Pianist Beatrice Rana looks to Clara Schumann as an early role model

For her latest disc, Italian pianist Beatrice Rana points to a 19th-century composer, once largely forgotten, as her inspiration.

The piano virtuoso Clara Schumann, best known as the supportive wife of her composer husband Robert, wrote dozens of works herself — most of which until recently remained obscure. After the young age of 36, Clara stopped composing and performing and retired to take care of her family.

Rana believes that she made her own career as a concert pianist possible. “Nowadays, it’s quite difficult to imagine someone having such a career with so many kids at home and becoming a widow,” Rana said in a recent interview with WETA in Arlington, Virginia. “But something is impossible until someone does it. To see someone who does it in such a successful way and to be really considered one of the most amazing virtuosos of the time.  ... It was a model for all pianists and female pianists coming after her.”

On her new release, out Feb. 3 on Warner Classics, Rana performs works by Clara and Robert Schumann, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Both Schumanns wrote just one piano concerto apiece, 10 years apart.

“It was only when I began working on Clara’s concerto that I realized just how visionary this woman was from such a young age,” said Rana (who will perform Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody on Feb. 9-11 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Lahav Shani). “The approach to the composition is one of a great virtuoso writing a concerto for herself as a pianist. It’s very similar to the approach that Chopin or Liszt had writing their concerti. Of course it’s a youthful piece, but it still reflects quite a big ambition of Clara as a composer.”