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If you look at the listings of the major orchestras in America you will see two things in common; very few of them are programming major pieces by women composers, and almost none have a woman on the podium. Despite the abundance of wonderful compositions by women, the world of classical music has been, for centuries, a man’s world.

Rebecca Clarke, violist and composer

Born and raised in England, with a German mother and an American father, Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) spent much of her adulthood in the United States and she claimed both English and American nationality. Her family was artistically inclined and her musical studies were encouraged. Clarke enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in 1903, where she studied the violin. In 1907 she began a composition course at the Royal College of Music, where she was Stanford’s first female student. She was unable to finish her studies, as her father suddenly banished her from the family home.

To support herself, Clarke embarked on an active performing career as a violist, and in 1913 she became one of the first female musicians in a fully professional (and formerly male) ensemble, when Henry Wood admitted her to the Queen’s Hall orchestra. In 1916 she began a US residency that included extensive travel, concertizing and visits with her two brothers.

In the early 1940s Clarke became reacquainted with James Friskin, a member of the piano department at the Juilliard School, whom she had first known as a student at the Royal College of Music; the couple married in 1944.

Virtually all of the music Clarke composed as an adult has been published, or is in the process of publication. The songs she wrote as a teenager, before she had any instruction in composition, are currently under active consideration for publication in the United States. For more information about Rebecca Clark's life and music, visit her official website, curated by her great nephew, Christopher Johnson.

Listen to Rebecca Clarke’s I’ll Bid My Heart Be Still for viola and piano.