Rebecca Clarke

0317.2a Rebecca Clarke photo 

Rebecca Clarke was an Anglo-American violist and composer who lived from August 27, 1886 to October 13, 1979.

What was the focus of her career?

Rebecca Clarke had a career as a composer and also had an extensive solo, chamber, and orchestral career as a violist.

What were the highlights of her career?

In 1912 Rebecca Clarke became one of the first female professional orchestral musicians when she was selected to play in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

In 1919 Rebecca Clarke’ Viola Sonata tied for first place with Ernest Bloch (out of 72 composers), in a competition sponsored by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. During the competition, many judges had thought that Ravel was the composer behind her sonata. With six judges deadlocked, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge later broke the tie and declared Ernest Bloch the winner of the competition.

What were her influences/where did she go to school?

Rebecca Clarke studied violin at the Royal Academy of Music (1903–1905) but withdrew after her harmony teacher, Percy Miles, proposed to her. Her father objected to her composing music but eventually still submitted some of her works to composer Charles Villiers Stanford. She became one of Stanford’s first female students when he accepted her to study with him at the Royal College of Music (1907–1910). During that time, she also switched from violin to viola and studied with Lionel Tertis.

What viola did she play on?

Rebecca Clarke was the owner of a Stradivarius violin that she received from Percy Miles (her old harmony teacher that proposed to her) from his will. She later played a Grancino viola, made c. 1675.

What was her family life like?

Rebecca Clarke met James Friskin (a composer and pianist) when they were students at the Royal College of Music. They were reacquainted by chance in Manhattan in 1944 and got married that September when both were in their late fifties.

Did she have any hobbies outside of music?

She enjoyed spending time with her family.

Fun facts

•Rebecca Clarke’s father used to make her copy scores out by hand when she was a child.

•Apart from composing and performing, Rebecca Clarke also worked as a nanny when she was in the US.

•She founded the English Ensemble—an all female chamber group.

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