Rebecca Clarke: Morpheus


Composed in 1917 when Rebecca Clarke pursued a musical career in the USA, Morpheus is a powerful work for solo viola. Premiered by the composer in a recital at Aeolian Hall in New York City, Morpheus also received early performances by Clarkes in Carnegie Hall. Clarke used the alias ‘Anthony Trent’ when marking up the score as she was self-conscious about having lots of pieces after her name on a programme. The media had largely been neutral about Clarke’s works in the past, but after raving reviews of ‘Mr Trent’s’ work Morpehus, it only settled in Clarke’s mind that female composers were not taken as seriously as their male peers. 

Morpheus remains a staple in solo viola repertory, with many choosing to perform it in recitals across the world. 


The Music

The title for the piece derives from the Greek God Morpheus, who is associated with dreams. Clarke modelled the music on the stylings of Claude Debussy and Ralph Vaughan Williams, which gives her an impressionistic edge. Clarke was deeply inspired by Debussy in particular, which is perhaps where the wistful atmosphere derives. A balanced approach to the intensity of Morpheus is what attracts so many players to it. From the first real climatic section in the central section, where the viola and piano work together to create an aura, to the deathly quiet sections which are focused on the viola, Morpheus is balanced in its approach to texture and dynamics. 

The dream-like accompaniment wades in and out of the foreground as the viola plays through the impressionistic-style melody. Clarke’s harmonic language is an ode to Debussy, with huge scalic runs on the piano, to the simplified, but effective melody on the viola. The piece is emotional and takes you on a musical journey through a special dream world. Clarke’s use of the full range of both instruments adds dimension to music as Morpheus explores all corners of possibility. The piece concludes quietly, with both instruments slowly dying away into silence. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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1 Comment

Christopher Johnson · 9th May 2021 at 3:38 pm

Clarke repeatedly misled the public about “Morpheus,” and her superficially plausible story has been taken up and disseminated uncritically. In fact, reviews of the Aeolian Hall concert in 1918 were positive-to-rapturous about the pieces Clarke presented under her own name, and dismissive-to-negative about the piece she presented as Anthony Trent’s. A year later, after she astonished the world by deadlocking with Bloch at the Coolidge Festival, she exposed the imposture, disowned Trent, and claimed “Morpheus” as her own. See the FAQ page on Clarke’s official website,, for further details. Clarke never performed in Carnegie Hall. I am a great-nephew of Calrke’s by marriage, and the owner of her rights as composer and author.

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