Ernest Bloch's Suite for viola and piano/Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for viola and piano: Winners of the 1919 Coolidge Competition



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Preface: My interest in examining Ernest Bloch's Suite and Rebecca Clarke's Sonata evolved in the following fashion. I had known the Suite since my early viola studies. Additionally, I was familiar with many works by Bloch as a result of a solid concert-going background and a good traditional University-Conservatory education. On the other hand, Clarke was a name I had never heard when I found the Sonata in a shop in Santiago, Chile, in 1969. I first prepared the music for performance in 1979 and, struck by its fine quality, began to do research in hopes of learning more about Clarke and finding more of her music. Through consultation with standard sources, I learned that the Sonata had won second prize in the 1919 Coolidge Competition. Thus began a correspondence with the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. I formed the theory that the competition must have called specifically for a work for viola and piano; however, the Foundation records showed nothing more than the most general rules: a distinguished jury, anonymous entries. There is no indication of who formed the jury, nor is there a master list of all the entries. The idea that there might have been seventy works for viola and piano in addition to the Bloch and Clarke, all composed for the 1919 competition, was particularly exciting. Through my fellow members of the American Viola society I learned that Clarke was actually Mrs. Rebecca Friskin, that she was a member of the Society, and that she had a listing in the Society's directory. I contacted her home, only to find that she had just been released from the hospital and was in and out of a coma, apparently having been sent home to die at the age of 93. I spoke with her nurse several times; I wrote in hopes that she might read my letter durinq one of her conscious periods. But, on the morning after I performed her work, she passed away. I eventually reached her grand-nephew, Dan Braden, and two violists who had been close friends of Clarke during the last years, Veronica Jacobs and Toby Appel. Through all of them, I made contact with Christopher Johnson, Braden's brother-in-law. Johnson is a doctoral candidate at City College of New York and has in his possession her manuscripts and diaries. He was extremely generous in sharing his information but, not having read all of her diaries, could not give me complete data on her life. Meanwhile, ether Viola Society colleagues were involved in my search for information. Through Paul Doktor I received Clarke's own account of the competition (quoted in full on page 58). Her words keep open the possibility that the competition called for a viola sonata. They also grant the reader the privilege of knowing a woman of dignity, pride, grace, and talent, whose music should be of general public interest.



Bloch, Ernest, 1880-1959. Suite for viola and piano, Clarke, Rebecca, 1886-1979. Sonata for viola and piano