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None of These Men Will Compare


At the age of twenty-three, Robert Schumann was a keen judge of his fellow pianists, and he got to know most of the virtuosi in Leipzig not long after his arrival in the city. But he was most impressed by one of his students, a thirteen-year-old prodigy, and he wrote about her in a letter to his mother in June 1833:

Now that I am acquainted with all the principal virtuosi except Hummel, I’m beginning to realize that my own achievements were once considerable. These great people, instead of offering us something new or original, as we expect, are too fond of giving us our own dear old errors under the label of respected names. I assure you, a name is half the battle.

In my opinion, none of these men can compare with the two girl artists, Mlle. Belleville and Clara.

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Clara, who is as fond of me as ever, is the same wild and fanciful little person, skipping and tearing around like a child one moment, and full of serious sayings the next. It’s a pleasure to watch the increasing speed with which she unfolds the treasures of her heart and mind the way a flower unfolds its petals. The other day as we came home from Connewitz together–we do a two- or three-hour trek almost every day–I heard her say to herself, “Oh, how happy, how happy I am!” Who doesn’t love to hear that?

Along this same road there are some very unnecessary stones in the middle of the path. It turns out that I have a way of looking up instead of down when I’m talking, so she walks just behind me, and gently pulls my coat before every stone to keep me from falling, and stumbles over them herself in between.

Within three years, Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck would become engaged, despite her father’s strident objections. That story next.