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Celebrating the Defiant Romance of Clara Schumann

Lara Downes
Rik Keller
Lara Downes

Pianist and composer Clara Schumann’s bicentenary falls on September 13, 2019, and pianist Lara Downes wants to share her awe of Clara’s brilliance.

Pianist Lara Downes has been making her mark with unique and very personal albums that celebrate the power of the creative urge. She has long been inspired by women whose devotion to music has overpowered the societal inequalities working against them, and her recording projects have enlarged her voice as an activist with organizations that empower women and girls.

Now, just in time for the September 13 bicentenary of Clara Schumann’s birth, Downes has released an album of pieces written by Clara and Robert Schumann. Ultimately, pianist and composer Clara would juggle an international solo career with motherhood (she and Robert had eight children). Lara Downes writes in her liner notes:

“I’m the first of three sisters, and I grew up in a house full of girls and women.
My sisters and I made music together, put on plays, shared our clothes and
secrets, and navigated together the unpredictable waters of our inconstant
childhood. We were a pack. The world of women has always been my home.
But the world of my music – of my piano teachers and their teachers, the
Great Pianists and Great Composers – was a world of male lineage and
legacy. Except for Clara Schumann. When I read about her early life – such
a serious, dark-eyed little girl – I found something of myself.”

The pieces she’s chosen for the CD come from the three years leading up to Robert and Clara’s 1840 marriage: Robert’s Piano Concerto, Clara’s Romances, and Robert’s Fantasy Pieces.

It was Clara who urged Robert to expand his Fantasy for piano and orchestra into a full-blown concerto, and it was Clara who gave the premier. Lara Downes has a flexible and expansive vision of the piece, and plays it here with conductor Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.

Clara Schumann’s Romances are here, too. When you listen to the second one, think of Robert’s reaction: “In your Romance I can hear again that we are destined to be man and wife. You complete me as a composer just as I do you.”

The CD ends with the eight wildly imaginative Fantasy Pieces that Robert wrote in 1837.

Here’s a fantastic video of Lara Downes in our Fraser Performance Studio:

Watch a trailer for the album:

For more information and to purchase this album, visit Arkiv Music.