composer’s notes, Bio


Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is a quixotic juxtaposition of  extremes. We are constantly enthralled and astonished by heroic language in high style: rhymed pairs of iambic pentameter of a caliber surpassed by none. 

Virginia Woolf describes in  her diary:

“Yesterday in the train I read The Rape of the Lock, which seems to me ‘supreme’-almost superhuman in its beauty & brilliancy-you really can’t believe that such things are written down.”  

We are delighted and awed by the highest beauty of the linguistic arts with our highest ideals captured in the poetry of Alexander Pope. Yet, we are also astonished that this epic and astounding treatment is all applied to a tiny infraction of a young lady’s free will. Puzzled, astonished, delighted, we enjoy and pursue the implications of the situation, whilst we float on a cloud of linguistic wonder, with music that carries and illuminates the poetry, and visual images that trigger or counteract possible interpretations.  While the story is a young man clipping a lock of hair from a young lady without her permission, Pope’s “mock-heroic masterpiece” describes the incident in poetic techniques reserved for icons of our highest ideals of art, ethics and goals. He uses dramatic techniques and language referring to famous predecessors like Homer and Shakespeare so that the boundaries between them and our story are blurred. 

A furious card game is a centerpiece of the dance element. “Four  Armies” converge “ on a Velvet Plain”. This cornerstone of the second act propels the action and the rising tensions between the parties.  The dancers hurl themselves across the stage in “battle” with huge jumps and both exaggerated and understated gestures. The music is fast and drives to a gigantic finish. 

In other places, the dance either illustrates the text, or brings it towards our modern sensibilities. “Eloisa to Abelard,” is sung by Belinda, and there is a beautiful ballet duet of tragic lovers beside her. In many scenes there are also Sylphs, which are all dancers, interacting with the singers, and reacting to the threats in the story. These Sylphs have a few jazzy or “downtown” sprites that tie in to our times. The visual imagery will connect the two periods as well. The images will serve the mock-heroic nature of the poem, and we will see some with  heroic grandeur and some from our present day common life, just as  Pope’s poetic technique evidences in the famous description of Belinda’s dressing table:  “Puffs, powders, patches, Bibles, billets doux.” This confusion of the high and the low, religion almost being lost in the  disarray of her toilette, represents a kind of moral confusion, where high  ideals of art and ethics are constantly mixed in with our mundane realities  to the point where they somehow merge  into one. And this Pope has  accomplished through his superlative  confection of seductive, teasing,  and awe-inspiring poetry in  “The Rape of the Lock.” 

There could hardly be a more fitting musical style for this poetry than the one invented just for this poem. “Hyper madrigal with a touch of Andrews Sisters” with capricious harmony, fast, driving rhythms and humorous touches everywhere. The music itself links the period of the      poem to our own times, stemming clearly from the Baroque-Renaissance  period with  modern harmonies and contemporary rhythms.

The Rape of the Lock was a feature of New York City Opera’s Vox 2002 Opera Showcase.  John Rockwell of The New York Times wrote:  “

The Rape of the Lock,”  ... offered her adaptation of Pope’s text clothed in wonderfully lush, intricate and contrapuntally energetic music [and] was the most pleasant surprise of the series.[Let’s hope it will] get a chance, complete and fully dressed in a properly prepared stage production.”

The subject of The Rape of the Lock is about the abuse of power, status  and privilege. Nothing could be more relevant today than the contrast  between those that wield it and those that suffer the consequences. In  particular,women’s rights today are still lesser or subservient at best, and  in parts of the world they are constantly violated in the most routine and  violent way. 

Here, though the surface is a whirlwind of heroic language and soaring ideals, the subject is a tiny infraction over a woman’s free will and control over her own body, and because of this enormous treatment of  the tiny infraction, we as viewers and participants in her ordeal are made  to understand that no infraction over a woman’s right to her own body is  acceptable, no matter how small.  And so, we are made to feel grateful  that Pope has defended Belinda and hence all women against the dominance and violence of men.  

Belinda’s lock of hair, stolen by the Baron becomes an icon of the free will and self-determination of women, and Alexander Pope has written  a completely unique poem that gives her virtual satisfaction for the  Baron’s crime.  We take this moral commentary with us and incorporate it into our world view afterwards. Yet the style is such that we are even more entranced with the power of words, music, and all the arts to draw us towards our better selves by giving us the elusive sensitivities that we find there in service of our ideals.


Deborah Mason, Composer

A multifaceted composer, visual artist, and arts administrator, Deborah Mason has experience in every aspect of composing, directing, production, sets, costumes and choreography. As an artist, she has constructed and painted full size sets. She has designed and created elaborate costumes, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Drew University, directed and created parodies of Gilbert and Sullivan plays, composed and produced a ballet, “Aesop’s Fables,” and worked backstage for Shakespeare plays, music concerts and dance productions. She creates professional art in a series of large, abstract landscapes called, “Fafner’s Glen” and currently assists at The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, with their superlative concert series. She has written, produced and conducted her own compositions, including ballets, chamber works, art songs, and pieces for double bass.  She has received a number of commissions for choral and instrumental works, including “A Strange Courage,” commissioned and performed by The Collegiate Chorale at the Museum of Art and Design, NYC.  Her opera-ballet on the famous poem, Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” received a partial reading by The New York City Opera’s opera workshop, Vox2002 and was warmly received by the audience and the media.  “The Rape of the Lock” will premiere next season, Fall, 2015 in New York City.

BA Mount Holyoke College

BM  Crane School of Music

MA New York University


Composer’s Notes