James Clarke has spent, and is still spending, a considerable part of his life on the Continent. We can see clearly to what extent Continental culture has influenced his outlook in composition, but his music also invites us to see what attributes of such culture actually lure him to these countries in the first place.
I am inclined to think of him as carrying forward the spirit of Early Modern Europe, and of the Enlightenment. The professional craftsmanship of his work reminds me of the classical idea that music is a way to enhance the mind through exercising intelligence. The Romantic idea of the artist as an uncontrollable force of nature doesn’t describe his musicianship adequately. Rather, what attracts him to composition appears to be the very craft of capturing such force of nature through the most intelligible expression that can be found. This may give an impression of his music being slim and stark: but such slimness and starkness are only evident in his choice of instrumentation and his carefulness in writing. What his select instinct does to his music can be likened to what good steering does to a yacht on the water: it enables us to experience a wider range of what sailing can offer, including the calm and the violence of the sea. The more powerful and unpredictable the musical idea is, the more ingenious the craft of composition is in drawing out its potential. The quiet excitement at this challenge is palpable in his work.
In this sense, he is very much part of what is considered to be a very Western European culture, a culture in which the individuality of human intelligence has a dynamic role in shaping all its activities. James Clarke has gone, and will go, to any part of the world where he can find the opportunity to stimulate this aspect of his mind.