Clarissa Graceful-Cantata

Soprano and baroque ensemble–13′

A cantata for soprano and ensemble on a humorous, classic text by Alexander Pope from The Rape of the Lock.

View a performance by Karen Clift and The Blue Baroque Band:

Preview the score:

For information on performance materials: contact DET


Clarissa Graceful-Cantata

Heroi-comical cantata for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon, harpsichord
Text: Alexander Pope, from The Rape of the Lock, V (1717)
13′ duration
Commissioned by Karen Clift.
Premiere–2005, by Karen Clift and the Blue Baroque Band, Sheridan, WY.
Sale includes 2 scores and 4 parts.
Voice range:

  • Intrada
  • Air and Recitative
  • Jig
  • Lament and Recitative
  • Finale

Program Note

soprano and baroque band

Karen Clift and the Blue Baroque Band

Clarissa Graceful was written for a singular event in the cultural life of Sheridan Wyoming: a concert in March 2005 given at the Wyo Theatre by Karen Clift, who has inspired so many of my works for soprano, and the Blue Baroque Band, a crack ensemble of players mostly from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.  The music of the Baroque was my door into music (have you heard of the Denonville Baroque Ensemble?) and I go back into that room whenever I can.  The opportunity to write the closing work on a program of ancient music was irresistible.

You don’t need to know much about the action of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, from which this text is taken.  At some time in 1711 a young peer cut a lock of hair from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor, prompting a quarrel between two families.  Pope (1688-1744), one of the great satirists of his day, was asked to write a poem to help salve the social wound and restore good relations.  In the final canto a new character, Clarissa, is introduced to point the moral of the tale:

Charms strike the Sight, but Merit wins the Soul.

I’ve set Clarissa’s speech in cantata fashion, with contrasting moods linked by recitative. The treble instruments—recorder, oboe and violin—are supported by bassoon, which often wanders out of basso continuo territory into thinner air, and harpsichord, which both comps and flourishes.

Clarissa was written in high spirits, and I hope the piece wears a smile.  I won’t mind if it reminds the listener of other composers, particularly Britten’s Purcell, Beethoven perhaps, Mozart certainly, Handel all the way through. You won’t find the genius of those composers in this piece, but I hope you find the affection of one who loves that music.


Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her Fan.
Silence ensu’d, and thus the Nymph began.

Say, why are Beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The Wise Man’s Passion, and the Vain Man’s Toast?
Why deck’d with all that Land and Sea afford,
Why Angels call’d, and Angel-like ador’d?
Why round our Coaches crowd the white-gloved Beaux,
Why bows the Side-box from its inmost Rows?

How vain are all these Glories, all our Pains,
Unless good Sense preserve what Beauty gains:
That Men may say, when we the Front-box grace,
Behold the first in Virtue as in Face!

Oh! if to dance all Night, and dress all Day,
Charm’d the Small-pox, or chas’d old Age away;
Who would not scorn what Housewife’s Cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly Thing of Use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a Saint,
Nor could it sure be such a Sin to paint.
Oh! if to dance all Night, and dress all Day,
Charm’d the Small-pox, or chas’d old Age away;

But since, alas! frail Beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will turn to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a Man, must die a Maid,
What then remains but well our Pow’r to use,
And keep good Humour still whate’er we lose?

And trust me, dear! good Humour can prevail,
When Airs, and Flights, and Screams, and Scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty Eyes may roll;

Charms strike the Sight, but Merit wins the Soul.
How vain are all these Glories, all our Pains,
Unless good Sense preserve what Beauty gains.

From Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock




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