Clara Schumann née Wieck was born in Leipzig, Germany, to Marianne Tromlitz Wieck, a professional singer, and Friedrich Wieck, a piano teacher of high repute. Encouraged by her father, Clara studied piano from the age of five and by 1835 had established a reputation throughout Europe as a child prodigy. By age 18, she was one of the leading virtuosos in Europe. In 1838 she was honoured by the Austrian court and also elected to the prestigious Society of the Friends of Music (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde) in Vienna.
Clara met Robert Schumann when he came to study with Mr. Wieck in 1830. In 1840, Clara and Robert married, despite Mr. Wieck’s objections. Clara continued composing while the couple lived in Leipzig, where the pair taught at the university and had their first two children. In 1844, Clara undertook an arduous tour of Russia, on which Robert reluctantly agreed to accompany her. Following the tour, Robert experienced bouts of depression which led to him having a severe mental and physical breakdown in August of that year. This served as the catalyst for the family’s move to Dresden, in hopes that the change of scenery would prove beneficial for Robert. Both Clara and Robert continued composing in Dresden, and Clara gave lessons and toured Vienna, Prague, and Berlin. Clara gave birth to four more children during the family’s time in Dresden.
In 1850, the family moved to Düsseldorf, where Robert had been offered the position of music director of the Municipal Orchestra and Chorus. Eventually they settled in an apartment which was spacious enough for Clara, for the first time, to have a room with her own piano where she could practice, even when Robert was composing. This allowed her to become significantly more compositionally productive. The couple had two more children while in Düsseldorf.
Clara became particularly well-known for her collaboration with violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom she gave 238 concerts throughout Germany and England. In 1853, the Schumanns developed a close professional and personal friendship with composer Johannes Brahms, whom they met through Joachim, and with whom Clara continued to be in touch for the remaining duration of her life.
In 1854, following a suicide attempt, Robert asked to be taken into a sanitorium, where he remained until his death in 1956. Clara saw him only once during this period, a few weeks before his passing. Clara spent the remainder of her life devoting herself to the interpretation of Robert’s music. She spent time in London, where she promoted his works, often to disapproving critics. In 1878, she was appointed a professorship at the Hoch University of Frankfurt am Main, a post she held until 1892, in which she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique.
Clara Schumann played her last public concert in 1891. She died five years later, in 1896, due to complications from a stroke, and was buried at Bonn's Alter Friedhof old cemetery.