We swore we wouldn’t clog your in-box with every single performance of Clarke’s Sonata that comes down the pike, but here’s one that promises to be exceptionally—well, exceptional: the collaboration of Rachel Roberts and Tim Horton, in an one-night-only event at London’s Conway Hall, livestreamed on Sunday, January 24, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalent). The Clarke Sonata forms the climax of a powerful program that also features Schumann’s Märchenbilder, the extraordinary Capriccio pour alto seul (“Hommage à Paganini”) of Henri Vieuxtemps, and Brahms’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 120, No. 1.

Roberts and Horton have made noteworthy recordings of much of this repertoire, albeit not with one another. In fact, it’s their separate accounts of the Brahms—Roberts’s here, with Lars Vogt, and Horton’s here, in a remarkable live performance with Robin Ireland—that made us eager to see what the two of them, together, might make of the Clarke, especially in that grave, still passage that so mesmerized the piece’s earliest critics: “It is in the third movement,” wrote one, “that the composer has shown her greatest genius, for here the music is mystical and macaber [sic], in places as poignant, as moving as anything heard in the death chamber of Melisande. The beauty of the opening theme of this movement first announced by the piano alone will not soon be forgotten” (New-York Tribune, January 27, 1920). Having heard Roberts and Horton plumb the depths of Brahms’s Andante un poco Adagio, we can’t wait.

Conway Hall itself is of great interest: founded in 1887, when secular “entertainments” on the Sabbath were still controversial, the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts series is the oldest thing of its kind in Europe. As far as we know, Clarke never played there, but she would have approved wholeheartedly of the fact that the architect’s brief for the present structure on Red Lion Square, opened in 1929, required an acoustic perfectly calibrated to a string quartet.

Book your reservations here. £10.00 donation requested for those twenty-six and older, and almost certainly a bargain—and probably a blessing—at any age.


We take our holidays seriously here at rebeccaclarkecomposer.com, so our popular new feature “A Rebecca Clarke Christmas” gets folded up and put back in the closet at midnight tonight, when the traditional Twelve Days come to an end. It’ll be back in December, with fresh tinsel and some snazzy new ornaments.

In the meantime, here’s a last-minute entry in the revels—an arrangement for flute and piano of Clarke’s great Sonata of 1919, posted to YouTube just yesterday:

Christian Paquette, flute, and Hui-Chuan Chen, piano,
Leith Symington Griswold Hall, Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University,
Baltimore, Maryland, 6 December 2019

Now, we don’t normally hold with arrangements or transcriptions of Clarke’s works that Clarke herself didn’t make or authorize, but this one is pretty darned terrific—exciting and musical in its own right, while honoring the sound-world of the original. It’s also remarkable, and really quite valuable, for bringing out all the French elements in Clarke’s vocabulary, always present but especially eloquent in this piece. People often try to shoehorn Clarke into the “English Musical Renaissance,” where her instrumental works mostly don’t fit. In this arrangement, by contrast, her conscious debt to Debussy is readily apparent, as is her identification with the French-led cosmopolitan modernism of the early twentieth century. The scherzo suddenly seems to prefigure Poulenc, who at the time was a twenty-year-old amateur with only six short pieces to his name.

Fabulous performance, too. Violists, look to your laurels!

In 2019, Classic 𝒇M, the British independent radio station, put Clarke’s Sonata first among “the 7 best pieces EVER written for the viola,” leading a pack comprised of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, Walton’s Viola Concerto, Strauss’s Don Quixote, Bartók’s Viola Concerto, and Schumann’s Märchenbilder.

A few days ago, they ranked Clarke’s Trio as one of “the 16 best pieces EVER written for piano,” right up there with the Goldberg Variations and Rhapsody in Blue. Now, you may feel that this is stretching things just a tad far, but the writer insists, “No questions asked!”—and who are we to disagree, especially in the face of two remarkable videos of the Trio that just popped up on YouTube?

The first is a scorcher from the Berlin-based ATOS Trio, wilder and rougher than their near-definitive 2020 performance, which has graced our Video page since the day it was published. The second is an astonishingly mature account by students at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music—more deliberate than the ATOS, perhaps, but no less focused and passionate—which impressed us so much that we’ve added it to our Video page, too. Clarke’s earliest critics were bowled over by her piano-parts—especially coming from a youngish composer who was more familiar to the public as a famous string-player—and these recent performances show how right they were. Hyperbole aside, this is fabulous piano music—powerful, poetic, and brilliantly laid out for the hands.

The same point is inadvertently made in a video of a recent recital in the Oxford Lieder series, in which a faulty pickup seriously distorts the balance between singer and pianist, throwing Clarke’s keyboard-writing into altogether-too-high relief. Now, admittedly, this is seriously unfair to the artists—especially since their performance of The Seal Man, June Twilight, and Tiger, Tiger (beginning at 19:55) was so compelling that the audience in the room could barely contain itself until the final note had sounded—but we’ve been granted permission to offer it to you as a rare opportunity to experience the depth and richness of Clarke’s piano-writing directly, and to get a closeup look at several of her signature keyboard gestures: lavish exploitation of the deep bass, wide separation of the hands, and forceful deployment of the instrument as a clear-cut protagonist in the drama. All of this is most spectacularly on display in Tiger, Tiger, where the piano snarls, slashes, and slithers its way through a hair-raising apotheosis of the minor second. Be warned: the moment when that dread heart begins to beat may clasp you in its “deadly terrors” for the rest of your life.

On a somewhat lighter note, you might want to check out the latest exhibit in our Gallery, entitled “The 1911 Suffrage League ‘At Home.'” Bellona in her chariot! Winston Churchill whipped through the streets! British haute couture!

The Seal Man, fifth measure before the end.

Faber & Faber just announced their acquisition of two books by Leah Broad—the “dazzling young musicologist” at Christ Church, Oxford, whose work you’ve read about in these pages several times before—the first of which is Quartet, a group biography of four “trailblazing” women who “changed British music”: Ethel Smyth, Dorothy Howell, Doreen Carwithen, and (you guessed it) Rebecca Clarke.

Word of the deal broke only day-before-yesterday—you can read The Bookseller’s breathless take on it here—and Quartet won’t be published until sometime in 2023, COVID permitting. Still…

We hasten to bring it to your attention for one very important reason: Quartet will be the first extended publication on Clarke and her music since Daniela Kohnen’s pioneering monograph, first published in 1999 (see our “Learn More” page). Dr. Broad’s book is written for a wider audience, but with equal rigor, and, of course, the range of documentary sources available to scholars—especially contemporaneous journals, trade-magazines, and the all-important concert-advertising—is exponentially larger now than it was twenty years ago. Quartet will set Clarke in the context of the professional world where she actually lived, breathed, worked, and drew her own life’s meaning.

So stick a pin in this, and we’ll keep you posted as things develop. In the meantime, check out Dr. Broad’s article on Ethel Smyth, just published in The Guardian, for a sample of her fair-minded, even-handed, thoroughly lively style, and for evidence that she is refreshingly willing to admit that great icons can be less than they claim to be—or than we might want them to be—and still be fundamentally decent, real people who are interesting and exciting to know.

Rebecca Clarke is Day Four in La Boîte à Pépites de Noël, an absolutely fabulous Advent calendar of absolutely fabulous composers who happen to be female, and she gets—what else?—an absolutely lovely performance of her Combined Carols, for string quartet, a mashup of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Silent Night,” and “Adeste Fideles” that started life as a little family jape called Get ’em all over at once. Almost instantly, Clarke realized what a terrific number it was, and started shopping it around New York, which needed a little cheering up right then, because it was the dead of winter at the height of World War Two. She soon made a version for string orchestra, which became a holiday fixture on New York radio.

So since it’s the dead of whatever season you care to call this at the height of COVID, we thought we ought to rush this lovely thing right out to you, in addition to adding it to our Video page. The performance is by Quatuor Modigliani, and the smashing venue appears to be the Salon de thé at Le Château de Rosa Bonheur, up the river from Paris, and if that doesn’t improve your mood, then there’s no hope for you.

The facts in the introduction aren’t exquisitely correct (see our FAQ for the straight deal on Anthony Trent), but the animation is charming. I don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to see who they come up with after Imo, Violeta, and Mel, so we subscribed for the whole season. You could, too.

Merry Whateveryoucelebrate! And stay safe.

When British mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately steps in at the last minute for a travel-restricted colleague, she brings backup in the form of her Mum and her Dad—and when Mum is the bewitching Dolly from the BBC’s Geordie epic When the Boat Comes In, and Dad is Inspector Lewis, that’s some serious backup. Add the brilliant pianist Simon Lepper, and you’ve got one hell of a show.

The item in question, ‘Careful the tale you tell…’, streams live in HD on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalent), and remains available for replay through New Year’s Day, 2021, as part of Wigmore Hall’s terrific Autumn 2020 Series.

The bill of fare—a rich stew of readings, narratives, stories-in-song, and songs about storytelling—ranges all the way from Tennyson to Atwood, and from Stanford to Sondheim. Along the way, it picks up John Masefield’s The Seal Man, as set by Rebecca Clarke, and since Simon Lepper was half of one of the best performances of that piece we’ve ever heard, and since he and Kitty Whately reportedly operate on a comparably exalted plane, we signed up at once, even without the added glam-factor of Mum and Dad—whose names, in case you haven’t already worked this out, are Madelaine Newton and Kevin Whately.

Login required—it takes all of two minutes to set up, here. Contribution requested, and worth every penny.

In the meantime, here’s Simon, explaining it all for you, in what will surely prove to have been The Golden Age of Collaborative Pianists, ushered in by Gerald Moore, of sainted memory.

We’ve been raving for some time about a superb performance of The Seal Man that’s running on BBC Radio 3 through November 29, and now—thanks to our new friends at BBC Northern Ireland and at Northern Ireland Opera, and by kind permission of the artists—we can bring it to you on a continuing basis. You can find it on an Audio page that we’ve just created for recordings of exceptional interpretive value or historical importance that are not available for purchase.

(Our running chronicle of commercial releases on CD, vinyl, and download platforms continues under the handle Discography—and if anyone has a more technopropriate collective noun, please let us know.)

The Seal Man is a defining work in the Clarke canon, and James Newby, one of Britain’s rising-star baritones, and Simon Lepper, one of the world’s finest collaborative pianists, put it over as if it were this morning’s breaking news, with every syllable bursting with feeling and intent. There’s nothing showy or stagey about it—it’s just a strange, beautiful, riveting tale, perfectly told, and if it doesn’t make the hair rise on the back of your neck, then you have no soul and I pity you.

Simplicity of means, clarity of gesture, and absolute truthfulness of expression are the hallmarks of Clarke’s style, and this gives her works emotional power and lasting impact without need of large forms, multiple movements, or vast amounts of time. She would never have claimed greatness for herself, let alone greatness on a par with Wagner or her idol Debussy, but the fact remains that Tristan takes about five hours to destroy your heart, and Pelléas needs nearly three, but The Seal Man gets the job done in only five minutes.

The piece is popping up everywhere these days—three of the most extraordinary recent performances are on our Video page—but Newby and Lepper seem uniquely attuned to everything we know about Clarke’s own performance-style, and the styles of the singers and pianists she valued most highly. Their work on The Seal Man is exemplary. Enjoy.

Simon Lepper (l) and James Newby (r)

Knowing that Rebecca Clarke would have been jumping out of her skin with anxiety if she’d been alive today, we’ve added something timely and characteristic at the top of our Gallery.

Clarke loathed Mr. Nixon, loved Jimmy Carter, and lived long enough to have dark forebodings about Mr. Reagan, so you can imagine where her sympathies might lie in the current climate. And yet she would have persisted.

“Freedom Primer No. 1: The Convention Challenge and the Freedom Vote,” 1964,
R. Hunter Morey Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society

The Music Faculty of the University of Oxford presents an online research colloquium with Leah Broad and Samantha Ege, two of its finest younger scholars, on November 10, 2020, from 5:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalents).

Attendance is mandatory for anyone seriously interested in Rebecca Clarke.

Ege’s paper on Florence Price is bound to be fascinating, and Broad’s “Reassessing Rebecca Clarke” is potentially revolutionary, taking an evidence-based, real-life, from-the-ground-up look, not only at Clarke herself, but at the conceptual models that have largely determined—and, I would argue, have warped or even corrupted—general understanding of Clarke’s life and works for the past thirty years, from the foundational documents of feminist musicology in the early 1990s, to the liner-notes in last week’s new issues.

If you heard Broad’s paper on The Seal Man at this year’s online RMA conference, you know the quality of her work, and the depth of her insight into Clarke’s character and methods. If you missed it, you’ve got a treat in store on November 10. All that, plus general discussion and a virtual drinks reception with Music Faculty students and members—a delightfully raucous bunch, if my last “debriefing” at The Mitre is any indication.

The event is free and open to the public, but you must sign up in advance, by e-mailing George Haggett, who organizes the Research Colloquia, at george.haggett@magd.ox.ac.uk.

BTOBS. BYOB.

Apart from this month’s out-of-the-blue Binnorie-boomlet, there’s a sudden Comodo e amabile-crush, which only goes to show how easy it is to say, “Oh! That deserves to be published!”—usually at someone else’s expense, by dint of someone else’s labor—and how hard it is, and how long it takes, to get a new piece going in the concert repertoire.

I’ve already descanted on Binnorie (composed around 1942, discovered 1997, published 2002), now available in a mind-boggling performance from the BBC, and coming up in a pre-Halloween program of thrillers from Boston (links to both events here, and a video of the latter being kitchen-tested, quite literally, here), but the string quartet pieces (composed 1924-26, possibly revised around 1976, published 2004) are suddenly popping up everywhere, too, first in Quatuor Sine Qua Non’s fabulous new CD (details here), and now in online concerts from the Santa Fe Symphony (October 25) and the Boise Philharmonic (November 7), both of which feature Comodo e amabile in fascinating company.

Picking up another recent surprise-development in Clarke programming, there’s a lovely pair of of songs—Shy One and The Cloths of Heaven—transcribed for viola and piano in this installment of the International Music Foundation’s Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, in Chicago, beginning at 25:45.

This evening, San Francisco’s Old First Concerts presents Morpheus and Passacaglia on an Old English Tune alongside pieces by Bridge and Bax that Clarke played regularly in concert, while Omaha’s Countryside Community Church offers a new version of Joanna Goldstein’s widely-acclaimed “Nasty Women” program, featuring Morpheus. Both events have made use of the latest, not-yet-published research, so be prepared for surprises.

Beginning October 30, BBC Radio 3 offers a recital from Northern Ireland Opera’s Festival of Voice 2020, recorded in Belfast, featuring Clarke’s The Seal Man as the centerpiece of an imaginative group of John Masefield settings, flanked by Ireland’s Sea Fever and Keel’s Three Salt Water Ballads.

And finally (for now), the Endler Concert Series, at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, presents Lynn Rudolph and José Dias in Clarke’s Viola Sonata, on November 15.

Leave it never be said that we are not geographically well-distributed. Antarctica hasn’t weighed in yet, but that could always change. Stay tuned.