by Elaine Ernst Schneider
As a young man, Johannes Brahms was a close friend of Robert and Clara Schumann. They socialized publicly and Johannes was often in the Schumann home. When Robert Schumann died, Johannes continued his friendship with Clara. Clara Schumann, herself a renowned pianist, gave concerts that showcased her late husband’s work to support herself and her children. It is not known whether Johannes had always loved Clara or if the affection sprang from the relationship that grew after Robert’s death. History does tell us that Brahms professed his love for Clara though they never married.
For more detailed biographies of each of these classical composers, refer to:
Johannes Brahms, and Robert Schumann, by Betty Fry.
1. Write a dialogue that might have taken place between Clara and Johannes after Robert’s death. Begin the conversation with Brahms confessing to Clara that he loves her. Use your imagination. Here are some questions to get you started thinking:
– What might Brahms say to Clara to first open up the subject of his love for her?
– Does Brahms propose marriage or is it he who never asks, rather than she who refuses?
– What might have been Clara’s reasons for not marrying Johannes Brahms? Was she still in love with Robert? Did Clara fear that if she married Brahms that it would be too awkward to continue concertizing with Robert’s pieces? Or was there some other reason she refused Brahms’ affection?
2. Write the lyrics for a song Brahms might have written for Clara. Keep in mind that words for songs during this time period usually rhymed.
3. If you play an instrument, create an original short piece that Brahms might have written for Clara. Consider the emotions of love and how they might be conveyed through the music. Would the tempo be slow and the tone sad because love is unrequited, or might the tempo be fast and furious to show the frustration of two souls that never connect?
As you begin these assignments, remember to keep in mind what was and was not “socially acceptable” in Johannes and Clara’s day. Also know that Brahms’ love for Clara was made somewhat public when he dedicated several songs to her. Clara Schumann died in 1889. Brahms attended her graveside funeral. It was a cold and damp day and Brahms caught a “chill.” He died just a few months later. Was it from the chill? Or was it from a lonely heart? You decide.
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