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Sonata for Viola and Piano [1919]

Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886 - d. 1979)

Composer
Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886 - d. 1979)
Composition Year
1919
Work Movements
1. Impetuoso – poco agitato
2. Vivace
3. Adagio – Allegro
Artists
Dana Zemtsov [viola], Joonas Ahonen [piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Rebecca Clarke was a pioneering female musician and composer in the first half of the twentieth century. The story she tells in the interview quoted above gives some idea of the difficulties facing female composers. She had a harrowing childhood with an abusive but musical American father, who disapproved of her compositional ambitions but nonetheless allowed her to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He finally threw her out of home when she built a card-house in the entrance hallway of the family home made up of letters from his mistress.


In 1912 she was invited by Sir Henry Wood to join the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, previously an all-male ensemble. She was also an active chamber musician, often with the renowned cellist May Mukle with whom she formed the all-women English Ensemble. She only published twenty works in her lifetime although her estate included many unpublished manuscripts. The Viola Sonata has rightly taken its place in the repertoire of the growing band of international viola soloists.


At the head of her score she quoted lines from the French poet Alfred de Musset: Poet take up your lute; the wine of youth is tonight fermenting in the veins of God. This clarion call is echoed in the opening bars by the viola before the piano joins in with an equally turbulent accompaniment. The second group is more lyrical and less assertive. The opening section returns without the clarion call leading to a quiet coda.


The brief Vivace is an excitingly spiky movement full of technical sleights of hand with the viola mostly muted and the piano leading the way with its angular, interlocking lines and violent dynamic contrasts.

The quirky coda brings a final witticism.


The passionate Adagio opens with a soulful folk-like tune picked out in the piano, taken up evocatively by the viola, followed by a lovely passage where the viola floats above a rippling accompaniment. Gradually the emotion intensifies before sinking back into a languorous pianissimo. Another moment of magic sees the piano revisit the theme accompanied by the viola tremolo and sul ponticello. Eventually the Allegro breaks in raising the temperature for the final exciting bars.

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Sonata for Viola and Piano [1919]

Composer: Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886 - d. 1979)
Performance date: Sunday 2nd July 2017
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886 - d. 1979)
Work Title Sonata for Viola and Piano [1919]
Composition Year 1919
Work Movements 1. Impetuoso – poco agitato
2. Vivace
3. Adagio – Allegro
Artist(s) Dana Zemtsov [viola], Joonas Ahonen [piano]
Performance Date Sunday 2nd July 2017
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Crespo Series
Duration 00:25:10
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation va, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Rebecca Clarke was a pioneering female musician and composer in the first half of the twentieth century. The story she tells in the interview quoted above gives some idea of the difficulties facing female composers. She had a harrowing childhood with an abusive but musical American father, who disapproved of her compositional ambitions but nonetheless allowed her to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He finally threw her out of home when she built a card-house in the entrance hallway of the family home made up of letters from his mistress.


In 1912 she was invited by Sir Henry Wood to join the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, previously an all-male ensemble. She was also an active chamber musician, often with the renowned cellist May Mukle with whom she formed the all-women English Ensemble. She only published twenty works in her lifetime although her estate included many unpublished manuscripts. The Viola Sonata has rightly taken its place in the repertoire of the growing band of international viola soloists.


At the head of her score she quoted lines from the French poet Alfred de Musset: Poet take up your lute; the wine of youth is tonight fermenting in the veins of God. This clarion call is echoed in the opening bars by the viola before the piano joins in with an equally turbulent accompaniment. The second group is more lyrical and less assertive. The opening section returns without the clarion call leading to a quiet coda.


The brief Vivace is an excitingly spiky movement full of technical sleights of hand with the viola mostly muted and the piano leading the way with its angular, interlocking lines and violent dynamic contrasts.

The quirky coda brings a final witticism.


The passionate Adagio opens with a soulful folk-like tune picked out in the piano, taken up evocatively by the viola, followed by a lovely passage where the viola floats above a rippling accompaniment. Gradually the emotion intensifies before sinking back into a languorous pianissimo. Another moment of magic sees the piano revisit the theme accompanied by the viola tremolo and sul ponticello. Eventually the Allegro breaks in raising the temperature for the final exciting bars.