Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Voicing the Silent Language of the Soul: The Life and Works of Clara Kathleen Rogers (1844-1931)

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Voicing the Silent Language of the Soul: The Life and Works of Clara Kathleen Rogers (1844-1931)

Article excerpt

UPON ITS PUBLICATION IN 1893, The Philosophy of Singing by Clara Kathleen Rogers was greeted as a major contribution to the literature on vocal technique. An unnamed reviewer in the New York Times wrote in May of that year, "Every singing teacher and student of singing should peruse it carefully . . . for its high and valuable thought upon the purpose of vocal art."1 And in 1894 a contributor to the Musical Times and Singing Class Circular in London noted, "This volume . . . is worthy of the attention of every vocalist and teacher. To the student it will impart knowledge of the greatest importance; to the experienced vocalist it will provide food for profitable thought . . ."2

Like her pedagogic works, Rogers's songs were received with almost universal acclaim during her lifetime. In Art-Song in America (1930) William Treat Upton wrote,

Of all the composers under consideration at this time there was no one who so unerringly caught the mood of the text as Clara Kathleen Rogers. There is a spontaneity about her songs whose equal is far to seek in the songs of her day, and her skill in interpreting the various moods seems always equal to her needs.5

Although her numerous compositions and nine volumes of writings have been almost completely forgotten, contemporary singers and pianists will find much that is worthy of study in the works of this gifted and prolific woman.

"THE STRIVINGS AND ATTAINMENTS OF A LIFETIME"

That Rogers would be a musician was almost a certainty even before her birth on January 14, 1844. Born Clara Kathleen Barnett in Cheltenham, England, her maternal grandfather was the distinguished cellist Robert Lindley (1776-1855). A gifted composer and pedagogue, Lindley was named professor of cello at the Royal Academy of Music upon the foundation of the institution in 1822. His daughter Eliza (c. 1814-1890)-Clara's mother-was an accomplished pianist and singer who, through her family's connections, was personally acquainted with many of the notable musical personalities of the time.

Undoubtedly, the most influential person in Clara Kathleen Rogers's early life was her father, composer John Barnett (1802-1890). A German-Jewish immigrant to England, Barnett was from a large and musical family-Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) was a distant relative. Barnett sang professionally as a boy and by the age of twenty-five had composed and published an impressive number of vocal and instrumental works. Though enjoying great success with such operas as The Mountain Sylph in 1834 (the plot of which was parodied by Gilbert and Sullivan in Iolanthe), Barnett experienced artistic and professional setbacks and left London in 1841 to undertake the life of a provincial music teacher.

Disappointed with his own fortunes, he had great hopes that his children would have important musical careers. In her first autobiography, Rogers described the tense atmosphere in the home caused by her father's aspirations.

[My sister and I] made no friends of our own age, and any chance playmates who came our way were not encouraged; they were only time-wasters, we were told, and would hinder our practise . . .

When we were sufficiently advanced to play Beethoven's sonatas, Papa himself undertook to give us lessons regularly twice a week . . .

As these lessons were given in the evening after he had been teaching singing all day, it is not to be wondered at that he was irritable and impatient if we stumbled. So great, however, was our admiration-our reverence-for his genius that . . . we always accepted the fact that we were to blame. But a word of praise was indeed a joy supreme. Even a covert smile of gratification made us happy. The thought that he was sacrificing his brilliant public career in London for our sakes, in order to afford us a superior education-a fact of which Mamma constantly reminded us-naturally heightened our reverence for him and spurred us on to almost supernatural effort, but at the same time weighed us with an overwhelming sense of obligation. …

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