Feminine Musique

Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca Clarke was an English classical composer and violist best known for her chamber music featuring the viola. She is considered by one commentator to be one of the most important British composers in the interwar period between World War I and World War II; she has also been described as the most distinguished British female composer of her generation. Though she wrote little, due in part to her ideas about the role of a female composer her work was recognized for its compositional skill. Most of Clarke's works have yet to be published (or have only recently been published), and her work was largely forgotten after she stopped composing. Scholarship and interest in her work revived when she reached her ninetieth birthday in 1976. The paths of her life and career were strongly affected by her gender. Beginning her studies at the Royal Academy of Music, she was pulled out by her father after being proposed to by teacher Percy Hilder Miles (who left her his Stradivarius violin in his will). She then attended the Royal College of Music, becoming one of Sir Charles Stanford's first female composition students. Later, when selected to play in the Queen's Hall Orchestra, Clarke became one of the first female professional orchestral musicians. Clarke supported herself through her viola playing after leaving the Royal College, and moved to the United States in 1916 to perform. Her compositional career peaked in a brief period, beginning with the viola sonata she entered in a 1919 competition. The years from 1939 to 1942 were to prove her last significant creative period. Clarke performed and wrote little after 1942. She married Juilliard piano instructor James Friskin in 1944. Clarke took the responsibilities of family life to be more important than composition; she stopped writing, though she continued working on arrangements until shortly before her death. She also stopped performing after her marriage. Her last composition, one of three to follow her wedding, was probably a song entitled 'God Made a Tree', composed in 1954 (published 2002).

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