Home Classical Music A information to Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata and its finest recordings

A information to Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata and its finest recordings

A information to Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata and its finest recordings


‘I take this chance to emphasize that I do certainly exist… and that my Viola Sonata is my very own unaided work!’ So wrote Rebecca Clarke in a programme observe for a recital in 1977 that included her Viola Sonata.

By this level, practically 60 years after Clarke had written the piece in query, she selected to undertake a flippantly humorous tone, poking enjoyable at those that might have thought she wasn’t an actual composer, even that her sonata was one way or the other fraudulent.

But it should have grated, to say the least, that anybody ever doubted her Viola Sonata was Clarke’s creation. It was, in spite of everything, her deep affinity with the instrument that led her to write down one of the vital vital works within the viola repertoire.

We named it one of many finest items of viola music of all time

When did Rebecca Clarke begin taking part in the viola?

Clarke started her musical life as a violinist, taking it up as a baby. As a scholar on the Royal Faculty of Music, she switched to the viola, a commonplace path to observe.

Her instructor, the famend Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, urged her to make the swap – and never solely as a result of good viola gamers have been scarce and in demand. She was one among his most promising composition pupils – the one lady he’d ever accepted as a scholar, Clarke proudly famous – and Stanford felt that taking part in the viola within the school orchestra would place her ‘proper in the course of the sound and [you] can inform how it’s all executed’. His recommendation proved shrewd. Clarke grew to become a first-rate performer – one of many few ladies within the early twentieth century to help herself as an impartial viola participant – and the instrument suited her.

And he or she thought deeply about what made the viola distinctive, exploring how viola-playing composers from Mozart to Vaughan Williams had written for it. Brahms, she wrote, ‘appears to have had a selected affinity for its intensely private tone – sombre but glowing, reserved but eloquent’, and Dohnányi wrote viola music that was ‘unblushingly and delightfully romantic, giving to the viola simply the nice and cozy, emotional melodies it likes to play’.

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When did Rebecca Clarke compose her viola sonata?

Within the winter of 1918-19, whereas giving a collection of chamber concert events in Honolulu, the Anglo-American composer started work on her personal Viola Sonata, which itself can be stuffed with feeling and intensely private.

Stanford might need had hopes for her orchestral writing, however it was chamber music that Clarke beloved above all else. Studying of a composition competitors on the Berkshire Music Competition arrange by the American patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and providing a prize of $1,000, Clarke set about ending her Sonata, finalising it in the summertime of 1919 in Detroit. She posted it off and awaited the outcomes.

From 73 nameless entries, Clarke made it into the ultimate two. And it’s no shock her piece impressed the judges.

The music and magnificence of Clarke’s viola sonata

A passionate three-movement sonata, the work roves throughout the viola’s entire vary, benefiting from its intense sound within the higher reaches and the huskier tones on its lowest string.

Clarke’s voice is distinctive, rooted within the Austro-German custom but additionally steeped in a love of the English pastoralists like Vaughan Williams and French impressionists corresponding to Debussy and Ravel. Whereas in Hawaii, Clarke heard gamelan and a Chinese language orchestra, whose sounds additionally echo within the Sonata.

Her harmonic mix attracts on tonal, modal and octatonic scales; her melodic writing strikes between impassioned outbursts and rhapsodic reverie. It’s a bit energetic and poetic feeling, and the rating is prefaced with a quote from the French poet Alfred de Musset’s La Nuit de Mai: ‘Poète, prends ton luth; le vin de la jeunesse fermente cette nuit dan les veines de Dieu’ (Poet, take your lute; the wine of youth ferments this night in God’s veins).

How did it do within the competitors?

Clarke was up in opposition to stiff competitors – and the jury couldn’t determine which of the 2 finalists ought to win. Coolidge had the casting vote. She gave it to the opposite piece, which turned out to be Bloch’s Suite for Viola. As the ultimate choice had been so shut, the judges determined to open the second envelope and identify the runner-up.

‘And you must have seen their faces after they noticed it was by a girl,’ Coolidge later instructed Clarke. The composer wasn’t put out to have come second – she graciously mentioned it had been an honour to tie with Bloch, who was one among her nice inspirations – however it was laborious to listen to the hearsay that ‘I hadn’t written the stuff myself, that any person had executed it for me’.

Nonetheless, such sexist attitudes didn’t cease Clarke. The Sonata’s premiere at Coolidge’s competition had given her ‘the best impetus to additional work that something presumably might’. She entered the competition once more in 1921, this time along with her Piano Trio – and once more got here second. Coolidge and Clarke grew to become agency pals: her 1923 Cello Rhapsody was commissioned because of this.

But her fame suffered a dip. In 1980, the yr after her demise, Clarke was granted a mere line within the New Grove Dictionary of Music, describing her as ‘English viola participant and composer’ with a cross-reference to her husband, James Friskin. Nonetheless, together with the Piano Trio, the Viola Sonata has been on the forefront of the latest renaissance in Clarke’s music. Lower than ten years in the past, in 2015, there have been solely round 15 recordings to select from; now there are over 35.

The most effective recordings of Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata

Tabea Zimmermann (viola)

Kirill Gerstein (piano)

Myrios MYR 004

For a efficiency that encompasses the entire gamut of feelings and moods present in Clarke’s Viola Sonata, Tabea Zimmermann and Kirill Gerstein are the duo to beat. In lots of different recordings, the musicians pigeonhole the music, taking it too far right into a Brahmsian path, say, or treating it as a Vaughan Williams imitation.

And but the Sonata speaks clearly in Clarke’s personal voice, one which’s stuffed with distinction and complexity. Common chamber-music companions, Zimmermann and Gerstein reveal these layers in a efficiency that wraps considerate element right into a spontaneous outpouring of music.

One of many trickier features to reconcile is the stability of the impassioned, rhapsodic, rhetorical seam of writing with the hushed, impressionist, improvisatory moods, particularly within the outer actions. Zimmermann and Gerstein obtain this mix proper from the opening declamatory flourish that morphs right into a free-wheeling viola line. Zimmermann soars within the lyrical traces of the Impetuoso, whereas Gerstein finds a fantastic number of contact and color on the keyboard – and the pair by no means lose sight of the musical structure both.

Though it’s the shortest of the three actions, the central Vivace usually flummoxes performers, and there are a number of in any other case spectacular recordings which might be scuppered by sluggish tempos or the performers touchdown too closely when the music ought to dance flippantly. The Zimmermann-Gerstein duo captures the music’s Puckish spirit, springing and scurrying round their devices, coordination as tight as aerial performers. The rippling central part is an opportunity to indicate off color and ambiance, fantastically executed right here, whereas the spring cross rhythms hold their momentum the place different gamers get slowed down.

The Adagio-Allegro begins with a solo piano line within the left hand, marked ‘semplice’. Enigmatic in character, it could possibly simply fall flat in efficiency, however, in muted tones, Gerstein provides it form and that means. And the place it could possibly really feel like an oddity in some performances, Zimmermann and Gerstein handle to make it really feel related to a later pianissimo part within the piece.

Marked ‘lontano’, the piano speaks as if from a special land, whereas the rustling viola tremolos construct in depth. The New York Instances wrote that Clarke was ‘moved by a powerful feeling for magnificence’ after the work’s the primary efficiency, phrases which additionally appear apt for this 2010 recording



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