Rebecca Clarke

Dates: 1886-1979Rebecca Clarke

Studies: Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music. Composition with Charles Stanford, viola with Lionel Tertis

Career: Clarke forged a highly successful career as a violist, playing with musicians including Pablo Casals, Arthur Rubenstein and Jacques Thibaut.  In 1912 she was one of six female string players to be accepted into Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra, making her one of the earliest female professional orchestral musicians.   In 1925 she performed a recital of her own works at the Wigmore Hall, and she was a member of the English Ensemble, an all-female piano quartet with whom she toured extensively.  Her major breakthrough as a composer came in 1919 when she entered her Viola Sonata into the annual chamber music competition in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Compositions were submitted anonymously, and Clarke’s Sonata was tied in the jury vote with a suite by Ernest Bloch.  The discovery that her sonata had been written by a woman was so shocking that there were numerous press rumours that ‘Rebecca Clarke’ must be a pseudonym for a male composer. There was even some suggestion that it was another name taken by Ernest Bloch.  In her programme note for a recital of the Sonata in 1977, Clarke confirms that she does indeed exist, and that the Sonata is her unaided work.

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