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James Clarke (born 15 October 1957) is an English composer sometimes associated with the New Complexity school.



Clarke was born in London, on 15 October 1957.


According to fellow English composer and music scholar Christopher Fox, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "After studying at Southampton University and City University, London, [Clarke] was awarded a Finnish Government Scholarship to study composition with Usko Meriläinen in Helsinki."[1]


In 1979, with his colleague Richard Emsley, Clarke co-founded the new music ensemble, Suoraan, "a small band of outstanding specialist performers" based in London "which dedicatedly promoted the music of, centrally, Iannis Xenakis but also younger British and European composers such as Michael Finnissy and James Dillon."[2] Yet, as Christopher Fox points out, "for much of his career [Clarke's] work has attracted most attention beyond the British Isles, including significant performances at the International Gaudeamus Music Week and the ISCM World Music Days."[1]

Fox relates further:

From 1994 to 1997[,] he was Composer-in-Residence at Queen's University, Belfast, where, as artistic director of the Sonorities Festival of new music, his programmes were notable for their advocacy of recent music from the rest of Europe. Clarke's own aesthetic is far closer to this music than to prevailing fashions in metropolitan English new music. He argues that "it is not the role of new art gently to massage the ears" and his work is indeed often aurally abrasive, pushing instruments to timbral extremes. Dualities abound: ensembles split apart to form opposing factions; forms often divide, the second part sometimes – as in "La violenza delle idee" (1991) – a fractured attempt to recreate the first, sometimes – as in "Independence" (1988) – a distillation of the first. Early works evolve from silence by a process of accretion in which the music assembles its history before our ears; in "Broken" (1988) and subsequent works the fundamental metaphor is that of decomposition, the creative process leaving its trace on a body of possible material like acid biting into an etching plate.[1]

According to his official biography, Clarke has been "a visiting professor at universities in various countries, including Azerbaijan, where he was appointed an honorary Professor of Music at the Baku Music Academy; Russia, at the Moscow Conservatoire[;] and Sweden, at the University of Malmö."[3] In addition, he "has led composition courses at the Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland, where he was featured composer in 2000, and at the Festival junger Künstler Bayreuth."[3] He was also "a featured composer at the 2004 Ars Musica festival in Brussels, where ten works were performed in the largest survey of Clarke’s music to date [2007]."[3]


"Over ninety works for symphony orchestra, ensembles, voices or solo musicians", including
Collaboration with Harold Pinter commissioned by the BBC
  • Voices (2005), "a large-scale work for nine actors, solo musicians and orchestra, with a text specially written by Harold Pinter," first broadcast on BBC Radio 3, in honor of Pinter's 75th birthday, on 10 October 2005.[4][5][6]
Other commissions from, among others
Portrait concerts given by
Recent works, all untitled, including


Critical receptionEdit

Describing his "String Quartet" commissioned for the Arditti Quartet, The Globe and Mail states: "James Clarke's 'String Quartet' was obsessive chiefly in its manner, which was that of someone determined to break through to a new sound, a new feeling, a new zone in the psyche. The piece seethed and glittered, bursting from silence with pungent tutti respirations, arraying its speedy surface melodies (whether heard as tune, ornament or symptom) like broken glass. It was rock music by other means...."[11]

Concerning the same work, The Toronto Star observes: "The music pulsed with fabulous rhythmic and tonal effects that the Ardittis shaped into palpable 3-D soundscapes. Clarke's mastery of dissonance and overtone, aided by the Ardittis' playing, created sound waves that are not usually heard in a quartet program."[11]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Christopher Fox, "James Clarke", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, n.d., as qtd. in James Clarke, "Biography",, 2007, accessed May 10, 2008.
  2. ^ Richard Emsley official website, accessed May 10, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f James Clarke, "Biography",, 2007, accessed May 10, 2008.
  4. ^ a b James Clarke, "Worklist",, 2007, accessed May 10, 2008.
  5. ^ Alice Jones, "Voices: Text: Harold Pinter; Music: James Clarke", The Independent, October 7, 2005, rpt. in, accessed May 10, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "World Premiere of Pinter's Dramatic Work on BBC Radio 3", BBC press release, September 13, 2005, accessed May 10, 2008.
  7. ^ "Performer Profiles: Anton Lukoszevieze",, n.d., accessed May 10, 2008. (Lukoszevieze is cellist for the ensemble MusikFabrik NRW and the founder of Apartment House.)
  8. ^ James Clarke, "Recent and Current Performances",, 2007, accessed May 10, 2008.
  9. ^ James Clarke, catalog listing at Classics Online (downloadable audio site), accessed May 10, 2008. CAL-13018 (Composers' Art Label): "Kammersymphonie / Island / Oboe Quintet / La violenza delle idee." Cf. ASIN B000FWHXZ8.
  10. ^ Independence Quadrilles, NMC Recordings,, catalog listing NMC D107, MP3 audio samples (previews), accessed May 10, 2008.
  11. ^ a b Quotation featured on the home page of, accessed May 10, 2008.

Further readingEdit

  • Clarke, James. "Essay: On My Work"; "On Teaching"; "On New Complexity"; and "On Minimalism". Saarbrücken, October 2006. Rpt. in 2007. Accessed May 10, 2008.
  • Rovner, Anton. "Interview with James Clarke". Musica Ukrainica: An Online Magazine,, n.d. Accessed May 10, 2008.

External linksEdit