Song without words

This story was written with two types of reader in mind: the general reader; and readers who are passionate about classical music. However, it is fiction, pure and simple, and not historical speculation. Note, too, that I am aware of the date Mendelssohn died, and the date that Clara and Robert’s son, Felix, was born. The story is not suggesting that he is Mendelssohn’s son.

A question of paternity piano 170812

That way lies madness
Clara reached out her hand, and laid it on Robert’s naked shoulder. He flinched and tensed.
“He’s not my son, is he?” His voice was despairing.
“Oh, Robert, please, not this again.”
Robert spun round. His hands reached out as though to strangle, but dropped instead to Clara’s hips. He buried his face in the thick, raven hair cascading over her shoulder. She held him, rocked him, sang gently to him as though to a small child.
She led him towards the bed, coaxed him into it with little gestures and murmurs, endearments and caresses.
“You are an angel,” he said, eyes wide-open in wonder, “a glorious angel, with golden wings and a dark halo, and – I heard it, you know.”
He smiled, smirked rather.
“I heard it. He told me on the piano.”
“Robert, stop it. This is nonsense. You’re upsetting yourself needlessly.”
“You tell me it’s nonsense?” He emphasized the pronouns grotesquely. “He told me on the piano yesterday afternoon when he played to us both. That ‘Song without Words’. The rubato between bars twenty-six and twenty-seven, and, just to make sure, in case I missed it, again between bars twenty-nine and thirty.”
Clara sighed.
“Lie down, Robert. You’re imagining things. You are so sensitive, so creative. I love you for that, I really do, but not when you use it to torture yourself. Lie down my dearest, lie down my love.” She gentled him with words and touches until he lay down beneath the covers.
He looked at her sadly, so sadly.
“Your grief will be my only regret when I jump into the Rhine.”
Clara said nothing, just stroked his cheek tenderly. Robert’s eyes closed, and his breathing became gentle and regular.
From the nursery next door, young Felix began to wail.

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11 thoughts on “Song without words

  1. I do go to watch my niece sing in locale opera productions up in Melbourne, but knowledge of classical music is very limited. However I very much enjoyed your story of the love between the protective wife, and her creative man. So much sensitivity in your words.

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  2. The fate of the Schubert family is a terrible tragedy. It’s hard to say why Robert could not be happy. Why do so many people not make the way out of depression? Clara was a creative, great soul, you want to believe that you should have managed to save her husband. But one must not forget that it was a different time, with certainly fewer possibilities than today. Hope always exists. Faith is important. Believe not to be destined for a sad destiny, but for a blissful one!

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    • Thank you for the comment, Anie. Yes, a terrible tragedy indeed. Clara was an astonishing woman, with tremendous ability and great strength of spirit. As one of the foremost piano virtuosos of her time, she left her mark on performance to this day. She was also the breadwinner for the household, and controlled their finances, whereas Robert – fine composer though he was – struggled to make a living. And she did all this while bearing eight children!

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      • Yes, I have read about her. There are amazing people, in History. But you must never forget that someone has written down these things. The stories have been read again, and somehow the enthusiasm of men lifts other people into a “divine” status. Robert can not look well next to his wife in this story. But I am convinced that he was a great person, too. Unfortunately, we can no longer ask Klara how she found her life in retrospect. I think she would choose the same again …. why not, she can be satisfied. And Robert was a poor soul who was unfortunately not helped. He, too, could have realized that an ascent together with his wife could be even better than his own ascent. He did not manage his negativity …: (
        Humanity needs other people than role models. The only problem is that many people only envy the “glory” of these people. But not what brought them to fame. To do something with love, dedication, and doing something good, that should be the goal not to be in the history books ….

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    • I agree with most of what you say about the Schumanns. Of course, we’re discussing the story as two people who care about music and have some knowledge of its history. The main theme of the story is beyond this, and is accessible to non-musicians – in fact, they’ll probably see it more easily because they won’t have the true story interfering with the fictional one!

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  3. Oh no Penny, I know the story of the Schumanns only superficially and I am definitely not a musician. i hope I understood you right! I can imagine that especially with such a couple, the music is a language, that can be interpreted in the same way as a spoken language. “The rubato between bars twenty-six and twenty-seven, and, just to make sure, in case I missed it, again between bars twenty-nine and thirty.” … They’ll both know what it’s all about, just like it is in the situation of other couples. There might be jealousy scenes because of a certain look that is exchanged with the wrong people, but that is not music-specific. It is just something about trust.

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  4. …ohhh..o.k. i have had a depessiv buddy living with me…it was hard, but not terrible…but if you love somebody it is maybe different…but at least it is always a question of trust, no? If you get 100% trust, it must be manageable, no?

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    • Robert Schumann suffered from visual and auditory hallucinations, and attempted suicide by throwing himself off a bridge into the Rhine (from where he was rescued). He was placed in an asylum at his own request, in part because he feared he would harm Clara. Mental illness can be awful.

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