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Susanna Reich, Author
Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso

Clara Weick Schumann made her professional debut in her native city of Leipzig, Germany at the age of nine and was counted among the great musicians of the 19th century at a time when few women had public lives.

Groomed by her father to be a child prodigy, she defied him to marry the man she loved, composer Robert Schumann. Music sustained her through her husband's depression and suicidal despair. His early death left her with seven children to support. She courageously carried on her performing career for the next 35 years, performing until shortly before her death at seventy-six.

CLARA SCHUMANN: PIANO VIRTUOSO captures the essence of this remarkable and resilient woman. It includes excerpts from Clara's diaries and letters, some never before published in English. Illustrated with over 60 compelling black and white prints and archival photographs of the piano virtuoso throughout her life.

Ages 8 and Up


The nineteenth century pianist and composer Clara Schumann grew up surrounded by music and gave her first public performance when she was only nine years old. By the time she was a teenager she was recognized as one of the greatest musicians of her day. I grew up surrounded by music, too, but my response to music was different from Clara's. When I heard music, I wanted to dance!

Susanna Reich, AuthorI danced in the living room, the kitchen, the hallway, the bedroom, and on top of the backyard picnic table. I danced to Broadway musicals, classical symphonies, folk songs, and rock and roll. In high school I performed with a local ballet company and spent summers at the American Ballet Theatre School in New York and the Royal Academy of Dancing in London.

My favorite subjects in school were Social Studies and English. I loved reading books about other times in history and exotic, faraway places. When I went to Bennington College, in Vermont, I thought I might like to be an art historian or an anthropologist (someone who studies other cultures.) After two years I realized I still wanted to be a dancer, so I switched schools, transferring to Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

After graduation I performed, taught, and choreographed, or created, dances. Being a dancer was very hard work. I had to be in top physical condition all the time, like an athlete. Sometimes every muscle in my body ached. At other times I would go to an audition, dance my heart out, and be rejected. But dancing was worth all the hard work, because I loved to swoop and bend and stretch and reach and leap and fall and twist and turn.

I also liked to exercise my brain. I wanted to learn more about people from around the world and how they dance, so I studied movement analysis and non-verbal communication and dance ethnology, the study of other cultures through movement.

When I was older I developed other interests. I had always loved flowers and decided to take a class in flower arranging. It was so much fun, I applied for a job in a flower shop. Eventually I started my own business, specializing in weddings. During those years I also got married and had a baby, a little girl. A wedding is a lot like a performance, only instead of being on-stage I was now working backstage, like a set designer. It was fun to be backstage at all the fancy hotels and mansions in New York. My favorite moment of a wedding always came when the bride opened the big white box that held her bouquet and said, "Oh, it's just what I wanted!" I designed flowers for elegant parties, too. I even got to design flowers for the Emperor and Empress of Japan.

You are probably wondering how I came to be a children's book writer. I was always a good writer, but I didn't have anything I wanted to write about until I had lived a long time. My first published articles were about flowers. A friend who is a children's book illustrator got me interested in children's books. I wrote a few picture books, but soon discovered they are the hardest thing to write, even though they are short. They don't have many words, so every word counts a lot.

What could I write? Librarians, teachers, and editors told me there were not enough biographies of women written for children. That's when my mother, a music historian, suggested writing a book about Clara Schumann. The more I learned about Clara, the more impressed I became.

Clara Schumann was a lot more than a famous child prodigy. She was an extraordinary woman, one of the greatest musicians of the nineteenth century. She stood up to her father to marry the man she loved, championed his work when he was an unknown composer, and continued her career for many years after her husband's death. She was a world class pianist and the mother of eight children! Her story was fascinating to write, and I hope you will find it fascinating to read.

I love writing for kids, because it presents a challenge. Part of the challenge is to see what I'm writing about through the eyes of a child, so that I can convey to my reader a sense of discovery and wonder. The other part of the challenge is finding just the right word, the perfect sentence structure, and the simplest way to express complex thoughts.

By now you know that writing children's books is my third career in the arts. Dance, floral design, and writing have a lot in common, because the underlying principles of all art forms are the same. If you are creative in one art you can use that creativity in other arts. I use the discipline and the "art spirit" I learned as a dancer every day. In my next book I will be returning to my first love: dance. It's a biography of the Mexican American modern dancer and choreographer José Limón.