discovering the hidden worlds of women composers

an invisible google doodle of Clara Schumann

I am having a grim time writing about Clara Schumann, for reasons that I won’t go into here, and are completely different from those I face writing about Fanny Hensel (but that include what was she thinking of jumping from the frying pan of a profoundly controlling father to the fire of a profoundly controlling husband? The answer, of course, is even more depressing than the question.)

I have even thought about cutting her from the book entirely, despite or because of her presence on the last hundred Deutsche Mark note before the euro.

clara schumann money My reason? Unlike all the other women I am writing about, Clara Schumann is a composer only by default. Composing is something the men in her life tell her to do. It’s part of her remit as a concert pianist and Robert Schumann likes to see her do it (although he won’t make any effort to make it possible, and slags her off when she does) and once those men are dead, she stops.

But she is not being cut, because, thanks to google doodle, I have a renewal of feminist purpose. For copyright reasons, I cannot reproduce here the google doodle of Clara Schumann. Do look it up. The image, and the blurb that accompanies it, presents her as caring, nurturing Supermother. This is ridiculous.

Yes, she had eight children (and at least two miscarriages) but even her most sympathetic of biographers acknowledges that once she worked out there were wet-nurses and ultra-cheap servants to be hired, and relatives and friends to leave the children with (even Johannes Brahms did his bit), and boarding schools for when they got older, once she discovered all this, she spent as little time as she possibly could with her children. She signed her letters to them ‘Clara’ and (guilty secret of the workaholic parent) had to ask one of their carers what presents she should bring back from yet another European tour. She cared about her children: she didn’t want to look after them. And why on earth should she have done? She was one of the great performers of her era, a consummate professional, who sustained her career over sixty years.

I am racking my brains to think of a male professional of equal stature who would be presented in the same way.

And while I’m doing that, I’ll keep writing….


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