Roll over, Binnorie—it’s turning into a banner year for Midsummer Moon, which gains depth and stature with every hearing.

First, we had a mesmerizing performance by Sofia Yatsyuk and Suren Barry, still available in Pontiac Enchanté’s Virtual Concert Hall. Then came a new CD by the young German phenom Lucie Bartholomäi and her performance-partner Verena Louis. And now there’s a run of performances by David Perry and John Goodwin, at Wisconsin’s estimable Midsummer’s Music festival. All three will amply reward your attention.

We’ve talked about Yatsyuk and Berry’s performance before, and we still agree with ourselves: this is a fine performance, passionately committed, in the midst of an uncommonly interesting program that also features works by Bloch, Tailleferre, Fauré, and Smyth.

The Bartholomäi/Louis CD (here, here, and here) is remarkable for several reasons: the impressive command on display, from a very young performer; the quiet excellence of the program, which features compelling pieces by Farrenc, Beach, and Clara Schumann, in addition to Clarke’s Chinese Puzzle and Lullaby; and the extraordinarily high quality of the recording, which makes the piano an equal partner in the proceedings, thus reminding us how superb Clarke’s keyboard-writing is. Louis‘s work is worth the price of the disc, all by itself.

Perry and Goodwin are giving three performances: tomorrow, June 23, 2021, and Tuesday, June 29, both in Fish Creek; and July 1 in Egg Harbor—live and in person only, but if you’re anywhere near the Door Peninsula, this is the place to be. Details of the series here; tickets here. This, too, is a fascinating program, flanking Midsummer Moon with quintets by Clarke’s contemporaries Adela Maddison and Ernst von Dohnányi. As far as we know, Clarke and Maddison never crossed paths, but Clarke was famous far and wide for her playing of Dohnányi’s chamber music. His Quintet in C minor (which figures on the Midsummer’s Music program) was one of the hits of her first season in Hawaii in 1918-19 (see below), so much so that they had to repeat it the following year, with different personnel; and a rip-roaring performance of his Serenade, Op. 10, was the high-point—”a brilliantly written work, brilliantly played,” according to press-reports—of what turned out to be her final performance with the English Ensemble before she was trapped in the U.S. by the outbreak of war in 1939.

Philharmonic Society of Honolulu Quintet Concerts, announcement of repertoire
(middle column, just below photo of Clarke), Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 24, 1918.
This was the first chamber-music series ever given in The Islands, and only the second in the United States.

The Online Concert Hall of Pontiac Enchanté, the terrific chamber-music series in Luskville, Québec, that holds forth in a half-converted horse-barn—gorgeous music-room made out of the original hay-loft upstairs, horses still making their own kind of music downstairs—has graced us with back-to-back performances of Clarke’s Binnorie: A Ballad and Midsummer Moon, and you can’t get much farther apart than that: the former is a bone-chilling tale of envy, murder, and revenge, while the latter boasts one of the best nightingales in the business.

We’ve raved about Binnorie in these pages once before, but last Sunday’s performance by Meghan Lindsay and Carson Becke, adds a whole new level of terror, as well as unexpected flashes of tenderness and sad irony. The text, as Clarke set it, is here. To repeat out original warning, the piece is more than two Liebestods long, and at least five times as intense, so you will need to allow a minimum of sixteen minutes without interruption: close the door, shush your companions, turn off your devices, and allow ample time to recover from Lindsay’s overwhelming delivery of the final curse—like the composer, she does not hold back. Here it is. Remember: you have been warned.

Earlier today, Sofia Yatsyuk and Suren Barry did a lovely job with Midsummer Moon, at the 20:43 mark of a rich and deeply rewarding program that also features works by Bloch, Tailleferre, Fauré, and Smyth. Clarke and Bloch were good friends, and she always freely admitted how much she admired his music, and occasionally allowed as how she’d cribbed from him a time or two. What’s interesting here, though, is the contrast between them, highlighting Clarke’s tightness of focus, lightness of touch, economy of means, and absolute command of the listener’s attention.

Donation requested, and absolutely appropriate.

Two of Clarke’s earliest compositions just received what we believe to be their first public performances, over Clarke’s strenuous objections. Let me explain.

Clarke wrote twenty-or-so vocal pieces, mostly to German texts, while she was still just an adventurous teenager with a few terms of harmony under her belt, but no instruction or guidance in composition. She held onto those pieces for the rest of her life, all the while claiming that they were “sentimental and amateurish,” and not worth paying attention to. For years, she even pretended that they were lost. When they came into my hands, along with Clarke’s rights and the rest of her manuscripts, I found myself strongly inclined to follow her lead, on the theory that she was the best judge of her own music. I let people see them, of course, but so far as I know, nothing ever came of the various research-papers, degree recitals, or recording-projects that were floated over the years…

…until recently, when pianist Brock Tjosvold and mezzo-soprano Kyrsten Chambers Jones took a look at the German-texted songs and decided to prepare Wandrers Nachtlied and Aufblick as part of their entry in this year’s Jessie Kneisel Lieder Competition, sponsored by the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. It worked out well for everyone: Tjosvold and Jones took first and second, respectively, and the Clarke songs were featured at the Winner’s Concert, on May 22, 2021.

We can’t absolutely guarantee that these are world premieres, but it seems pretty likely—and you couldn’t ask for better advocates:

It’s hard to establish dates for most of Clarke’s amateur and student compositions, but Wandrers Nachtlied (1903?) appears to be the earliest of the lot. It’s remarkably impressive and effective, but Aufblick (1904) is the real deal—not just musically, but as an exact and complete fulfillment of Richard Dehmel’s subtly complex, ambiguous poem (in each video, click “Watch on YouTube” and then “See More” for texts and translations). Clarke, Webern, Szymanovski, and Bax all made settings of Aufblick within a few years of one another, but Clarke was the only one of the bunch who had the acuity to make a distinctly new sound before crying “Hark!”, and the only one to realize (or to care?) that Glockenchöre (plural) require more than one bell sounding at a time (lookin’ at you, Webern), and that Glockenchöre emanating from a distant cathedral should neither set off hysterics in the observer (Szymanovski), nor suggest that Isolde, in extremis, had somehow got hold of a large tam-tam (Bax). Unlike Bax and Szymanovski, Clarke did not commit the naive vulgarity of illustrating the gushing stream and twinkling stars that are explicitly and importantly not present on the occasion. Pretty good for an uninstructed eighteen-year-old.

Tjosvold and Jones’s performances are terrific, even with the unavoidable masks, and that’s doubly satisfying because all this represents a homecoming of sorts. Clarke’s family was deeply involved with Eastman, in every sense of the word. Her father was Kodak’s principal man-about-Europe, in addition to being George Eastman’s bike-buddy and preferred personal advisor on art and music—so highly favored that Eastman relied on him pick out the scores that formed the basis for what became the Sibley Music Library. Clarke’s brother Hans, a biochemist, worked for Kodak for some years, and was responsible for many important company patents. Her brother Eric managed the Eastman Theatre before moving on to the Metropolitan Opera. And at the conclusion of Clarke’s round-the-world tour in 1923, she gave a command performance of her still-sensational Viola Sonata in George Eastman’s living-room (either door to the right of the staircase), where she was delighted to see her old pal Eugene Goossens, who had “done wonders” with the brand-new Rochester Symphony Orchestra, and many of that orchestra’s musicians, who “were simply sweet.”

See what you think about those songs. Maybe Clarke was too hard on herself, after all.

Rudolph Dührkoop, Frau Richard Dehmel, Hamburg, 1906, https://sammlungonline.mkg-hamburg.de/en/object/Frau-Richard-Dehmel/AB1988.338/mkg-e00132388