Into the Light

249 (hi-res) J York & R Wallfisch Mar2013 (c) B Ealovega

Why it took nearly a century for an important, beautiful concert piece for cello and piano from a 20th-century female composer to be published is incomprehensible. We can certainly blame contemporaneous sexist attitudes towards women, but was there also something more personal here?

Why it took nearly a century for an important, beautiful concert piece for cello and piano from a 20th-century female composer to be published is incomprehensible. We can certainly blame contemporaneous sexist attitudes towards women, but was there also something more personal here?

The Rhapsody for cello and piano by Rebecca Clarke was the last in a series of three works supported by the rich and powerful American patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (who commissioned only a few female composers but many male ones). The British composer’s Viola Sonata had nearly won the big prize at the 1919 chamber music competition in Berkshire, Massachusetts. It was only denied the top award because the judges did not believe a woman could write such excellent music. (The winning composition was Bloch’s fine Suite for viola and piano, and the judges opined that he’d probably written Clarke’s piece as well.) This gross injustice did, however, bring Clarke one piece of good fortune, namely the support and friendship of Coolidge herself. Shaking off the judges’ snub, she went ahead and produced her very effective Piano Trio (1921) and the Rhapsody (1923) for cello and piano.

Read more in The Strad’s December 2019 issue…

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