The rippling of the scales sounded through the house. Clara's fingers moved over the keyboard, easing smoothly from scales to arpeggios, major to minor, similar to contrary motion, individual notes to thirds. In her childhood her father had always emphasised quality of practice over quantity and even now she usually took care to listen, checking for evenness in tone and equal duration of notes. Although her playing had fallen behind during the years of her marriage, especially when Robert was composing, thankfully her essential techinque remained sound. When she was practicing she was mercifully free of interruptions and, once she had completed the improvisation element with which she always started her practice and reached this point, she could afford to divert her attention to other matters.
Next month she would start her autumn and winter tour and, apart from a brief visit to see the children in November, would be away until December 22nd. This year would be in Germany only, but the following year she hoped to make her first, long-awaited and delayed, visit to England, where Herr Sterndale Bennett was making arrangements. She would be nearly tripling the number of concerts she had given each season since the marriage and indeed some people had expressed surprise at her plans. But music was her strength, her solace and her refuge, and she was sure she could earn enough, between concerts and teaching, to pay all the expenses of Robert's illness.
Robert. Ah, Robert. For a moment the even sound of the arpeggio was disturbed. Firmly she deflected her thoughts. Now was not the time; she must be practical during the day and only at night, when she could sit at his desk with his belongings and his picture, let her tears flow. Moreover this week's letter from Dr. Peters, as well as containing encouraging news, had asked her to write a short letter to Robert, as they wished to see what impression it would make. This had been hard, so hard, for she had to balance the request that it be short against her desire to pour out her thoughts and feelings, but he would have received it today and for that, she reminded herself, she was happy.
She need not worry about the children. Only the younger children would remain at home, and their care was in safe hands.
She glanced at the music laid on the piano. She would happily share the platform with artists of her own rank, her friends and colleagues, but was determined that concerts would not be the hodgepodge of events her early programmes had been. Four composers would feature strongly this season. Dear Robert of course; his music must now take first place, to keep him close to her and so that others might come to understand his talent. Two friends now, alas, both gone: Chopin, who had been so kind and encouraging to her when she was young, and Mendelssohn, such a dear friend and after whom the baby was likely to be named, whose praise for her playing in both private and public had warmed her. She smiled, remembering how much she had enjoyed playing four-hand works with him, despite the challenges of the tempi he set, especially when they were sight-reading. Finally the glory of Beethoven, concerti and sonatas.
Clara took a deep breath. Shortly she would take her regular walk, but now she must concentrate on her playing again. She had not yet completely decided which of the 'Nocturnes', 'Impromptus' or 'Liede ohne Worte' she would play in which concert, but that could wait. For now she would work on Robert's Quintet, first the original, then the arrangement she had received earlier that day and which had so delighted her, and then revisit the challenges of Beethoven's 'Waldstein', in particular the final movement with its crossing of the hands, continuous movement, sustained trill and the prestissimo coda, where speed and accuracy needed to be combined with clarity of tone. She positioned her hands and the opening chords of the Quintet's first movement rang out.
The last entry for today. Good. Johannes put down the pen, flexed his fingers, and looked back through the pages. So many entries. Certainly there was income from publishers for Robert's works but so, so, many outgoings. Servants' wages, tuition fees for Marie and Elise, rent, postage - the arrangements in connection with the concert season had recently made those greater than usual. He paused, wrinkling his brow slightly at one recurring entry. The Endenich fees were considerable. If the season went as expected then the income from the concerts and her teaching would, he hoped, bring in enough income to ensure the family remained comfortable into the following year. But for now the noble gesture of Mayor Hammas who, the previous year when Robert had been dismissed, had insisted his salary continue to be paid for this year whether or not he conducted, and had ensured the arrangement be honoured even now, continued to be invaluable.
Ever since his arrival in Düsseldorf the previous year he had been included in their life - ah! the music, the discussions, so much pleasure. Now, since he'd taken over the keeping of the household books in February, he had become even closer to the family and, indeed, had moved to these lodgings in order to be near them. While Clara - Frau Schumann, for while he hoped that their friendship would soon allow 'thou' that time had not yet come - was away he would share the responsibility for the household with the housekeeper and Bertha. This had already happened for a short time in July when she had visited Berlin with their dear friend Joachim, and had taken 9-year old Julie to stay with her mother, Frau Bargiel. He smiled to himself, thinking back on how much he had enjoyed amusing and supervising the younger children - from the baby, now 3 months old, up to 6-year-old Ludwig. The smile faltered slightly as he considered the tour again, the travelling, the arrangements that could so often fall through, the fickleness of audiences, illness. So much, so difficult, and she, despite the outward appearance of strength, still so distressed. They must make sure to be with her when they could and his heart rejoiced that many of the Berlin concerts were to be given with Joachim.
But shortly it would be time for something even more pleasant. His smile broadened again, lighting up his whole face. That morning he had given her the four-hand arrangement had had made of the Piano Quintet together with a separate arrangement of the scherzo for two hands. She had expressed so much delight, both at that and the other little surprise Marie and Elise had prepared with him - their playing of four of the 'Bilder aus Osten'. This evening there would be a small gathering of friends and, amongst the music that would happen, he hoped to play the arrangement with her, and hoped also to hear her play the scherzo.
In companionable silence the two men walked through the streets. It had been a very pleasant evening.
Joseph had welcomed the chance to play again the F-A-E Sonata on which Robert, Johannes and Albert had collaborated. Clara, he thought, had played superbly, although it seemed to him that she had perhaps found some of the stretches in Johannes' Scherzo arrangement taxing. Fräulein Leser and Elise had been, as ever, charming and had taken their usual gentle care to encourage Clara, when the sad expression that showed she was thinking of Robert passed across her face, to play once more.
Joseph glanced at Johannes. "How did you find our friend at your last visit? In his letters he appears to be regaining his intellectual interests, he expresses interest in our work and indicates that he is composing again."
Johannes paused briefly, looked seriously at Joachim, then took up his steady stride again. "Ah, I wish that it were all so encouraging. As in August, I was not permitted to speak with him. Then it seemed his brain was finding rest but now, the doctors say, the delusions of hearing are again troubling him and he is not always rational, although perhaps these episodes are not so frequent as before. Still, there is improvement, and by their account he is more himself than when we last spoke with him in January."
"Thank goodness. That visit shocked us both I think, for the change then was so marked. There must indeed be improvement for, after all they have now allowed her to write. Will they yet allow her to visit?"
"Yes, writing must indeed help, for they say Robert has now been asking after her. You are aware that for several months he did not mention her?"
"Yes," Joseph could not keep the surprise he still felt about this out of his voice, for even in his previous darkest moments Robert had always been concerned for his wife and children, "and we must hope that when he writes, he is rational."
"Indeed. But the doctors are still firmly of the opinion that they should not yet meet."
Now they were at the point they must part. They shook hands and went their own ways, each thinking of their friends, the sick man so often shut into the unknown darkness of his thoughts and the sorrowful but yet so determined woman they had recently left.