Clara Mannes

Clara Mannes (1869-1948) was a German-American pianist and music educator. Clara grew up in Breslau, Germany, and was born into the famous Damrosch musical family; her father Leopold Damrosch was known as a respected violinist, composer, and conductor, and her mother, Helen Von Heimburg, an acclaimed opera singer. The Damrosch family immigrated to the United States in 1871.

Clara began studying piano at the age of six and also occasionally sang with the New York Oratorio Society, which was founded by her father in 1873. There, she met her husband David Mannes, who was concertmaster of the New York Symphony Orchestra. They married in June 1898. She also began to teach her own private students and at the Veltin School for Girls, which prepared students for education at the women’s colleges Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, and Barnard, among others.

Beginning in 1901, Clara and David performed as the Mannes violin and piano duo at various public venues all over the United States and the United Kingdom until the mid 1920s. They would perform both classical and contemporary sonatas together, often introducing new repertoire to audiences. Clara also occasionally accompanied famous musicians, such as the famed cellist Pablo Casals and the Kneisel String Quartet. In addition to performing, Clara taught at the Third Street Music Settlement on the Lower East Side and was on the board of directors at the Colored Music Settlement in Harlem.

In 1916, Clara and David Mannes founded the Mannes School of Music on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The school was initially comprised of a predominantly female faculty–23 women and 13 men, as listed in the 1918-19 course catalog. Clara was the head administrator for the school, taught advanced chamber music, and supervised the ensemble department. She served as the school’s administrator until her death in 1948.