She cannot work at it [composing] regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.

– Diary of Robert Schumann

Socrates (470-399 B.C.) was a famous Greek philosopher from Athens who taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle. Socrates used a method of teaching by asking questions. The Greeks called this form dialectic – starting from a thesis or a question, then discussing ideas and moving back and forth between points of view to determine how well ideas stand up to critical review, with the ultimate principle of the dialogue being Veritas – Truth.

Clara Wieck on 100 Deutsche Mark.

Setting: Leipzig, Germany, 1853

Socrates: We are gathered here today at my Academy to discuss Aesthetics – What is Aesthetics (beauty)? As a case study we will examine the life of Clara Wieck, whom I’ll call “God’s Pianist.” Why do I call her this? Because when she played the piano it was as if the heavens opened up and my soul was touched by God. {Turning to Felix Mendelssohn} You knew Clara Wieck during her early years. Tell us about her.

Mendelssohn: In 1830, I remember Clara as a child prodigy of 11 years old making her debut with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, an orchestra I founded and conducted. My sister, Fanny, and I were also both child prodigies and piano virtuosos, but Clara Wieck was the greatest of us all!

Socrates: {to Brahms} You met Clara Wieck in 1853 when you went to help your friend and fellow composer, Robert Schumann, who had fallen ill. Their children even called you “Papa Brahms.” After Schumann’s premature death three years later, you begged Clara to accept your proposal in marriage, which she demurred (for she wanted your genius to meet it’s destiny without hinderance). Most notable of all was your platonic friendship with Clara Wieck – a legendary relationship tantamount to the sublime. What do you think of Clara Wieck?

Brahms: {overwhelmed with emotion} What … what to say about Clara? In a word, I loved her passionately. She was my Muse; she was everything to me. Yes … after Clara I had other women, but I could never love another. I was 20. As a young inexperienced and insecure composer it was this woman, Clara Wieck, who gave me the confidence in myself that I had the ability to become a great composer – a romantic master. She played my early piano sonatas and exclaimed to me that “they were like veiled symphonies.” Yea, she went further and proclaimed that I was the one, that I had received Beethoven’s mantle – I would become the next great symphonist. Like Moses who protested against God to choose someone else to lead the Children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, I remonstrated against Clara saying, “Every time I try to compose a symphony, I hear the giant steps of Beethoven behind me!”

Socrates: Brahms, how did you conquer your fear of Beethoven?

Brahms: I listened to Clara’s voice. I looked into Clara’s beautiful brown eyes. The more I listened to her voice, the warmth, the revelatory quality of her piano playing, I heard the very voice of God and I received courage to endure. I resolved within myself that I would not be greater than Beethoven (for he is the greatest), but I would add to what he did. I would make my own way!

Socrates: {A soliloquy after Clara Wieck} To me, a philosopher, Clara Wieck, you are Aesthetics (beauty) incarnate. You are the anti-feminist feminist – a working woman who devotedly raised eight children, managed the household, was the primary earner of the family by playing concerts in Germany and throughout Europe. Yet, unlike others in your generation – Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and later Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Hillary Rodham Clinton – you did not try to become this great feminist icon or feign like you were the first woman who ever worked, as if that were something new, laudatory and exotic. No, no, no! You followed the august words of Booker T. Washington: “Do what you can with what you have, and never be satisfied!”

Schumann, since you were half crazy and neurotic for many of your years with Clara, who provided for your eight children? Who maintained the household?

Schumann: Without my wife I would be nothing, a mediocrity at best in the realm of a Telemann, a Salieri … or a Ditters von Dittersdorf – Nothing more! Clara Wieck often took charge of the finances and general house running due to my inclination to depression and instability. These emotional and mental issues grew worse over the years, leading to my own premature death by suicide in 1856. I was only 46 years old.

Socrates: Indeed. Let us hear the conclusion of this matter. What is Aesthetics (beauty)? In the movie about the life and times of the Schumanns, “A Song of Love,” there was pivotal scene where all the superlative romantic masters were gathered together in the grand parlor of this enormous mansion. There was Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Pagannini, Joachim, von Bulow, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Wagner and others; at the piano was Liszt dazzling his listeners with his demonic virtuosity. However, when she entered the room filled with the greatest collection of aesthetic genius known to humanity, the music stopped – all eyes were on Clara Wieck (for truly she is God’s Pianist). They begged her to play and she finally relented. She played her husband’s favorite composition, Schumann’s hauntingly beautiful “Traumerei.”

Yes, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms and Liszt and could beguile you with their virtuosity, but Clara Wieck could touch the deepest recesses of your very soul. Yea, she did so much more; her playing could make you fight your own inner demons, your secret sins and compel you to become a better person – a godly person. Surely, this is Aesthetics; this indeed is beauty incarnate and it was embodied in God’s Pianist – Clara Wieck, the anti-feminist feminist.

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