‘Beloved Clara’ was a musical/dramatic event about Clara Schumann, arranged by Lucy Parham, starring Sir Simon Russell Beale and Lesley Sharp. What were such luminaries doing in Hastings on a Sunday afternoon in November? Well, it was a fundraiser for the Hastings Piano Concerto Competition. It also reminded me why my daughter is named Clara.
It was very well-attended. We sat up on the balcony, never been up there before. The downstairs seats were very expensive, and even though numbers of our friends were downstairs we thought – no. In fact we were quite lucky because the heating wasn’t working, and whatever heat there was downstairs rose up to us. The posh folk down below had their coats on. Also, it gave us a new view of the building…
The performance took the form of readings from letters and diaries of Robert Schumann and Clara, and covered the slightly strange relationship they had with Brahms. Both men were madly in love with Clara. She was a truly formidable woman – had eight children, was a composer as well as a famous and successful concert pianist, coped with Robert’s mental instability as well as Brahms’ devotion.
Clara Schumann was the most significant of the three Claras I thought about when it came to naming my daughter. In 1976, just about at the time I found out I was pregnant I had just taken up playing the cello, and went to a performance of Schumann’s cello concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. Paul Tortelier was the soloist and I was star-struck. The concerto was written in tribute to Clara, and it was then I read about her life.
Another Clara was the powerful Edwardian singer Dame Clara Butt, who frequently rocked the Albert Hall with her massive contralto voice – without a microphone.
The third was the heroine of the early Margaret Drabble novel, ‘Jerusalem the Golden’. Published in 1967, this was a classic girl’s coming-of-age/moving to London/getting involved with intellectual lefty Hampstead types/married men novel, typical of its time. It starts:
‘Clara never failed to be astonished by the extraordinary felicity of her own name..’ ‘… she could foresee a time when friends would name their babies after her and refer back to her with pride as the original from which inspiration had first been drawn’.
The novel clearly resonated with me way back then, but looking at it now it is so dated as to be almost unreadable….
So, what of ‘Beloved Clara’. It was good, but Lesley Sharp spoke a bit softly, and looked a bit wispy to be the redoubtable Clara. In some ways, the parts for the actors did not give them much material to demonstrate their thespian eminence. Me and Philosopher could have read the material with equal dramatic effect. There were some lovely, romantic piano pieces though.
We had a bit of trouble because Pelham Place car park was full… a sunny Sunday afternoon, so we had to go to the nearby underground one – Sidney Little’s amazing concrete masterpiece… I never go into it on my own, not just because it is spooky but the spaces between the pillars are small – built for 1930’s cars.