Work Title: Morpheus
Composer: Rebecca Clarke, pen name: Anthony Trent
Form/Instrumentation: Piece for Piano & Viola
Year(s) written/premiered: written in 1917 and premeired 1918.
Period: 20th century
Origins: “Morpheus” is a composition for viola and piano by the English composer and violist Rebecca Clarke. It was written in 1917 when Clarke was pursuing a performing career in the United States. The piece shows off the impressionistic musical language Clarke had developed, modeled on the music of Achille-Claude Debussy and Ralph Vaughan Williams, that is also apparent in her Viola Sonata. The harmonies are ethereal and otherworldly; the title is the name of a Greek god, who was especially associated with sleep and dreams.
Clarke gave the first performance of the work in one of her many recitals at the Aeolian Hall in New York City in February 1918, and subsequently performed it at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 1918 to great acclaim. She listed the work on the program and signed the autograph score with the pen-name ‘Anthony Trent’. Clarke was self-conscious about having a long list of pieces followed by her name in the composer’s place. While the media had light praise for compositions bearing Clarke’s name, it greatly applauded the work of the nonexistent ‘Mr. Trent’. For Clarke, this only strengthened her belief that it was neither the time nor the place for female composers, though an essay by her from around the same time speaks of the fertility of the United States to produce a major composer, who happened to be a woman. Despite Clarke’s insecurities, the piece survives—in two versions—into the modern day, and is an integral part of the violist’s repertoire.
The score is published by Oxford University Press.