A challenge from San Francisco Symphony organist Jonathan Dimmock:
It was 1856 and Clara Schumann was newly widowed. She hadn’t seen her husband, Robert, for several years; his ragings, during his institutionalization, specifically made clear that he did not wish to see her. But as a new, and young, widow, still with many of their nine children at home to feed, she needed to display some degree of cleverness in order to continue the lifestyle she was accustomed to. So she decided to return to her former love, the piano. Robert had snatched her away from the promise of a career as a concert pianist; now she would return to it. But she was no longer a child prodigy, and the competition to be noticed as a pianist was fierce. She decided to do something that, in the end, would change the nature of solo performing for the foreseeable future. She decided to perform from memory.
The critics were outraged! That she, a woman!, would have the audacity to do something as bold as that was surely to be condemned. But the male pianists of the day saw it differently. They knew that their prowess, even their male virility, was at stake; they could not allow a female to show them up! And so the cult of piano memorization was born….
Read on here.