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Music and silenceClaraby Janice Galloway425pp Cape Pianos are not pleasant objects - not if youve ever tried playing one Pianos are infuriating brutes heavy as thunderclouds torture mechanisms designed to measure your inadequacy against some unattainable idea of perfection Clara Schumanns life was a perpetual torment of pianos She was born into a family which dealt taught and traded in pianos She married a man who was one of the greatest composers for the instrument And she herself was one of the outstanding concert pianists of the age This much had been decided before she had even been born Clara Schumann had no option but to become a prodigy Her father Friedrich Wieck was the most respected - and tyrannical - piano teacher in Leipzig Clara bore the brunt of his expectation The first entry in Claras diary dated June 7 1827 reads Since the decision has been made that this life will be remarkable someone must record it In fact Friedrich had begun keeping the journal on his daughters behalf A later entry in his stern handwriting observes Father deserves my greatest devotion and gratitude for his ceaseless efforts on my behalf So no account of Clara Schumanns life can afford to be overly romantic about the piano To her credit Janice Galloway is marvellously unsentimental Galloways most recent work was the libretto for Sally Beamishs Monster an opera based on the life of Mary Shelley which explored the paradox that the lives of the great Romantics were frequently not remotely romantic at all Galloways fictional account of Clara Schumanns life is similarly perceptive It opens with the image of a young girl trapped in a pianistic nightmare Varnished edges sharp enough to cut snap-shut lids shin-battering pedals a little girl could get lost among their brown bull legs Galloway makes clear that the misery of being Friedrich Wiecks daughter was matched only by the misery of becoming Robert Schumanns wife What emerges is
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