On This Day… October 13

The composer we are looking at today has been called one of the most important inter-war composers between World War One and Two, and the most distinguished female composer of her generation. However, most of her works remain unpublished, or only recently published. Rebecca Clarke, died on this day in 1979.

Born in Harrow, England in 1886 and studied at the Royal College of Music, having started at the Royal Academy of Music (her father pulled her out after being proposed to by her teacher). She became one of Sir Charles Stanford’s first female students, who encouraged her to switch from violin to viola. She studied with Lionel Tertis, and became one of the first female professional orchestral musicians when she was selected for the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

Being kicked out of home by her abusive father, she supported herself through her viola playing, before moving to the United States in 1916 to perform. In 1919, she entered her Viola Sonata into a competition where she tied for first place with Ernest Bloch, who was declared by the patron the eventual winner. In 1921, her Piano Trio just failed to take the prize. In 1923, the patron of the competition sponsored Clarke to write a rhapsody for cello and piano, which would make Clarke the only female to receive patronage from this person. These three works mark the height of her compositional output. After this, her output was sporadic, not composing at all within the 1930’s.

Clarke’s music prominently features the viola, as most of her works were written for her own performance, along with all-female ensembles that she played in such as the Norah Clench Quartet, the English Ensemble, and the d’Aranyi Sisters. While her works were highly influenced by many 20th century compositional trends, the impressionism of Debussy is often associated with her works.

Today, We’ve got Movement 1 and 2 of her Viola Sonata, and the first movement of her piano trio.

Did you like these performances? Have you heard any of Rebecca Clarke’s compositions before? Let me know in the comments, or write a blog post linking back here, and I’ll link to it.

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