The Clara Project
Orchestrations of Clara (1995) and Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben
Soprano and Chamber Orchestra
In 1995, I collaborated with Scottish novelist Janice Galloway on a work for soprano and piano, commissioned by Sandra Porter and Graeme McNaught. Janice’s text contrasts the life of Robert Schumann’s wife, Clara, with the fictional woman described in Chamisso’s poems set by Schumann in his songcycle Frauenliebe und Leben.
Whereas Chamisso’s poems seem to consider the woman’s life to begin when she first meets her husband, and to end when he dies, Clara’s actual life paints a very different picture.
A hugely successful concert pianist in her own right, Clara’s career supported the Schumanns throughout their married life; and if anything, Robert was less well-known – and lived in the shadow of Clara’s success.
Their determination to marry despite Clara’s father’s attempts to prevent it imply the beginning of a ‘fairy story’; but this is far from the reality. Robert’s mental illness, his extreme mood changes, and his childlike reliance on his wife, made her life extremely challenging. His life ended tragically, after two years in a mental hospital when Clara was not allowed to visit him. She was finally called in as he was dying, but he could hardly speak. After his death she continued to work for forty years.
Gregor Zubicky – the artistic director of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, had the idea that I could arrange both the Schumann song cycle, and Clara, for orchestra; and he suggested the project to Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson, who was enthusiastic. in 2019, Lisa, Gregor and I met in London to discuss how we could bring the idea to fruition.
It has proved an interesting and stimulating task to revisit a work I completed over 25 years ago, and to reinvent Schumann’s masterwork with orchestral colours.
I was able to bring out the themes I took from the Schumann, and to highlight musical lines with instrumental colour. But I could also contrast two very different sound worlds, thereby also contrasting the two narratives.
Gregor suggested I write a short bridge passage to join Schumann’s work, which is heard first, to mine. But we all felt it was important that the two works could also be performed separately. I am grateful to Gregor, to Lisa, and to Andrew Manze, for their input and advice, and for the inspired premiere with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
Janice Galloway’s work on the text for Clara led to the publication a few years later of her acclaimed novel, also entitled Clara.
The Clara Project was commissioned by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and first performed by them with soprano Lisa Larsson and conductor Andrew Manze, in May 2022, at Örebro Konserthuset, Sweden.
Sally Beamish 2022