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Nora Clench

Nora Clench (her full name was Esther Leonora Clench) was born in St. Marys, Canada West (now Ontario), Canada, in 1867. She was an infant prodigy, making her debut as a violinist at the age of 8. At the age of 18 she left Canada to study at the Leipzig conservatoire under Adolf Brodsky, and also studied in Brussels with Eugene Ysaye and in Berlin with Joseph Joachim. Through their contacts she met famous composers, including Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Debussy. “Her life became a sophisticated whirl of touring, concerts and rave reviews that lauded her as one of the foremost interpreters of Bach. She gave a command performance for Kaiser Wilhelm and another for Queen Victoria, who gave her a ruby brooch. She had a gold tiara, powerful friends and one of London’s most eligible bachelors, Owen Seaman, at her feet . . . ‘There has appeared a great wonder,’ a London reviewer declared in 1893. The London Daily Times said ‘her performance must rank with the best yet given in London’ in 1899.” (Victoria Button).

She was multi-talented, and in 1900 gave up playing the violin in order to go to Paris to paint. But she returned to music, founding the all-female Nora Clench Quartet. ” ‘They played,’ according to Larry Pfaff, a Canadian art historian researching Clench’s life, ‘the most avant-garde music in London at that time’, including many premieres. The critics were baffled by the strangeness of the ‘ultramoderne music’ but praised the quartet none the less.” (Victoria Button)’

In 1908, at the age of 41, she married the Australian landscape artist Arthur (later Sir Arthur) Streeton. “Arthur and Nora Streeton first lived at Nora’s house at St John’s Wood. It was a pleasant London life, with weekends away at the homes of her rich friends who, Streeton recorded in a letter, were ‘beginning to buy’. Nora Streeton, as a married woman, had given up public performance but continued to play privately. The Nora Clench Quartet continued without her. Then, in 1922, they moved to Melbourne, the city Nora never learnt to love. Dame Nellie Melba met them at the wharf, yoo-hooing at the top of her substantial voice and bustling the new arrivals off the ship, ignoring the officials who tried to forbid her. Years later, Nora would recall their arrival with horror. She thought Melba most vulgar.” (Victoria Button).

She was by all accounts a sophisticated, unconventional and outspoken woman, who smoked cigarettes, which “she bought in boxes of 100”. She “hennaed her hair. She spoke German and Italian. She didn’t suffer fools gladly, yet she loved ghost stories, believed in spirits and once burst into tears because a tree was being chopped down. She owned property. She married late. She controlled the family finances. She loved her dogs, but was not close to her only son. She liked to do things her own way, but was class conscious, insisted on good manners and didn’t hesitate to use the influence of her friends. Her attitudes were different. Mrs Streeton did not think it a disgrace for heavily pregnant women to be seen in public. She wasn’t shy to mention childbirth and say it was a dreadful experience” (Victoria Button).

She died in 1938.

(The references here are to: Victoria Button, “The neglected talent of Nora Streeton,” The Age , January, 2000. Most of the information is taken from this source.)

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