Episode: Rebecca Clarke

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Rebecca Clarke
In 1942, the 19th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music was held in Berkeley, California. Over 30 composers from 13 nations were represented. All of them were male–with one exception. On today’s date, the “Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale” for clarinet and viola written by Rebecca Clarke was premiered at the Festival. Clarke was born in England, in 1886, to an American father and a German mother. She grew up a British citizen, studied music in London, and became one of the U.K.’s first female professional orchestral violists. She was stranded in the United States at the outbreak of World War II and settled permanently in New York City. In notes for the 1942 Festival, Clarke modestly described her “Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale” as (quote): “ … very unpretentious: a short, unassuming little prelude… The second movement should sound very spirited… The third movement, Pastorale, is rather melancholy and nostalgic…” This work, and much of Clarke’s music, remained unpublished during her lifetime, but, over time, its quality and range increasingly came to light. When Clarke turned 90 in 1976, she was interviewed by the BBC, and seemed both gratified and bemused by all the renewed attention.

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