Her Music on CD:
String Quartet “Poem” in World Premiere Recording

an article from our Fall 2002 Newsletter (pdf)

“Death and the Maiden” CD  Links to audio samples

“Death and the Maiden” Lafayette String Quartet: Ann Elliot-Goldschmid and Sharon Stanis, violins; Joanna Hood, viola; Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, cello. Music by Schubert, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Rebecca Clarke. CBC Records, MVCD 1149, 2002.

In their quest for adventurous programming, the Lafayette String Quartet came across the manuscript parts to Clarke’s “Poem” in the U.C. Berkeley library and added the work to their repertoire. As Robert Jordan observes in his notes to the CD, Schubert’s work (of 1826), Clarke’s of a century later, and Hensel’s of 1834 share a feature: they were not published in their composers’ lifetimes. Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” was published in 1831, Hensel’s Quartet in 1988, and the Clarke “remains in manuscript.”

The Lafayette String Quartet engages these works with a passionate seriousness; their performances smolder with intensity. The flaws are slight, as in the cello lacking presence in some more fiery passages (for instance the last variation of Andante of the Schubert), probably a flaw of the recording rather than of the performance. The lack of an edited edition of the Clarke results in some wrong notes, the most serious of which is four notes from the end.

(m. 134-, from the edition provided by Michelle Dulak)

Poem End image

The Lafayette’s violist plays as B-flat, which alters the sense of ambiguity that the work projects with a B-natural ­ the more chromatic version (which I perceive as correct, from my study of the sources) is hauntingly ambiguous. The piece should end with a question-mark, rather than (as in this recording) with a semi-colon.

Reviving “Dead Maidens”

What is the theme of this CD? Why is it entitled “Death and the Maiden”? It might be argued that there is no larger meaning for employing the name of Schubert’s Quartet for the whole CD. Another possibility finds rich significance in this choice of title. “Death and the Maiden” is followed by two “Dead Maidens,” Fanny Mendelssohn and Clarke — “dead” not only literally, but also (for so many decades) figuratively, as their music lay completely forgotten.

Fanny Mendelssohn and Clarke might be paralleled in many ways, most notably in their reception history. Both published only a small part of their repertoire during their lifetimes, and the remainder has remained completely hidden from view until recent years (and in both cases, the materials have been difficult to access, as they have been held uncatalogued and in the private control of obscure family members). The 1980 New Grove Dictionary article on Clarke, notoriously dismissive with its single sentence, can be compared with Fanny Mendelssohn’s from the same Dictionary: her music is assumed (without being seen or heard) to be of little worth. It took the interest generated by the woman’s movement and its resulting feminist scholarship to begin the process of bringing these “Dead Maidens” to life.

It is worth observing that this service to “Dead Maidens” is offered by an all-female ensemble. It is one of a number of examples of such a group feeling a special connection for their musical sisters of previous generations — although I am certain that male and mixed ensembles would like to play Clarke’s music for string quartet, too, if only it were available!  [editor’s note: the Poem was published, in 2004, as one of the “Two Movements for String Quartet” (Oxford University Press).  Unfortunately it is not titled Poem, only “Adagio.”]