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Piano, history and theater combine in concert at St. John’s College

Pianist Karoline Syrovatkova portrays Clara Schumann in a concert Friday, Nov. 11, at St. John's College. (Jackie Jadrnak/Journal)

Pianist Karolina Syrovatkova portrays Clara Schumann in a concert Friday, Nov. 11, at St. John’s College. (Jackie Jadrnak/Journal)


It’s not unusual for audiences to get a bit of an educational talk during a concert, especially one involving classical music.

But folks who showed up last Friday night in the Great Hall at St. John’s College’s student center — and there were only a handful of empty seats — were in for a special treat. Czech pianist Karolina Syrovatkova went one better than simply giving verbal notes on the piano compositions she played by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. She actually portrayed Clara Schumann, down to a lovely period-appropriate gown and her glorious mane pulled into a demure hairstyle. Even old lamps were positioned around the piano.

The story of the compositions took vibrant life as Syrovatkova, in the guise of Clara, talked about her long love for Robert Schumann and her father’s avid opposition to the pairing of the two — he had trained her as a piano virtuosa, and he expected her concerts to fill her life. Schumann’s Fantasia op. 17 in C Major had veiled references to his love for Clara, she said, in the years before they could not yet marry.

Yet, after marrying and producing seven children, Robert was sent to a mental institution and his young protege, Johannes Brahms, was devoted to Clara and designed his 6 Klavierstucke op. 118 as a tribute to her. The two discussed marrying after Robert died, the pianist/actress told the audience, but the hole in her heart was too big for anyone else to fill, she said.

What a wonderful way to both hear beautiful music and learn about it and its creators at the same time!