Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

An Unproductive Mouth

Donald Macleod explores Rebecca Clarke's experiences during the Second World War when she was unable to return to the UK. Including The Aspidistra, Rhapsody, Ave Maria.

Donald Macleod explores Rebecca Clarke's experiences during the Second World War when she was unable to return to the UK

Rebecca Clarke was one of the leading viola-players of her generation and composed over one hundred works, many for her own instrument. In 1912 and aged only twenty-five, Sir Henry Wood engaged Clarke to play in his Queen's Hall Orchestra, and from then on she also performed with such luminaries as Pablo Casals, Jascha Heifetz and Myra Hess in orchestral and chamber settings. Clarke was at the pinnacle of music making both in the UK, and also giving concerts as she toured around the globe. Arthur Rubenstein called her 'the glorious Rebecca Clarke'. As a composer, her viola sonata has stayed firmly in the repertoire yet few other works are remembered today, despite at one point having three publishers negotiating to publish her works. Donald Macleod is joined by Christopher Johnson who married into Clarke's family, and also Ian Jones, Deputy Head of Keyboard at the Royal College of Music, to lift the veil on this once highly regarded performer and composer.

In 1923 Rebecca Clarke received a prestigious commission to compose a new work for cello from the famous American patroness of the arts, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, sometimes called the patroness of American chamber music. The result was Clarke's Rhapsody for cello and piano, considered by some as the composer's masterpiece. By the 1930s however Clarke's output had started to tail away. This was a period of great unhappiness for Clarke, when she was having an affair with a married man, the baritone singer John Goss. With the outbreak of World War Two, Clarke found herself living with her brothers in America. She was not allowed to return to the UK as she was considered an unproductive mouth. It was during the war period that she composed her Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale for clarinet and viola.

The Aspidistra
Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor
Graham Johnson, piano

Rhapsody for cello and piano
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
John York, piano

Three Irish Country Songs
Patricia Wright, soprano
Jonathan Rees, violin

Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale
Robert Plane, clarinet
Philip Dukes, viola

Ave Maria
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
Geoffrey Webber, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Rebecca Clarke

    The Aspidistra

    Performer: Graham Johnson. Singer: Anthony Rolfe Johnson.
    • Hyperion:CDA66709.
    • Hyperion.
    • 19.
  • Rebecca Clarke

    Three Irish Country Songs

    Performer: Jonathan Rees. Singer: Patricia Wright.
    • GAMUT : GAM-CD-534.
    • GAMUT.
    • 24.
  • Rebecca Clarke

    Rhapsody for cello and piano

    Performer: Raphael Wallfisch. Performer: John York.
    • Lyrita: SRCD354.
    • Lyrita.
    • 1.
  • Rebecca Clarke

    Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale

    Performer: Robert Plane. Performer: Philip Dukes.
    • Naxos: 8557934.
    • Naxos.
    • 12.
  • Rebecca Clarke

    Ave Maria

    Choir: Gonville and Caius Coll. Cambridge Choir. Conductor: Geoffrey Webber.
    • ASV CDDCA1136.
    • ASV.
    • 2.

Broadcasts

Composers A to Z

Composers A to Z

Visit the extensive audio archive of Radio 3 programmes about Composers and their works.

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

The production team reflects on 5 of Donald Macleod’s best stories from the last 20 years

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

The composer of Jerusalem was very far from the conservative figure his image suggests.

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

What is the strange power of Jerusalem which makes strong men weep?

Composer Help Page

Composer Help Page

Find resources and contacts for composers from within the classical music industry.