Photo Credit: Steve the Artist

It is with great joy—and in a state of dazed half-belief—that I announce the following:

All of Rebecca Clarke’s remaining vocal music—the early songs that she wrote as an uninstructed amateur, her first experiments as a fledgling professional, her fabulous duets—will be published by ClarNan Editions, an imprint of Classical Vocal Reprints, in a series of volumes co-edited with Nicholas Phan, the brilliant Grammy-nominated tenor who has done so much for Clarke’s music in the concert-hall.

All of Clarke’s remaining music with strings—including the ensemble-version of Chinese Puzzle that she made for the Aeolian Players, and the violin teaching-pieces she wrote for one of her nieces—will be published by Sleepy Puppy Press, along with a volume for viola comprising Clarke’s arrangements of pieces by other composers, and her cadenza for the “Handel”/Casadesus concerto, co-edited by Caroline Castleton, whose doctoral work at the University of Maryland promises to transform our understanding of Clarke as a performer.

If current projections hold, this means that all of Clarke’s compositions known to exist in a completed state—excluding only sketches, drafts, and exercises—will have been published by the end of 2023. Thus, Clarke will join the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, and Palestrina in having virtually every note she ever wrote put before the public, but with one vital distinction: Clarke’s de-facto Complete Works Edition will exist, not as a monumental set that only large reference collections can afford to acquire, but as a series of practical publications available through normal commercial channels to the widest possible range of musicians, students, and music-lovers.

Once these projects are completed, along with a giant piece of research that I am determined to finish on the same schedule, I will be donating Clarke’s manuscripts and papers, and those of her husband, the great pianist James Friskin, “to the United States of America for the benefit of the American people and inclusion in the Library of Congress“—a phrase in the deed of gift that overwhelms me every time I think of it—where they will form a named collection, The Rebecca Clarke and James Friskin Papers, to which the aforementioned research project will serve as a key.

In 1982, Clarke’s heirs assigned her rights to me with the goal of “promoting such rights as a memorial,” and in the intervening forty-one years much ink has been spilled as to whether or not I have done so. Like Clarke, I am content to let my work speak for itself.

Library of Congress James Madison Building, Washington, D.C.,
exterior view, from corner of Independence Avenue and 2nd Street,
by Carol M. Highsmith, 2007,

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LOT 13908 (ONLINE)

A quick news-flash to mark the release of Clarke’s violin sonatas in digital-download editions, with print editions to follow, as promised in our previous post.

We cannot sufficiently stress the joy that this moment brings, with all of Clarke’s big concert works now published and in general circulation throughout the world. (And—nudge, nudge, wink, wink—there are plans in place for the rest.)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

When we started this whole Rebecca Clarke thing, we promised that we would not clog your in-box unduly, but somehow a silence lasting eighteen months seems excessive. We can only plead pandemic, and more tsouris than—well, as we say here in Brooklyn, you shouldn’t ask.

Still, as we set out the customary Christmas-Eve display of the year’s Clarke publications and recordings across the music-rack of the piano where she composed Dumka (and you’ll forgive the stuffed animals peeking out everywhere, as the latest generation was turning out in force the next morning, Dumka or no Dumka), we were struck with what an extraordinarily productive year 2022 had turned out to be, what with all of Clarke’s piano-music, and half of her vocal duets, being published and recorded in tandem—and if you don’t think vocal duets are a tough market to crack, try it, and then come back and tell us about it.

There were too many things to put face-out all at once. In addition to the larger items, which you can find out about on our Shop page, there were a compelling account of Clarke’s Viola Sonata set amongst some of the other great viola-works of 1919, a mesmerizing take on the related Untitled, outstanding performances of Tiger, Tiger and The Seal Man, and a terrific matchup of Cortège with Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor (trust us, this makes perfect sense, once you’ve heard it).

And if you look at the picture closely enough, you can just make a out a harbinger of what promises to be a blowout 2023: the first proofs of Clarke’s Violin Sonata in D, which Sleepy Puppy Press is bringing out very early in the New Year, along with the substantial opening movement that Clarke wrote towards an intended Violin Sonata in G (see our Shop page to pre-order either or both). These poor pieces—her first full-scale concert pieces, composed at the Royal College of Music in London, around 1909—were first scheduled for publication more than twenty years ago, but have been sidelined again and again, first by a corporate restructuring leading to a comprehensive shift in strategy, then by three serious illnesses, a lengthy hospitalization, a massive blizzard, one actual death, a corporate acquisition of uncertain scope and import, and finally by a contractual ambiguity that could only be resolved by the passage of time—and that’s just the publishers!

Suffice it say that Sleepy Puppy, which did such stellar work anthologizing the borderline-sublime slow-movement of the Sonata in D, is doing a bang-up job with the whole lot. These are wonderful pieces. Their publication will not only add two important works to the teaching- and concert-repertoires, but will mark the availability of all of Clarke’s major concert-works in print.

And a Happy New Year to you, too!

Golda Schultz, one of the most exciting singers before the public today, has added four Rebecca Clarke songs to her repertoire, and she and pianist Jonathan Ware will be barnstorming them all over Europe and the United States this year and next, on a bill with works by Clara Schumann, Emilie Meyer, Nadia Boulanger, and Kathleen Tagg.

The program debuted on June 22, 2021, in the magnificent Max-Littmann-Saal, in Bad Kissingen, Germany—said to be one of the finest concert-halls in the world, and very nearly contemporaneous with Down by the Salley Gardens, the opening song in the Clarke group. The next two items are drawn from William Blake: Clarke’s enormous, dissonant, perfectly terrifying setting of The Tiger, and her tender, deceptively simple, outwardly placid Cradle Song—conceived and composed one after the other, in 1929, as a pair of Blakean foils, but not published as such until 2002 (see our FAQ page for the back-story), and almost never performed as originally intended. The Seal Man rounds out the set—one of Clarke’s masterpieces, and a poetic-theatrical tour de force (see the illustrated feature on our Gallery page).

The Main Post (Würzburg) hailed “an extraordinary evening that will long be remembered,” and reported “applause, bravos, cheers, and encores.” The reviewer seems to have had an idiosyncratic understanding of Blake’s “The Tiger,” but he makes it quite clear that Clarke’s setting brought the audience to fever-pitch.

We can believe it. We missed Schultz’s 2017 debut at the Met, as Pamina, but she absolutely bowled us over when she came back to town the following year, with the Cleveland Orchestra, in Haydn’s The Seasons. We were privileged to review the latter for a now-defunct website, in words that proved to be prophetic, even if a little after-the-fact: “Watch out for Schultz: she has a lovely, clean voice, beautiful technique, and real expressive powers. She started out as a journalism-student, and it shows: in the culminating winter’s evening by the hearth, she told Hannah’s party-joke like it was breaking news, and her punch-line was perfect.” We can’t wait to hear what narrative wonders she works with The Seal Man.

More dates to follow, as they are confirmed, but you can count on January 18, 2022, at the Perelman Theater, Philadelphia; January 21, at the Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (even more contemporaneous with Clarke, and check those murals!); and February 6, at the Kölner Philharmonie.

In the meantime, Schultz’s Clara is reason enough to sign up for Met Opera on Demand—and then there’s this. Rejoice, dear hearts!

Golda Schultz. Photo © Dario Acosta

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,

We’ve been Tweeted! We don’t think we’ve ever been Tweeted before. We’ve certainly never been Tweeted by King’s College, Cambridge, even though we did meet Sir David Willcocks one time.

Check it out here, and be sure to follow the link to our posting on The Seal Man, which is really quite brilliant and stimulating, if we do say so ourselves.

Proud Songsters: English Solo Song, the recording driving all this, is really quite brilliant, too. See the links in our Shop.

SWAP’ra, the British artistic collaborative that seeks to “build a supportive community and to effect positive change for women and parents in opera,” with the ultimate goal of fostering “an environment in which a female CEO, Music Director, Artistic Director, Conductor, Composer or Librettist is no longer noteworthy,” has put on a mind-blowing 17-episode online festival featuring songs by a stunning array of female composers, performed by students at virtually every major music conservatory in the UK, comprising the Royal Welsh College of Music and Art, the National Opera Studio, the Guildhall School, the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music, and the Royal College of Music.

For Clarke aficionados, the big news is Episode 17, from Clarke’s old stomping grounds at the Royal College, featuring four of her earliest compositions as an independent adult composer: her first setting of a Yeats poem, and three songs to old Chinese texts, all dating from around 1910, and all performed from manuscript. Tears, one of the Chinese lyrics, has been recorded before (Guild GMCD 7208), but the other songs are making their first appearances before the general public.

The festival’s overall title is Forgotten Voices, and while we gently demur on Clarke’s behalf—caught up as we are in a massive trawl through her 113 years (and counting) of press-coverage, and having her fan-mail in hand—there’s bound to be a lot here that you will find delightfully new. We’ve got our eye on the Welsh program in Episode 1, and we hear great things about the Hedwige Chrétien cycle in Episode 16, but the whole shebang is available—gloriously free!—through April 5, so we’re determined to enjoy every moment of it, at least twice. Go ye and do likewise.

The most efficient overview of the repertoire is here, complete with composer bios and selected lyrics. The programs themselves are here.

Texts for the Clarke songs, in the sources she almost certainly consulted, are available online: in order of performance, One That Is Ever Kind (“The Folly of Being Comforted”), Return of Spring, Tears, and The Color [Clarke’s spelling] of Life.

If you hear “Foxy Lady” chords in any of this, you are not wrong: Clarke was using jazz inflections before the term itself was documented.