Program Notes

REBECCA CLARKE (1886 – 1979)

THREE OLD ENGLISH SONGS for voice and violin
I. Phillis on the new made Hay
II. It was a Lover and His Lass
III. The Tailor and the Mouse

THREE IRISH COUNTRY SONGS for voice and violin
I. I Know my Love
II. I know where I'm Going
III. As I was Going to Ballynure

Rebecca Clarke broke gender barriers as a violist and composer and faced obstacles her male colleagues did not have to contend with such as withdrawing from the Royal Academy of Music when her harmony teacher proposed marriage. In 1919 she infamously was awarded second place in the prestigious Berkshire Chamber Music Competition because the jury did not want to award first place to a woman. (For the record, Ernest Bloch’s winning entry, like Clarke’s viola sonata, is also a masterwork.) Raised in England with an American father from Boston and German mother she spent much of her adult life in the United States. I love this melting-pot quality to her music: it has German order (structure) but a French suppleness along with American straightforwardness and, overtly in these songs, English and Irish folk song melodies.

These songs were written in 1926 for the unusual combination of solo voice and violin. Whereas the Ravel Duo on the previous concert had two instruments similar in timbre and color (violin and cello) here the vast difference between voice and violin is accentuated; if the relationship between the instruments in the Ravel is akin to a conversation between siblings, the Clarke is closer to a married couple. Unlike Dover Beach where the strings serve an accompaniment role, the voices in the Clarke songs are very much equals. Sometimes the violin is weaving around the vocal line, other times it seems as if it is trying to break its instrumental bounds and launch into song itself. In fact, the violin, in spite of or perhaps due to lacking actual words, might in some ways be more specific in expression than the human voice.

Program notes by David Yang