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, BartĂłk’s Viola Concerto, and Schumann’s MĂ€rchenbilder.

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.

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 PellĂ©as 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)

What with all the recent drama, both political and COVID-related, we’ve barely had time to keep up with concurrent musical activity, so let’s strap on our snazzy Rebecca Clarke masks from Arty Margit, and see what’s going on.

Now through November 29: BBC Radio 3’s broadcast from Northern Ireland Opera Festival of Voice 2020 turned out to be a total wow, with one of the best performances of The Seal Man ever, by baritone James Newby and pianist Simon Lepper. The Seal Man starts at the 3:20 mark, but you owe it to yourself to listen to the entire opening group, to texts by John Masefield—if you don’t listen to the entire program, which you should, so there.

Now through November 29: The Gould Piano Trio’s performance of Clarke’s Trio at Wigmore Hall also turned out to be an absolute high-point. This is one of those pieces that needs to be seen as well as heard, and the Hall’s visual production is on the same high level as the Goulds’ playing. Details of the webcast, and of the Goulds’ just-released audio-recording—both of which are highly recommended—are on our Shop page.

November 15: Baltimore’s venerable Chamber Music by Candlelight series presents Clarke’s spectacular “duo concertante” Dumka, performed by Kevin Smith, violin, and Colin Sorgi, viola, both of the Baltimore Symphony, with Daniel Pesca, piano, as part of a demanding program that also includes Gabriela Lena Frank’s Tres Homenajes: Compadrazgo, for piano quintet, and Smetana’s string quartet “From My Life”. The current edition of Grove’s Dictionary suggests that Dumka was something of a parlor-piece, when, in fact, it ought to come with a strong warning: “PROFESSIONAL PLAYERS ON CLOSED COURSE. DO NOT ATTEMPT AT HOME.” The burn starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (check here for your local equivalent), and continues through December 15.

November 15: The Endler Concert Series at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University presents Lynn Rudolph and JosĂ© Dias in a nifty program that features Clarke’s Viola Sonata, and works by Bach, Nadia Boulanger, and Hendrik Hofmeyr (details here). The video debuts at 4:00 p.m. South African Standard Time (check here for your local equivalent) and remains available until November 22.

December 8: Clarke’s Sonata also headlines a concert in Wigmore Hall’s terrific new Live Stream Series, 95 years after the composer herself presented it there, but this time with Natalie Clein and CĂ©dric Pescia performing Clarke’s version for cello, a carefully-considered freestanding work—not just a transcription—that amply bears out one of Clarke’s most perceptive contemporaneous critics, who assigned the Sonata “a foremost place among the best written for ‘cello and piano.” The program debuts at 7:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalent) and remains available through January 7, 2021. Sign-in required, donation requested, and well worth it.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stream Clarke.

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 JosĂ© 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.

Never a dull moment, indeed! All kinds of online goodies over the next few weeks, including:

September 15: Chicago’s International Music Festival presents a smashing pair—Clarke’s Trio and Dinuk Wijeratne’s Love Triangle—performed by Janet Sung, Calum Cook, and Kuang-Hao Huang, at 5:45 p.m. Central Daylight Time (check here for your local equivalent). “Smashing,” quite literally—it’s hard to guess which of these pieces has the hardest knuckles, and one of them turned 99 years old six weeks ago.

On demand through October 6: The Archipelago Collective’s entire 2020 season, including a beautiful performance of Clarke’s Lullaby and Grotesque, can be had here for a mere $50, and educators may request free access here.

On demand through October 8: BBC’s Through the Night is rebroadcasting a riveting 2008 mini-recital of Clarke’s songs by Elizabeth Watts and Paul Turner (beginning at the 3:34:26 mark), and you need to catch it before it disappears back into the vault for another dozen years. Forget the academic canard that there was something small or in-turned about Clarke’s predilection for songs: Watts and Turner find real tragedy in Down by the Salley Gardens and A Dream, a flash of Isolde-like passion in Greeting, and very nearly the last ounce of horror in Eight O’clock. As my Alabama grandmother would have put it, this is sangin’!

October 12–November 1: Oxford Lieder offers exactly the sort of mixed grill Clarke and her buddies enjoyed serving up—in this case, voice (mezzo Caitlin Hulcup), violin (Jonathan Stone), and piano (artistic director Sholto Kynoch) in various combinations and permutations. There’s only one piece by Clarke—”The Tailor and His Mouse,” from Old English Songs, for voice and violin—but context is everything, and the program as a whole is wildly imaginative. Broadcast live from Holywell Music Room on October 12, at 17:30 British Summer Time (check here for your local equivalent), and then available on demand, with the same ticket, through November 1. ÂŁ10 / ÂŁ5 under 35.

October 27–28: And talk about wildly imaginative programming! Cultural Wasteland presents Danse macabre: Musical Tales of Horror from Rebecca Clarke, Berlioz and Saint-SaĂ«ns, with mezzo Heather Gallagher and pianist Yukiko Oba. The ample bill of fare includes five Clarke songs: The Seal Man; A Dream; Tiger, Tiger; The Donkey; and the rarely-heard Binnorie: A Ballad, an epic tale of love, jealousy, murder, and revenge, with enough creepy effects slithering out of the piano to give you a fabulous case of the wim-wams, just in time for Halloween. All that, plus an opportunity to hear Saint-SaĂ«ns’s Danse macabre and Berlioz’s Le Spectre de la rose in their original forms, for voice and piano. $20 on Sparrow Live, airing Tuesday, October 27, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, and then available for the next 24 hours (check here for your local equivalents, and please note that this is the correct date and time). We’ve already got our tickets. See you there. Bring popcorn.

Save the dates! On October 29, Clarke’s Trio headlines a concert in Wigmore Hall’s terrific new Live Stream series, 95 years (nearly to the day) after Clarke herself presented it there, with the Gould Trio stepping in for the original cast of characters: Adila Fachiri, May Mukle, and Myra Hess. The Sonata follows on December 8, with Natalie Clein performing Clarke’s alternate version for cello. Details to follow.

Leah Broad, of Christ Church, Oxford, is giving a talk about “expressions of sexual desire in Rebecca Clarke’s fabulous song The Seal Man” at this year’s conference of the Royal Musical Association, which is being held entirely online, and will be open to the general public at no charge. We cannot recommend this event more highly.

Dr. Broad stands at the forefront of a new generation of scholars who are looking at Clarke with fresh eyes and, more to the point, with scrupulous regard for the documents in the case. For The Seal Man, those documents comprise Clarke’s diaries, expository writings, and visual archive, and the complete underlying text by John Masefield, including the parts that Clarke dealt with only by implication. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Dr. Broad’s presentation is her focus on Clarke’s theatrical bent, and the physicality—here, the extreme physicality—of Clarke’s vocal expression. (We’ve seen a draft of the paper, and, trust us, there is no holding back.)

The talk leads off Session 2c, scheduled for Tuesday, September 8, 2020, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. British Summer Time (check here for your local equivalent). The program booklet is here, and the registration form is here. Anyone may register, but you must do so in advance.

If you want to refresh your memory of one of Clarke’s great signature pieces, this is a good place to start. Masefield’s original story is here.

JULY 19th—SAVE THE DATE!

Because of COVID-19, Berkshire Choral International, the venerable summer institute based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is unable to offer amateur singers its usual feast of professional-level choral immersion experiences this summer, but that won’t stop the annual faculty-and-staff recital from going on as scheduled, on Sunday, July 19, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (US), with party to follow. Both events will be virtual—the recital via BCI’s YouTube channel, the party via Zoom—and you’re invited.

We’re passing the word for three reasons: first, because we wholeheartedly endorse BCI’s mission, to “enhance the skills of amateur choral singers and to promote a wider appreciation of choral singing and its tradition”; second, because we have worked with several of BCI’s world-class conductors and can vouch for the pleasure and educational value of their company; and finally, because the recital features Laura Strickling’s riveting, tightly focused account of Rebecca Clarke’s The Seal Man.

You may already have watched this performance on our Video page, but it’ll be good to see it in the context of a fascinating program that also features works by Handel, Schumann, Debussy, Respighi, Poulenc, Copland, and Schoenberg. Plus, our Video page lacks an after-party, so it’s all gain.

Direct links to follow. In the meantime, the best course is to sign up for BCI’s YouTube channel, and catch the trailer for the recital here. A complete list of performers and works can be found here.