September 2019

The Reemergence of a Collection of Clara Schumann Correspondences

Five letters and a postcard from Clara Schumann to Martin Levy and C. Buschow, Frankfurt am Main and Düsseldorf, 20.02.1883 till 18.01.1890. Shelfmark: Rara/FMG Schumann,C.19/1-6 © Archiv fmg

The Quelle des Monats September is a collection of five letters and a postcard, which represents a small proportion of Clara Schumann’s correspondence with the Levy family in Berlin. Martin Levy, the patriarch of the family, was a merchant, composer, and music enthusiast. He befriended musicians who were active in Berlin, like Joseph Joachim. From 1885, Martin Levy served as Clara Schumann's concert agent. The postcard (15 January 1889) is addressed to C. Buschow, who ran an instrument transport company, and instructed him to transport a grand piano from the train station to the Levy Villa on Rauchstraße 17. Owing to its contents, the postcard is integrated into the correspondence with the Levy family.

The extant correspondence between Clara Schumann and the Levy family has been transcribed and researched in the seventeenth volume of the Schumann Briefedition. A reported 89 letters were exchanged over almost twenty years, from February 1876 to January 1896, although it is highly probable that more letters were exchanged — not only are historical documents occasionally lost to the passage of time, Clara Schumann was also wary of the public interest in her private life and towards the end of her life, requested for friends to return old letters to be destroyed. The contents of their letters included plenty of travel updates and plans to meet when their journeys coincided, exchanging birthday and season's greetings, various general updates about the family, and the occasional accident, illness, and injury. Their musical network is also extensively featured in the letters. Martin Levy invited Clara Schumann to Berlin to perform on a number of occasions, and the arrangements for these concerts, as well as updates on her touring schedule, formed a large part of the correspondence. Clara Schumann also occasionally sent her students who were travelling to Berlin to Martin Levy for concert opportunities or to be hosted. In the period leading up to the divorce between Amalie and Joseph Joachim, the proceedings were also a common topic in the letters. From 1879, Clara Schumann started dictating letters to be sent to the Levy family, instead of writing them. This was not unique to the Levy correspondence, and is often attributed to rheumatism pains in her arm.

In this regard, the letters of this collection are fairly representative of the entire correspondence between Clara Schumann and the Levy family. In the first letter (20 February 1883), Clara Schumann thanked Martin Levy for his hospitality during her stay in Berlin, informing him that she had returned to Frankfurt and requesting him to settle a debt with the doctor on her behalf. In the second letter (02 January 1885), Clara Schumann thanked Martin Levy for the well wishes (probably for season's greetings), expressed doubt about returning to Berlin because she does not feel well, and asked for updates on the Joachims’ divorce proceedings. In the third letter (11 October 1886), she thanked Martin Levy for birthday greetings, sent updates about her travels to Obersalzburg and Meran, where she met Joseph Joachim, and also asked about Amalie Joachim’s performance at the Münchner Hofoper and Joseph Joachim’s reaction. She also mentioned that she was modelling for her bust in Munich, and therefore missed Martin Levy’s visit to Frankfurt. In the fifth letter (08 February 1889), Clara Schumann wrote to Elise Levy, Martin Levy’s wife. The contents of the letter include a listing of various gifts for the Levy children, Julie and Hermann, and she asked about the recovery of Elise’s throat. In the sixth letter (18 January 1890), Clara Schumann thanked Martin Levy for well wishes (probably again for season's greetings), and apologised for neglecting to reply to his letter on her 70th birthday. She updated him about her latest illness, and that she had no plans to return to Berlin in winter. She also thanked him for hosting Leonard Borwick, her student at the Hoch’schen Konservatorium in Frankfurt am Main.

In 1982, the majority of the correspondence between Clara Schumann and the Levy family was acquired by the Berliner Staatsbibliothek. This collection of five letters and the postcard was not part of that transaction, and was instead put up for sale by Moirandat Company AG (Basel) in 1997, but the location of these letters remained unascertained until the Research Centre for Music and Gender acquired this collection from J. A. Stargardt in March 2017. Since the transcriptions of this collection for the Schumann Briefedition were undertaken based on prints from the Moirandat Company AG auction catalogue, they remained in fragments. Thanks to the recent acquisition, a complete transcription could be undertaken, which reveals a couple of interesting notes previously undiscovered by the Schumann Briefedition:

1. A letter from Düsseldorf written on 11 October 1886 is a dictated letter, but is not listed in the Schumann Briefedition as such. The handwriting is also found in a letter from Düsseldorf on 12 October 1886 and is addressed to Mathilde Wendt, a former student and close confidant in Clara Schumann's later years. The scribe is listed as “Anonymous 4” in the 14th book of the Schumann Briefedition. A distinctive element of Anonymous 4’s handwriting is the date, which lists the day directly above the month. This practice is curiously similar to Clara Schumann’s half-sister, Cäcilie Bargiel, who also penned some of Clara Schumann’s letters. However, it was certainly not Cäcilie’s handwriting because she was in Italy during this time. The search for the mystery scribe continues…

First page of the letter from Clara Schumann to Martin Levy, Düsseldorf, 11.10.1886. Shelfmark: Rara/FMG Schumann,C.19/3 © Archiv fmg


2. In a previously untranscribed portion of the last letter in this collection, Clara Schumann thanked Martin Levy for accommodating Leonard Borwick, one of her students at the Frankfurt Conservatory. Borwick remained in Berlin for some weeks, and collaborated with Erna Lissner in a concert at the end of January 1890. She also recommended the concert to Robert Radecke in a letter on 15 December 1889.  

Extract of a letter from Clara Schumann to Martin Levy, Frankfurt am Main, 18.01.1890. Shelfmark: Rara/FMG Schumann,C.19/6 © Archiv fmg

As we celebrate Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday this month, we commemorate not only the virtuosic concert pianist, composer, wife and editor of Robert Schumann, but also a caring piano professor! Happy birthday, Clara (we don’t expect your reply!).

Text: Mick Lim

Clara Schumann. Photography by Carl Jagemann, Wien, [without date]. Shelfmark: Rara/FMG Schumann,C.22/2 © Archiv fmg

Zuletzt bearbeitet: 20.01.2020

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