Frequently Asked Questions

DID CLARKE USE A PSEUDONYM?

Just once, in 1918, in a promotional ploy that went comically awry.  Clarke explains:

“I gave a viola recital in New York…and as viola pieces were so scarce I put in two or three of my own. But I thought it would look silly to have my name on the program too often so I invented the name ‘Anthony Trent’ as composer of one of them [Morpheus]….Well, the next day I discovered that the critics were very much interested in Mr Trent, but had almost ignored the pieces by Rebecca Clarke. So a few years later, when my music was beginning to be published, I killed Anthony Trent─officially and with no regrets─and I’ve never been bothered by him since!”

Clarke told this story several times, most notably in a 1945 lecture, a facsimile of which appears in the published edition of Morpheus, along with a puff-piece from Vogue that features Clarke and Trent on the same page. It wasn’t quite true—Clarke’s pieces got good-to-excellent reviews, while Trent’s got the back of the hand, if it got anything at all—but the result was the same: a year later, in the wake of all the publicity over her surprise triumph at the Coolidge competition, Clarke blew the whistle on herself and reclaimed the piece as her own. She never used a pseudonym again.

Trent refused to die, however, and to this day he lurches through the secondary literature like a zombie.  He is often confused with the identifying tag Clarke used when entering the 1919 Coolidge competition, and Clarke is widely alleged to have used him as an alter ego throughout her career.  He is also Exhibit A for an otherwise groundless academic theory that Clarke felt “conflicted about composing,” and was driven by societal pressures to sacrifice her own identity as a cost of promoting her music.

WAS CLARKE “CONFLICTED” ABOUT COMPOSING?

Day after day, year after year, Clarke’s diaries contain some variant of the phrase, “Another good day composing!” In her memoir, she writes of being “flooded with a wonderful feeling of potential power…that made anything seem possible. Every composer, or writer, or painter too for that matter, however obscure, is surely familiar with this sensation. It is a glorious one. I know of almost nothing to equal it.” In another context, she likened this exalted state to the physical act of love. Like everyone else, Clarke had her ups and downs, and her heart was once nearly broken by the collapse of a difficult, protracted love-affair, but the idea that she was fundamentally, characterologically, comprehensively “conflicted,” and the cognate notion that she suffered a lifelong depression, are made up out of whole cloth, and then trimmed with a few random scraps of autobiography to lend them credence.

DID CLARKE SUFFER FROM CHRONIC DEPRESSION?

A diagnosis of “dysthymia” was rendered in 2003 by a musicologist who had not examined the patient, had never met the patient, and indeed had never even heard of the patient until some years after the patient’s death.  Amplified by Wikipedia, this bit of armchair psychiatry has achieved near-universal currency.

There is, however, first-person testimony on this point from Rebecca Clarke herself.  Around 1940, she said, her brothers arranged for her to consult a psychiatrist─a real one─during a period of tension and growing conflict among Clarke, her brothers, and their families.  This was the heyday of classical psychoanalysis, and the doctor chosen was the top of the line, a highly-regarded colleague of Clarke’s brother Hans, himself an eminent biological chemist.  The point of the exercise, from the brothers’ perspective, was to get a scientific, professional assessment of Clarke, and a preliminary diagnosis.

The first half-hour was devoted to personal and family matters, and then the talk turned to Clarke’s work.  The psychiatrist divulged that he was an enthusiastic amateur musician, and he and Clarke spent the rest of the session happily talking shop.  At the very end, Clarke suddenly remembered why she was there, steeled herself for the verdict, and asked in a trembling voice, “Well, doctor, what’s the matter with me?”

The doctor shrugged and gave her a wry smile.  “Oh, you’re fine,” he said, “but I’d say you’ve got two very determined sisters-in-law.” He did not recommend that she return for treatment.

WAS CLARKE “COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN” AND THEN DRAMATICALLY REDISCOVERED AT THE AGE OF EIGHTY-NINE?

In February 1976, New York radio host Robert Sherman learned, to his complete surprise, that Clarke was a composer. This revelation occurred, somewhat awkwardly, while Sherman was interviewing Clarke on another topic.  The moment was dramatic enough, but the notion that it was “the exact moment when Clarke was rediscovered as a composer” is romantic fantasy, pure and simple. As Clarke herself suggested, the remarkable thing is that Sherman didn’t know who she was. 

Between 1943, when G. Schirmer brought out the last of Clarke’s pieces to be published in her lifetime, and 1976, when her supposed “rediscovery” took place, Clarke was the subject of substantial articles in more than a dozen standard reference-works published in six different languages for readers at all levels of interest and expertise; these included Grove’s Dictionary, Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, Riemann’s Musik-Lexikon, Blom’s Everyman’s Dictionary, and Barrett’s The Viola: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students, just to pick a wild assortment at random.  Clarke’s published compositions were either in print or available on special order throughout this period, and her ASCAP performance statements reported concert, radio, television, and “wired” activity.  In 1966, she “graciously granted” an interview to The Strad that was published under the title “Rebecca Clarke: Violist and Composer.”  Feminist bibliographers and researchers began contacting Clarke about her works as early as 1972.  At about the same time, the New York Public Library expressed interest in acquiring her manuscripts. 

If Clarke was “completely forgotten” by 1976, the only question is, “By whom?”

Later that year, Sherman produced a two-hour broadcast to honor Clarke’s ninetieth birthday, with top-flight talent and a substantial musical program. Special arrangements were made for Clarke to coach the performers in advance, in her own living-room.  Clarke was pleased with the result, and delighted with the attention; but it strains credulity to claim, as some have done, that all by itself this one-time-only radio show, broadcast on a weekday morning during the dog-days of August on a station with a range of only 42 miles, “spark[ed] a major Rebecca Clarke revival” and set off an explosion of concerts and recordings that continues to this day.

WHAT IS THE REBECCA CLARKE ESTATE?

There is no such thing.

Clarke’s estate was settled, and her will probated, in January 1982. At that time, Clarke’s heirs assigned her rights, and delivered her musical and literary effects, to Christopher Johnson, a great-nephew by marriage.  Clarke’s rights and virtually all of her manuscripts have remained Johnson’s sole property ever since.  While it has proved difficult to avoid the prevailing shorthand for such arrangements, expressions such as “The Clarke Estate” and its many derivatives are fundamentally misleading, in that they imply some kind of freestanding corporate entity under management.  In any case, invitations to contact anyone other than Christopher Johnson for “information about Clarke’s estate” can only be designed to divert or to mislead.

Rights, permissions, and licensing are administered by ASCAP and its allied performing-right societies throughout the world, by Clarke’s publishers, and by Christopher Johnson. Rights in the published works are controlled by the various publishers.  Clarke’s unpublished works (including her manuscripts, diaries, private correspondence, and other writings) are copyright of Christopher Johnson and are available only under license, through this website. Inquiries and applications are welcome.

HAVE CLARKE’S WORKS BEEN “WITHHELD FROM PUBLICATION BY HER ESTATE”?

There is a single instance of a Clarke work being withheld from publication, and the person who withheld it was Rebecca Clarke herself.  

The date was 16 September 1929.  After failing to persuade Hubert Foss of Oxford University Press to publish the dark, violent, technically challenging Tiger, Tiger alongside the much simpler and easier-to-program Cradle Song, Clarke decided to take the more commercial title away from Oxford and to try to get the pair of them published elsewhere as the Blakean foils she intended.  Either Clarke’s strategy failed, or she changed her mind; in either case, she eventually gave Cradle Song back to Oxford, and it was published later that same year.

Apart from Clarke’s early amateur compositions, which she herself insisted were “sentimental and amateurish” and “of negligible value,” all of Clarke’s works─her musical compositions, her principal writings, works still in manuscript, and works published during Clarke’s lifetime and subsequently taken out of print─have been assiduously promoted to publishers since her estate was settled in 1982, and every expression of interest actually received (as distinct from those merely reported by third parties) has been evaluated on its merits.  Publications achieved by the so-called “estate” more than double Clarke’s record over her entire career, and include forty-one first publications (including Tiger, Tiger), with more on the way.  The arithmetic speaks for itself.