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Classical music has a history of Composing… Women! So this Women’s History Month Tri States Public Radio and the WIU School of Music shines the spotlight… one every weekday… on over twenty great female composers. From baroque to romantic… to impressionist… to post-serialist. From the mystic Abbess who advised the Pope… to the Chicagoan whose works were rediscovered in an abandoned house. Listen in for Composing Women… Every weekday during March at 7:19 during Morning Edition, or at 5:48 during All Things Considered, as TSPR Music Director Ken Zahnle introduces you to our composer of the day… and at 11:00 a.m. during Ovation for a featured work by our featured classical master.

Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca Clarke

Imagine composing music that was praised by critics, and then being told only a man could have written it!

That happened more than once to English-born composer Rebecca Clarke. Born in 1886, she began her musical life with the violin, eventually became the first female composition student of famed composer and teacher Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford convinced her to switch to the viola, on which she became a virtuoso. She soon had to make use of that skill when she criticized her father for his extramarital affairs… and he abruptly withdrew his financial support for her schooling.

Clarke flourished as a performer. She was an in-demand player collaborating with many of the biggest names of the day, she toured extensively, and Sir Henry Wood appointed her the first female member of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

In a 1918 program of her own works Clarke listed one under a male pseudonym. Much to her chagrin critics praised the “Anthony Trent” composition… while ignoring the works under her own name. Misjudgment of her abilities continued when she entered her Viola Sonata in a famous American competition. Clarke’s work tied for first place, but again critics speculated that “Rebecca Clarke” must be an alias for a male composer. That late-impressionist sonata is now considered a foundational work in the repertoire of the viola.

After World War II Clarke faded from sight, but resurged in reputation in the 1970’s, before passing aged 93 in 1979. 

Rebecca Clarke… a Composing Woman.


Viola Sonata (1919)
Piano Trio (1921)
Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1923)
Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale for clarinet and viola (1941)
Dumka, for violin, viola, and piano (1941?)
The Seal Man (1922)

Supporting Materials

Rebecca Clarke holding a viola

Rebecca Clarke circa 1976,

Accessible websites relevant to the composer