The Aspidistra : Work information
- Rebecca Clarke ( Music, Images,)
- Performed by
- Sarah Walker (Mezzo-soprano), Roger Vignoles (Piano)
- Work name
- The Aspidistra
- Work number
- 1929-01-01 02:00:00
- Jill White
- Bob Auger
- Recording date
- 1990-08-01 00:00:00
The only female composer to be supported by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the American patron of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bartók, Rebecca Clarke nevertheless faced a certain amount of discouragement as a composer; she even gave up music completely at one stage and became a nanny. Her best-known works are composed in a post-romantic style with certain French and German influences that have led to comparisons with Debussy, Ravel and Ernest Bloch.
Born near London on 27 August 1886 to a German mother and an American father, Clarke was raised in England. Her musical gifts were encouraged, and she entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1903. She withdrew two years later when her harmony teacher proposed marriage and in 1907 began a composition course at the Royal College under Stanford.
When her father ejected her from the family home, Clarke left the RCM and began a career as a violinist, becoming one of the first female musicians in a fully professional ensemble (Henry Wood's Queens Hall orchestra). In 1916 she travelled to the US and in 1918-19 performed extensively in Hawaii; a tour of British colonies around the world followed in 1923.
When Clarke's Viola Sonata (1919) and Piano Trio (1921) were both runners up for competitions, the suitably impressed Coolidge commissioned the Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1923). Clarke continued her performing career, settling in London, performing with Myra Hess and broadcasting for the BBC. Her compositional output declined in the late 20s and early 30s, but picked up again briefly with the onset of World War II and Clarke's move to the USA.
In 1942 Clarke became a nanny and composition ceased once more. In 1944 she married a former student of the RCM, James Friskin and, in later life, made but a few revisions and re-arrangements of earlier works. She died in New York on 13 October 1979 at the age of 93.
Much of Clarke's work was never published, making it hard to assess her significance as a composer. Her most popular works include the Viola Sonata, the Piano Trio, and many of the songs, and influences on her eclectic style include Stravinsky and Bartók in addition to the Englishness of Frank Bridge or Arnold Bax.