Advice to Little Girls


Advice to Little Girls - (2008)    

Mark Twain

for medium voice and piano


Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.

If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.

You ought never to take your little brother's "chewing-gum" away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.

If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud--never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.

If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won't. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.

You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much.

Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to "sass" old people unless they "sass" you first.


[ 11 pages, circa 4' 45" ]

Mark Twain


A joy of my childhood was reading Mark Twain, Puddin'head Wilson being among my favorites. But much of Twain's work was in smaller works, such as this short story. The idea of a short story as a song lyric seemed odd, until the Meltons in Aachen had suggested a short story by Lord Dunsay as a possibility. That longer story was essentially edited down into a libretto due to its sheer length, but this delightful sarcasm written in 1865 was of such a length and its "phrases" and repetitions apt for setting, that I was enthused to set it, with only a little repetition in the manner of earlier settings. 



These "good little girls" are Twain's delight, but there is a lesson in the text as well, wherein the human foibles of politics, immorality and crime are mirrored in the text -- inordinate justification for bad behaviors, the urge to "get away with it," the unfair bargain, the quid pro quo which is ever denied and always there.


The setting employs a simple rising and falling diatonic scale in the vocal line, while the accompaniment is made up of periodic phrases which counter the prevailing "cut time" meter, based simply on the five opening notes of the diatonic scale. Rapid transpositions carry successive phrases into the mediant major and subdominant before returning to the tonic. In the example below the mediant replaces the tonic.



The second "strophe" substitutes the subdominant for the mediant in the first. Bridge material is of contrasting texture, chords replacing the two voice accompaniment. The score is "undermarked" in terms of dynamics and potential tempo changes, and performers are encouraged to find their own preferences in this patter song based on a prose text.




The score for Advice to Little Girls is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


Advice to Little Girls