Rediscovering Liza & Clara: A Research Grant Adventure - Part 2

Autumn is in the air for New England, the Houghton Archives are open, and Dr. Harts is on a mission to bring Clara Kathleen Rogers into the 21st century...

Hello from Cambridge, everyone! What a trip it has been so far... I have been researching and compiling works for four days now and still have one more to go. I will definitely give a more in-depth accounting once I return to Buffalo, but for now I would love to share some insights into my research on Clara Kathleen Rogers. For those who have not heard of her, read immediately below.

Photo of Clara, included in Henry W. Longfellow's poem "Song," which was dedicated to her.

All About Clara

There are quite a few things that I already knew about Clara Rogers before beginning this journey, doing a dissertation will do that to a person! But for the general public in this century, Clara Rogers is not a name one would recognize - she has fallen into anonymity and her compositions and writings hidden in dusty archives... all this despite her incredible career as a singer, composer, and teacher. It is my aim to reintroduce her and bring her works to modern attention. Believe me, she is more than deserving. Before diving into present day findings, let me give you just a snippet of history about Clara Kathleen Rogers - the first subject of this research.

Clara Kathleen Rogers, born Clara Kathleen Barnett, was the daughter of English opera composer John Barnett and singer Eliza Lindley, and also a cousin of famous German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. She was born in England in 1844 and displayed musical talent from a very young age, becoming one of the youngest pupils at attend Leipzig Conservatory when she was only thirteen years old. After study with Italian tenor and pedagogue San Giovanni (a contemporary of Francesco Lamperti), Clara became an international opera singer as a soprano of bel canto repertoire. She sang across Europe before being invited by the impresario Carl Rosa to join a tour of the United States with the Parépa-Rosa Opera Company. It was not long afterward that she met and married American lawyer, Henry Rogers, and permanently immigrated to America, settling with him in Boston in 1871.

Like many women during the late 19th century, married life meant that Clara wanted to stay close to home and her attentions turned to teaching and composition. She became a professor of voice at the New England Conservatory of Music and began trying her hand at composing - a venture that she had been turned away from as a child, despite having interest. This was not unusual, women were generally discouraged from composition as a career during this time. What followed was an outpouring of repertoire, an estimated catalogue of just under a 100 compositions, most of which were songs for voice and piano. She also published several books on teaching voice, singing philosophy, and autobiographical materials - they were received much praise from critics. During her lifetime Clara was also an integral part of the Bostonian arts scene and had friendships with many notable figures, including Henry W. Longfellow, Amy Beach, Margaret Ruthven Lang, Arthur Sullivan, Amy Lowell, and Nellie Melba.

Clara would compose and teach until her death in 1931. Her husband collected and published her works until his own passing, their combined collection was donated to the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

Harvard University's Houghton Library

If you have never been to Harvard, it is an absolutely beautiful place. Ivy-covered brick and stately columned buildings surround quaint courtyards where students study on the lawn. I have visited once before, but never for academic work - it was truly a pleasure to have this opportunity.

The Houghton Library is the home of rare and collectible manuscripts, and literary and performing arts archives at Harvard University. It is also where the majority of my research takes place for this project. The library itself had previously been closed for renovations, but once the pandemic hit it remained shuttered for even longer - to my great delight, it finally opened its doors to independent researchers only this past Monday, October 4, 2021. You can read more about the renovations here.

It is a gorgeous space, bright and filled with colonial colors and bright woods - the urge to discover and study is felt from the first time you step through its doors. I knew that my experience here would be a positive one and I was proven right in my assumptions by amazingly supportive staff and well ordered procedure.

Discoveries In-Progress

I have been absolutely thrilled by the findings I have accumulated thus far. With every box that arrives from the archives, I get a thrill of excitement at the prospect of handling yet another manuscript or letter that Clara's hand wrote more than a century ago. These are my observations and a few discoveries:

"A Woman's Last Word" Original Manuscript

Musical Manuscripts. The entire impetus for this research were Clara's musical scores. When I was writing the grant, I was curious if I would find original musical works in the archives and whether or not they were all published works. Fortunately, through the archival website, I knew that there was an entire box dedicated to this designation and I could not wait to get my hands on it. When I arrived it was the first box I requested and from the moment I lifted the cover to see dozens of manilla folders housing parchments in Clara's own hand, I knew that I was in for a wonderful discovery. I have found at least a few manuscripts that I believe are unpublished works. Of course, further digging is needed to confirm this, but cursory searches in WorldCat, Women Composer Database, and publishing lists have not turned up anything yet.

Writings on the Voice. There are also quite a few handwritten documents that pertain to teaching voice, vocal health, and diction in speech and song. I have already stated above that Clara published books on the voice (the subject of my thesis), but the amount of writings I have found suggest that she also gave lectures and wrote articles on these topics. She was thoroughly invested in her craft and I am eager to deep dive into her writings and see what she might have to offer us modern pedagogues.

Henry W. Longfellow. It is relatively unknown today that Clara Rogers and Henry Longfellow were good friends. In fact, Longfellow actually wrote his poem "Song" for Clara and had it set to music as a gift. Her picture is featured alongside the poem in its published form. Their friendship is one that fascinates me and I have been sifting through their correspondence.

There is much more to be said, but I think I will leave it there for now. Tomorrow is another day at the archives as well as a time to play through some of the compositions in the School of Music. I look forward to giving them some voice and accompaniment after so much silence.

Until next time!

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