Rebecca Clarke

In 20th Century, Composers, Female composers by Vogler & Lindqvist5 Comments

„And when I had that one little whiff of success that I‘ve had in my life, with the viola Sonata, the rumour went around, I hear, that I hadn‘t written the stuff myself…“

Rebecca Clarke (1886 – 1979) was born in England a child of a Bavarian mother and an American father. She studied violin from an early age, and later switched to the viola to „be in the middle of the sound“ of the orchestra.

In 1907 she was the first female composition student with Sir Stanford (other students of his were Holst and Vaughn Williams) at the Royal College of Music in London.

Her father was violent and used to regularly beat the children with a steel slapper. Later, in an argument, Rebecca built a house of cards using the letters of his mistresses. He then threw her out of the house refusing to pay another penny for her.

So instead of finishing her studies, she began working as a viola player.
Rebecca Clarke was one of the first female members of a professional ensemble (Queen‘s Hall Orchestra). She toured the world as a virtuoso, playing solo and in different ensembles, her own works often appearing under a male pseudonym on the programmes.

At the outbreak of world war II she moved to the US, living with her brothers. In 1942 she started working as a nanny and more or less stopped writing music.
She married in 1944, and although her husband encouraged her to write more, she didn‘t much.

Most of her works are still unpublished.

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  1. Author

    Great, Thomas! The songs I found at the australian library were by Florence Alyward, I see that’s not so clear if you read it fast… Songs by Rebecca are easier to find, but thanks anyway for the tip.

  2. There are several new publications of her songs:

    Song Album
    Voicing/Format Medium High
    Composer Clarke, Rebecca
    Publisher Boosey & Hawkes Inc
    Catalog# M060097898
    Songs With Piano
    Voicing/Format Medium High
    Composer Clarke, Rebecca
    Publisher Oxford University Press Inc
    Catalog# 0193864207
    Three Old English Songs (Voice/Vn)
    Voicing/Format Voice With Instrument
    Composer Clarke, Rebecca
    Publisher Boosey & Hawkes Inc
    Catalog# 48011616

    Thomas Gregg
    Boston, Mass., USA

  3. Author

    Hi Marion,
    I did a search and found two of her songs in the national library of Australia (!).
    It’s very beautiful salon-music and we will put them on our recording-list.
    Thank you so much for the tip!

  4. What a fascinating story. Rebecca was one hell of a plucky woman!

    Regarding female composers of the late 19th century/early 20th…

    The music in my family comes directly from the Alyward family and a Florence Alyward (1862-1950) was a female composer either at the RCM – where I studied! – or the RAM. She was noted for her ballads.

    The entire family was very musical – organists/music teachers/ players – and one ended up in the US as Director of Cincinnati Opera.

    I gather that most of Florence’s manuscripts are held in the library at the RAM but have never had chance to view them.

    Have you come across any of her work? I would be thrilled to hear/read any examples.

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