."
Robert looked at her, raised his cognac, nodded
approval whether of the cognac, of what she'd said, or of Agnes herself,
was a matter for conjecture. He watched her cross the room to the
sideboard. A servant was lighting the candelabra, bringing cakes, currant
bread, coffee, cordials, once more into view. Guests had already formed
a line behind her.
Wieck watched Banck watching Clara, Clara watching
Robert, Robert watching Agnes, but as the applause died Robert turned his
attention to Clara as well. "Yes, yes, little Clara, brava, brava
and the next time you must try to finish more quickly yet. I find Herr
Herz played best when he is played the quickest, do you not?"
There was a moment of silence, the closer heads
turned toward Robert, the farther continued toward the sideboard. His
tone was unmistakable, but he smiled to soften the irony. "And it follows,
then, of course," he continued, smiling, "as day follows night, and as B
follows A, that he is played best of all when he is played not at all, does
Clara was too sure of herself to be intimidated,
but she was surprised. If she had one fault it was that she played
too quickly, a fault Herr Schumann had been quick to catch, no less to advertise
for which she could only be grateful since no one else would have
said anything except her pappa, later but on this occasion her pappa
defended her. "A hundred musicians, Herr Schumann," he said, "often
mean a hundred opinions and what good is that?"
"All the good in the world, Herr Wieck, if every
opinion is defended by a hundred reasons." Robert sat forward in his
chair as he had not during Clara's performance. "The best of reasons
must prevail the best considered, the best reasoned, of all the
reasons. It is most certainly legitimate to like Herz as much as Beethoven,
but we must be clear that to like Herz is to admire the performer's skill,
and to like Beethoven is to admire the performer's taste. It is one
thing to pack as many notes as possible into every bar, and quite another
to make them cohere logically and harmonically. If we do not make
distinctions between the virtuous in music and mere virtuosity, we do not
make any strides, except backward might as well play the pianoforte
with your feet. It is not easy, but nor will it make you an artist."
Banck still stood, nodding agreement though looking
at Clara for direction. Others in the room smiled, among them Agnes,
for whose benefit as much as for music itself Robert was staging his
disagreement. He had fallen half in love with her hearing her sing,
introducing him to Schubert Lieder, but he fell half in love with
most women he met, more in love with the notion of love than with his
lovers. She was married, eight years older (just five years younger
than Schubert himself, now dead three years), but also the more romantic
for being unavailable, and his yearning the more precious for being
hopeless. He was more at ease playing fourhanded Schubert with her,
accompanying her on the piano when she sang, than he would have been courting
her, than he would have been had she been unmarried, but beyond his reach
she became his Songstress, Liedersängerin, his Maid of
Holland, his Singing Swan, though he knew better than to address her so
fancifully in public.
Agnes returned to their group. "Our Fridolin
feels strongly about music, as you can see, Herr Wieck and with just
cause, though perhaps sometimes with too much feeling."
Her smile was too ingratiating for Robert to take
offense. Wieck noted she called him "Fridolin," the page from Schiller's
ballad, pure and guileless, a sweetheart without sting. She'd unearthed
him from the unlikeliest town, Zwickau, where her husband's uncle and Robert's
father had been friends, where she'd first heard him perform his compositions,
musical portraits of family and friends. She'd lived then in Colditz,
less than thirty miles north, where her husband had been medical director
of the insane asylum. She'd introduced Robert to Schubert Lieder
and chamber music (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) when she'd asked him to accompany
her at the piano in the home of her inlaws.
His father had since died on the heels of
his older sister, Emilie, just nineteen, supposedly insane, imagining herself
ruined by an incurable ailment of the skin, showing among her private parts,
drowning herself in her distress, not unusual among people who suffered from
too much feeling, temperament, sensibility, the disease of the Romantic.
The family was troubled, the father had suffered attacks of the nerves, and
Robert himself had suffered such an attack on the death of his father, imagining
himself destined for the asylum in Colditz; but Dr. Carus, being a psychiatrist,
and Agnes (herself no less a doctor of the mind), had recognized his creativity,
helped him recover, and Wieck liked him for saying what was on his mind
on Wieck's mind as well though he cared less to voice it. You minded
your business, the rest fell in place; going against the grain you became
troubled, like the Schumanns, and you changed nothing; but that was the way
of artists at least, of artistic sensibilities, romantic
sensibilities. No less an authority than Goethe himself had pronounced
the Classical temperament healthy, the Romantic sick, though Goethe was,
of course, of the old school. He smiled as well, spoke with
gallantry. "Nevertheless, Frau Carus, there is something in what he
says but tell me, Herr Schumann, what, then, is the solution?
The public wants virtuosity, the public wants to see you play the pianoforte
with your feet as you choose to phrase it, and if the public does not get
what it wants, it will not give us what we need. Is that not so?"
Robert crossed his arms. "If we give the public
what it wants, they will turn the mighty oak to ash. It is up to us
which to choose, the oak or its ash."
Wieck grinned. "Yes, of course, Herr Schumann
but there we are in agreement. Clara, what is the first rule
I taught you about music? Will you repeat it, please, for Herr Schumann?"
Clara looked from her pappa to Robert. She
liked his straightforwardness, his lack of deference. Even so great
a personage as Karl Gottlieb Reissiger, the new conductor of the Dresden
Opera, who'd replaced Carl Maria von Weber, was never so nervous as when
he played before her, so he had said himself but Robert saw her as
she was, a gifted child, and admired her gift never forgetting she was a
child. She liked as well that he was quiet except in defense
of music when even his rhetoric turned musical. She held up her chin
as she recited:
to his end;
skill be his end,
not his friend.
The words poured so effortlessly she might have
been reciting the alphabet, but Robert uncrossed his arms, jumped from his
chair, grinning. "Exactly! Skill needs will but art,"
he thumped his chest, "needs heart and mind, and soul. It is
just what I have said. We must learn to distinguish between art and
mere skill, between the virtuous and mere virtuosity."
Gotthold Fink, editor of the Allgemeine musicalische
Zeitung, nodded slowly. "That is the responsibility of the critics,
to distinguish the good from the bad. That is why we have newspapers
and journals and I assure you we have a wide readership."
"All the more reason for you to provide thoughtful
and passionate reviews but most of the time they are neither hot nor
cold, nor up nor down, nor this nor that, nor here nor there they
use as many words as possible to say as little as possible, often to say
nothing at all."
Fink faced Robert, his chins shaking at the
impertinence, but Carl Banck spoke first. "Truer words were never
spoken." He looked at Clara who looked at Robert. "I have said
as much myself. The critics refuse to recognize genius as much as they
refuse to oppose mediocrity. Above all, they value tolerance.
'Live and Let Live' is what they say."
"And that, ladies and gentlemen," said Robert, with
a flourish of his hand, "is a good way to live your lives, but no damn good,
this damnable German politeness, this damnable shrugging of the shoulders,
no damn good at all for art."
"And that is especially true of
Lieder." Banck's face was smooth as a baby's, his hair a veil
over his eyes; you wondered that he could see at all, but he looked at Clara
as if she held the philosopher's stone. "On the surface, it appears
the easiest music in the world to compose, requiring no more than a verse
around which to wrap a few notes, but the appearance is deceiving."
He was a singer himself, a voice tutor, but Clara remained oblivious; he
might not have spoken at all.
Ludwig Rellstab, editor of the Iris im Gebiete
der Tonkunst, the same Ludwig Rellstab who had found Lake Lucerne by
moonlight in Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, pursed his mouth
in a frown, coming to Fink's rescue. "There is nothing the matter with
politeness. We have all too little of it these days as we have
had all too little of it today. I cannot subscribe to your notion,
sir, that a review should be a stream of bile and vomit from beginning to
end. If you find the reviews neither hot nor cold you can be sure it
is not that we are shrugging our shoulders, but that we prefer neither to
provide hallelujahs nor to cast stones. We prefer to leave these activities
to those who hear the call. We say only what needs to be said: whether
a work is difficult or not, whether it is beautiful or not."
Robert got out of his chair, applauding slowly,
facetiously. "Bravo, Herr Rellstab! Bravo! I salute you!
That was well said, well said, indeed! No one can accuse you of being
neither hot nor cold. If only half the bile in your reply were to find
its way into your pen."
Agnes choked back a laugh. Clara turned her
face to hide her smile. Rellstab shook his head vigorously, his round
metalrimmed spectacles slid down his nose. "Ach! This is
nonsense! You are young, Herr Schumann. You have yet to learn
how the world turns."
"But is it not because I am young, Herr Rellstab,
that I see the world more clearly? Is it not because I am young that
I see it afresh, as it truly is instead of as everyone has learned to see
it? as everyone would wish me to see it? Is it not because I do not
know any better that I can see the emperor without his clothes?"
Rellstab shook his head again, pushing his spectacles
back to the bridge of his nose with one finger. "You will learn to
see the emperor, Herr Schumann, as he is with all his clothes, and
his crown. If you do not, it will be at your own peril. These
are not things to be explained, but to be learned. Soon, maybe too
soon, you will see."
Robert turned his face away; his eyes drooped, lost
their luster, blue turned to grey; his mouth trembled, drooped no less; he
pushed his lips in and out, appeared dejected, admonished, penitent.
Clara remembered the stories about his family, sister and father, suicides,
madness, and in that moment the stories seemed to erupt in flames around
him but just for a moment. He soon focused his gaze again, bright,
blue, on Rellstab. "But there is another reason, is there not, Herr
Rellstab, that you wax neither hot nor cold in your reviews? and you, too,
Herr Fink, is there not?"
Rellstab turned again to Robert, so did Fink.
"Is it not true that much of the music you review
is published by the very publishers that publish your journals? Is
it not true, Herr Fink, that your Zeitung is owned by Breitkopf and
Hartel? And is it not true, Herr Rellstab, that your Iris is
owned by Trautwein? And is not the Cecilia owned by Schott?
and the Frankfurt Anzeiger by Fischer? Is it not true that your
journalism is little more than advertising for your own publications?
Is it not true that the sweat of your journalists provides little more than
the grease required to slip your publications through the cracks in the doors
of your readership, into their homes and onto their pianofortes?"
"True! Robert is right! This is all
too true." Carl Banck jerked his head, whipping the hair from his
eyes. "Almost without exception the reviews call the pieces beautiful,
and easy to play or, when they wish to be critical, not so beautiful
and not so easy. No amateur pianist can resist the former, and only
a fool would purchase the latter but the reviews speak to the public
alone, not to the music. They say nothing about the quality of the
Robert nodded acknowledgment; some of the party
looked at Banck who still looked at Clara though Clara still looked at
Robert. Rellstab's face turned red as a broiled lobster, Fink's mouth
opened like that of a hooked fish, but neither said a word. Otto
Hofmeister, another publisher, took up the gauntlet instead. "And,
pray, Herr Schumann, what is the matter with that? As a businessman,
I must count the favor of the public as everything and that of the
critic as nothing."
Robert replied without hesitation. "We do
not write to make businessmen rich, but to honor artists."
Banck appeared not to hear them. "And sometimes
what is not so easy, even what is very difficult, is also what is beautiful."
Hofmeister, wrinkling his nose, appeared not to
see Banck, not to hear Banck. "You are so very good with words, Herr
Schumann. Maybe you will someday make a good lawyer."
Fink finally found his tongue. "Indeed, Herr
Schumann, you are so good with words maybe you should perhaps publish your
Not even Clara missed the irony in his tone, but
Robert smiled. "Maybe I shall."
Fink looked reproachful, shook his head, the blood
receded from his face. "We must not blame youth for being young," he
said, blaming Robert with his eyes instead of his tongue.
Robert shrugged. "But no more must we blame
the public if critics and artists surrender the standards."
Agnes interrupted them. "Even critics and
artists must eat. They must keep up their strength if they wish to
continue our edification with their disagreements. Everyone, come now
All smiled. Wieck got up first. "By
all means," he said. "Herr Schumann, Herr Banck, after you."
Banck nodded, stepped toward the sideboard; Robert
got up, but moved not a step. "Thank you, but I must defer to Herr
Rellstab, Herr Fink. Sirs, after you."
Rellstab and Fink got up, but neither moved a
step. "After you, Fräulein Wieck," said Rellstab, without a smile.
Clara smiled. "Thank you, Herr Rellstab,"
she said, leading the group to the sideboard.
Fink lingered, inviting Robert and Rellstab to precede
him, following with Wieck, Agnes ushering both ahead, hands gently on their
backs. "I must compliment you on the job you have done with your daughter,
Herr Wieck," he said. "So amazingly composed, she plays like a man,
has the grace of a woman," he shrugged his shoulders in bewilderment, "and
yet she is but a child."
"Thank you, my dear Herr Fink. And I assure
you it is a job, by which I mean that such deportment does not come
naturally. One is not born with it. It must be nurtured.
I treat her as an adult, and she responds as an adult. It is nothing
to be amazed about, I assure you. I have simply put the theory to the
test, with the very amiable results you now perceive."
Agnes understood Fink differently, had perceived
a melancholy about Clara's smile beyond her years which Fink and Wieck appeared
to have missed. Clara appeared a child only when she looked at
Robert. "But she is still a child," she said, her hand still gentle
on Wieck's back. "Should not children be treated as children?"
Wieck shook his head goodnaturedly. "The best
way to spoil them, Frau Carus. Children need not to be spoiled but
to be made aware of their responsibilities."
"But why have children if we must treat them as
adults? how enjoy them as children if we must treat them as adults?"
"If it is enjoyment you seek, Frau Carus," said
Wieck, "I suggest you get yourself a dog."
There was mirth among those who heard. Agnes
Carus herself smiled. "I can see my arguments lack the strength to
withstand yours, Herr Wieck," she said, "but was it not Rousseau who said
children need to be treated like children? They are not adults, he
said, not even adults in embryo, but beings from whom we might learn what
we have lost, from whom we stand to gain as much as they from us."
"Ah, Rousseau!" Wieck smiled; the name was
ironic on his lips. "Let Rousseau be Rousseau, the eternal child
like all Frenchmen. If Bonaparte has proven anything it is that the
French are barbarians. Children cannot help being children, but the
French have not that excuse. The sooner they reach maturity the sooner
they will reap the benefits of maturity but the French, I fear, remain
by their very nature beyond such benefit. You might even say that they
are children naturally."
There was mirth again as they reached the
sideboard. Clara had lingered, allowing Banck to move ahead, Robert
to catch up; she cut a slice of strudel, shared it with Robert wishing she'd
worn her hair differently from the pigtails on which her pappa insisted.
Whatever he said he preferred her to appear a child the more she appeared
childlike, the more she impressed her audiences but she said
nothing. She wished to make a mature impression on Robert, felt she
would do it best with her proximity, performance, silence.
Robert stood by her side happily enough, accepting
the strudel without thanks as if it were his due, addressing himself instead
to Wieck. "And what of the benefits of childhood, Herr Wieck?
Are those, then, to be reaped in maturity? or perhaps only in France?"
Agnes nodded, laughing again. "There is, perhaps,
something to be said for the French after all."
Robert was smiling; he had offered the question
rhetorically, but Wieck appeared to have anticipated him. "And what
may those be, Herr Schumann? the benefits of childhood?"
"Why, no more than to dream, to build the castles
of the imagination which is, of course, also the work of the artist."
Wieck smiled. "I am a Kantian, Herr
Schumann. I believe in the Categorical Imperative. German philosophy
is the best. The artist would do well to follow its precepts."
"I must say," said Rellstab, "before we stray too
far from the subject of Bonaparte, that I was never so glad as when I heard
of what Blucher did at Waterloo."
"Except when I heard of Bonaparte's death," said
"Touche." Rellstab nudged Fink; both laughed;
Wieck joined in.
Robert had lost his smile, but his tone remained
level. "No one can defend Bonaparte," he said. "He might once
have been a man of the people. Our own Beethoven dedicated his Eroica
to the man until he crowned himself Emperor and Beethoven tore up
the dedication but Bonaparte is not Rousseau, and all Frenchmen are
Fink frowned. "In 1810, all Frenchmen were
Bonaparte. When he annexed Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Lauenburg,
Lübeck, all Frenchmen were Bonaparte."
Rellstab nodded. "And they could all well
be again, they could all very well be again, especially when our very own
German youth appear to defend them."
Robert's tone remained level. "My mamma has
stories of Bonaparte's soldiers. It took two days for their ranks to
pass through Zwickau on the way to Moscow, and on their return they looted,
spread diseases oh, and much worse. The stories do not bear
repetition, not in these congenial surroundings, and not among such fair
company, but this we must remember: All Frenchmen are not Bonaparte.
Besides, I understand Herr Wieck wishes to show off our Clara to Paris."
Wieck nodded thoughtfully. "That is true.
To conquer Paris, and then London, is to conquer the world. Clara can
do what Blucher would not, or could not. A musician's power exceeds
Robert winked at Clara who smiled immediately,
gratefully. "And our musician is but twelve years old!"
Wieck caught the wink. He found himself wanting
to impress young Robert who appeared to know everything as much as
to show him up for his arrogance. "Clara," he said, holding cake in
his hand, "I want you to change the second part of our program. Play
the new variations instead."
"The new variations, Pappa?"
Wieck kept his eyes on Robert, the smile playing
on his mouth as if he were playing a game. "Yes, you know the ones
"But, Pappa, do you mean the "
"Yes, Clara! Hush! Those variations,
exactly but let us keep it a secret, let us not announce them.
The more we let them wonder the better they will remember the work."
He spoke to Clara, but continued to look at Robert. "I think Herr Schumann
might appreciate them a little better than he did the Herz." He took
a bite of his cake.
"Oh, yes, Pappa. I think he might very well
appreciate them better." She smiled broadly, found the game delicious,
baiting Herr Schumann's curiosity, mocking his impatience.
When she sat again at the piano a hush descended upon the room. She
lifted her hands slowly from her side, placed rather than dropped them on
the keyboard, caressed rather than struck the keys, raised a familiar melody,
repeated it in different registers, different figurations, provided a rumble
in the bass, tremolos in the treble, prelude to a glittering staircase of
notes spiraling from the highest keys, culminating in a crash, followed by
explorations up and down the keyboard, before settling finally into a subdued
rendition of the theme proper.
Robert's grin of recognition followed the first
bar, almost the first note. Rellstab recognized the work as well, from
the beginning, and nodded, but his grin was sour. Fink appeared more
puzzled. "Mozart," he whispered to Rellstab, "Don Giovanni, but...."
"Exactly!" Rellstab huffed under his
breath. "Mozart But!"
Smiles of recognition lit many faces, followed by
a shadow. They might all have been saying, "Mozart But!" recognizing
the composer but through a mist, the theme but not the variations.
As the work progressed, Clara's mastery continued to amaze. A gallop
of notes was followed by a canter, a flight by a rustle; there might have
been hooves in her fingers, there might have been feathers. No one
appeared to breathe during the performance, not even Robert, but the final
cadence wrought a collective sigh from the audience, unceasing applause,
Robert in the vanguard.
Rellstab was moved by the performance if not the
music itself. He whispered to Fink, "Chopin, variations on the duet,
'La ci darem la mano,' from Don Giovanni, between Zerlina and the Don."
"Ah," said Fink, "Chopin. I understand he
is all the rage in Paris at the moment."
"Indeed he is," said Wieck. "It will be perfect
for Clara's Paris debut."
Robert clapped eyes on Clara as she approached.
"Brava, little Clara! Brava! You have outdone yourself, entirely
Banck echoed Robert almost immediately. "Yes,
brava, Clara. That was magnificent indeed, just magnificent."
"Thank you, Herr Schumann, Herr Banck." Clara
smiled, sat near Robert.
"I see the work is not unknown to you, Herr Schumann,"
"Most assuredly not, Herr Wieck. I have even
written a review of it." He turned again to Fink. "I shall send
you my review, Herr Fink, and you shall publish it in your Zeitung."
Fink opened his eyes wide again, his mouth again
like a fish. "You can send it to me," he said, "and I will read it.
Beyond that, I cannot say."
"But Herr Schumann," said Rellstab, pushing his
spectacles again to the bridge of his nose, "is this not virtuosity, the
same virtuosity you found so pernicious bare moments ago? Is this not
easily among the most difficult works to be published today?"
Robert shook his head. "I have read your review
in the Iris, Herr Rellstab. I know you find it difficult but
my complaint was not against difficulty as much as empty virtuosity, against
virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity. When Chopin utilizes virtousity
in the service of the virtuous in music, it is our responsibility as critics
only to praise him. Who are we to complain of difficulties when Chopin
comes bearing gifts?"
"But, Herr Schumann, Chopin himself composed it
first for the pianoforte and orchestra then transcribed it for the
pianoforte alone. Surely the pianists have a right to complain."
"Absolutely not! Those who complain of
difficulties can still get their pleasure from listening to little Clara
Clara leaned forward in her chair. "Herr Schumann,
may I make a request?"
"Of course, little Clara. Anything after your
Clara's eyes opened wide; all the candles in the
room appeared reflected within. "Herr Schumann, may I read your
review? It would pleasure me greatly to read your review."
Robert got up. He was to accompany Agnes next
at the piano. He nodded his head toward Clara. "The pleasure
will be all mine. I shall bring it to your house myself tomorrow."
Clara's eyes flickered. "Thank you, Herr
Schumann. That would mean a lot."
Robert clicked his heels, escorted Agnes to the
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