Have we got it wrong about Rebecca Clarke?

Have we got it wrong about Rebecca Clarke?


norman lebrecht

January 05, 2019

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

There are so many misnomers about Ms Clarke that it’s worth taking a sentence or two to put them straight. Clarke (1886-1979) is widely regarded as one of the first English women composers. But…

Read on here.



And here.


  • Adam Stern says:

    I believe the photo is of Germaine Tailleferre, Clarke’s near-contemporary and another composer well worth getting to know.

  • Pierre Fontenelle says:

    I’m not sure I understand why you didn’t enjoy the album (and more specifically the Viola Sonata) –

    was it Natalie Clein’s interpretation, the fact that it was a cellist who played this viola Sonata (Clarke made the arrangement herself if I remember right), or was it the work itself that you didn’t enjoy?

    In any case, I’d be happy to know more of your thoughts on the album.

  • Adam Stern says:

    Thanks for updating the photo — I’m sure Mses. Clarke and Tailleferre would appreciate it!

    As long as I have the gavel, I might as well proselytize for a favorite:


  • msc says:

    I hope it is the particular performance Lebrecht does not like. The viola/cello sonata is a work of substance — involving and rewarding. I am familiar with some of her other chamber music and it mostly is of a high quality. At her best she stands comparison with her contemporaries outside of the clear geniuses.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    “Misnomers”? Not “mistakes”?

  • Harrumph says:

    Misnomers? Are you sure that’s the word you mean?

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Interestingly she is often claimed as an American composer. By we Americans that is.

    Violists have featured the Clarke Sonata for some years now as very much a centerpiece of their repertoire. I was not aware of a version for cello and piano, but I see on the website of the Rebecca Clarke Society that the piece is listed as for viola (or cello) and piano. I was aware it has been orchestrated into a viola concerto, which I have not yet heard. That too is mentioned on the Clarke Society website.

    Patricia McCarty, an excellent violist, recorded it years ago with Virginia Eskin at the piano. Back when I was a record reviewer, the version I liked and reviewed was that by Hartmut Lindemann and Ben Martin on the Tacet CD label.

  • Janis Scott Joplin says:

    terrible writing by lebrecht. can’t even make sense in english, like he has the authority to write what is true and authentic about “English” music. So much negativity in this post for no reason, almost shaming the cellist for even recording. No wonder classical and even good live music is disappearing and ruined… when people act like this.

  • Christopher Johnson says:

    If we’re going to “put things straight” about Rebecca Clarke, who was my wife’s great-aunt, let’s make sure we’ve got hold of actual facts. Clarke’s father was American and and her mother was German, but she and her three siblings were born in Harrow and had dual British-American citizenship from birth. She divided her time between England and America from her youth, but her training was top-of-the-line English (RAM with Wessely, RCM with Stanford), the bulk her concert-career took place in the UK (one of the first women in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under Wood, Aeolian Hall, Wigmore Hall, BBC) and in Europe, and she made two round-the-world concert-tours. While she settled in New York after her marriage in 1944, she always thought of herself as culturally English, and spoke accordingly. She was back and forth across the Atlantic at least once a year until 1939, when war broke out in Europe. She was frantic to get back to London, but was refused reentry for the duration — musicians, the British consul told her, were “unproductive mouths.” She and her husband (the pianist James Friskin, himself a transplanted Scot) became passionate members of the British War Relief Society, just as Clarke and her lifelong best-friend May Mukle, the great British cellist, had barnstormed the States during World War I, concertizing to raise funds for British war-related charities. When she “played in a trio,” or any other ensemble, it was with the likes of Tertis, Casals, Monteux, and Szell. When she hosted old pals from abroad in her Manhattan apartment, they were the likes of Myra Hess and Vaughan Williams (“Uncle Ralph” to her). Say what you will about Clarke’s compositions, but don’t pretend she was some kind of jumped-up wuss who spent the bulk of her 94 years playing “Country Gardens” in a tea-shop trio for inattentive Yanks.

  • Jean says:

    I think Rebecca Clarke is pretty much as close as an English composer can get to Maurice Ravel. I wont comment on Clein’s performance, but the Piano Trio, and Viola Sonata, are in my opinion very neglected pieces. If somebody enjoy’s Ravel’s early Violin Sonata, Piano Trio and Introduction & Allegro, I am sure will also enjoy these pieces.