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New Classical Tracks: Pianist Lara Downes celebrates the life and legacy of Clara Wieck Schumann

Lara Downes Jiyang Chen
4min 59sec : New Classical Tracks: Lara Downes
25min 9sec : New Classical Tracks: Lara Downes (extended)

Lara Downes/San Francisco Ballet Orchestra — For Love of You (Flipside Music)

"It's funny — I think with this anniversary, there's a consideration of her accomplishments and the barriers that she faced. But she was one of the greatest piano virtuosos of her time. It was kind of enough, you know? I think that this is a woman who reached pinnacles, and that's just to be celebrated."

Pianist Lara Downes is celebrating the life and legacy of Clara Wieck Schumann with a new recording that features her concerto debut with Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.

The title of your new project is called For Love of You. I'm guessing that probably came from the letters of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck because this is all set in those three turbulent years before they got married.

"Right. This is a letter that he wrote to her two years before they were married. It's a very sweet letter. He's just saying, 'There's nothing I wouldn't do for love of you.' And he's comparing himself to the knights of old, who would face all sorts of adventures for their lady loves, and he's saying, 'What I can offer is much more prosaic, but nevertheless it's everything that I have I want to give to you.' These letters — if you read through them, especially during that last stretch — are just a fascinating portrait of a very modern relationship."

Let's talk about the three works that appear on this recording, the first of which is Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor. This is a work that Clara really encouraged him to write, and she premiered it as well. Tell me more about this piece and what makes it so special.

"It's special to me because it's one of the first concerti that I learned. I was probably 13 or 14 when I first learned the piece. And then, in the context of this, I do see this as a love letter from him to her and vice versa. He struggled with this piece, and she worked with him on it. I think it's just full of their relationship, their dialogue, their trust, their need for each other's creative support and guidance."

We also hear Clara's Three Romances on this recording.

"These are three romances that she wrote specifically for Robert, and she dedicated them to him the year before they were married. He gets this manuscript from her, and he writes back to say, 'I've heard anew in these romances that we must be man and wife. You completely as a composer, as I do you.' And it's just this window into these two creative minds that were so in sync, so intertwined. It kind of gives me goose bumps."

It strikes me that two of the three works were by her husband, not by her. Why did you choose not to include more works by Clara?

"She's been such a guiding light for me as a pianist. Again, I think that what she accomplished as a performer, as an interpreter of her works and of his works, is incredibly important. So, I feel her just as much in his Piano Concerto as I do in her own writing."

As you were putting together this recording did you make any discoveries about Clara that surprised you?

"On some level, I find it comforting 200 years later to look back and realize how much direct companionship there can be with someone from the past who is an inspiration, who is a leader in her field, and who really dared to live a life that was as big as it possibly could have been. Then I look at myself, and I look at the work that I'm doing, the work I will do, the legacy that I want to leave behind, and I realize how important it is to show up for the young girls of the future."

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

For Love of You (Amazon)