An historical and analytical discussion of Clara Schumann's Piano trio, op. 17



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Clara Schumann began her musical career the day she was born. Her father predetermined her successful career as a pianist and provided his daughter with an extensive musical education. Clara’s childhood was filled with lessons, including piano from her father as well as theory, harmony, composition, orchestration, voice, and violin lessons from various other teachers. Clara Schumann’s musical education and opportunities for composition paralleled that of other successful composers and performers of her time, yet she had many selfdoubts as a female composer. Such doubts owed to her being a woman with responsibilities as a wife, caring for her ill husband, and a mother, raising seven children. In spite of these challenges, Clara’s works exhibit learned and innovative compositional techniques demonstrating both her understanding of past masters and of the new romantic sound. Of her twenty-one, generally small-scale compositions, the Piano Trio, Op. 17 was her only attempt at writing for a combination of instruments other than piano and voice or piano and violin. Significant musicians from Clara’s time, such as Felix Mendelssohn, Joseph Joachim, and Robert Schumann, praised her compositional ideas and works, including the piano trio, which was in fact her most performed work in the nineteenth century. Considering this, Clara’s trio should be praised or criticized using the same guidelines as the trios of her contemporaries. A detailed consideration of Clara’s musical biography, the history of the piano trio as a genre, and compositional features of her trio shed new light on this work in particular and her abilities in general. Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio, Op. 17 not only contains compositional traits that conform to the standards of the nineteenth century piano trio but also features unique to her own compositional style. This study demonstrates that through the balancing of tradition and innovation, Clara Schumann’s piano trio exhibits a level of maturity comparable to the major trios of the time and is worthy of performance consideration today.