Listen with Father: How I Learned to Love Classical Music

By Caroline Sanderson

A resonant memoir of a beloved father, evoked through the classical music he cherished.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

#ListenWithCaroline: Clara Schumann, Piano Concerto in A Minor

When I was a child, it didn’t occur to me that my Dad listened only to the music of dead white males. Maybe because the the names of the composers he loved sounded wonderfully exotic to a small child’s ear: Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Schhhhubert.

Now I regret that I never challenged Dad to add some female composers to his CD collection. To give him his due, he had recordings by plenty of female soloists, including Annie Fischer playing Mozart piano concertos, Martha Agerich playing Rachmaninoff, and Rosalyn Tureck playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

But when I was writing “Listen With Father”, I did want to do something about this gender imbalance. Fortunately, Dad’s love of the music of Robert Schumann led me directly to the music of Clara Schumann and "Romance", a recording by the super talented, Isata Kanneh-Mason, who I was lucky enough to hear play at Cheltenham Music Festival a few years ago.

It probably isn’t my Dad’s fault that he never considered listening to Clara’s music for it is only recently that she has been appreciated as a gifted composer. In her lifetime, her renown as a virtuoso pianist far eclipsed that of her own compositions, which in turn were eclipsed by those of her husband Robert. She began performing in public from the age of eleven, the start of a concert career that would last for more than sixty years.

But astonishingly at the age of 13, Clara began composing her only work for orchestra – her Piano Concerto in A Minor and two years later it had its first public performance, conducted by someone called Felix Mendelssohn. Many contemporary listeners were impressed: “If the name of the female composer were not on the title, one would never think it were written by a woman”, wrote one. However, another critic lamented the unconventional key changes in the piece which he attributed to the fact that “women are moody”.

Even in the quite recently published “1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die”, there are over 20 recommendations of pieces by Robert Schumann and none by Clara. And so I strongly recommend listening to her incredible Piano Concerto. From its strident beginning – the Allegro Maestoso – onwards, I’m always wowed by this dramatic and ambitious composition, and astonished that it could have been composed by one so young. It is undoubtedly a moody piece full of high rolling emotions. But for me this only adds to its rousing drama.

Thank you again so much for your support of “Listen With Father”. Anything you can do to put the word out to anyone else who might like it is much appreciated.

Love from Caroline x

Back to project page
Share on social

Top rewards