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.
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.