Egotist - (2011)    

Ambrose Bierce

for medium or high voice and piano


Megaceph, chosen to serve the State
In the halls of legislative debate,
One day with his credentials came
To the capitol's door and announced his name.
The doorkeeper looked, with a comical twist
Of the face, at the eminent egotist,
And said: "Go away, for we settle here
All manner of questions, knotty and queer,
And we cannot have, when the speaker demands
To know how every member stands,
A man who to all things under the sky
Assents by eternally voting 'I.'"

[ 3 pages, circa 2' 10" ]

Ambrose Bierce


The text comes from Bierce's The Cynic's Word Book, (1906). If there is a topic about which to be cynical, it most certainly is politics. The American comic, Will Rogers, observed: "If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics." Bierce's fantasy -- the tale is surely a fantasy when egotistical politician might actually reject another politician for being egotistical -- is one among many perspectives which come to the same conclusion. Politics in all lands is filled with enormous egos, and yet as one thinks historically, our culture is created far more by poets, comics, painters and playwrights, musicians and other artists, than it is by politicians.


"Megaceph" refers to megacephaly, in which an abnormally large head circumference in an infant or child, that is indicative of problems with brain development. Bierce means "swelled head," as his chosen name for the "chosen" politician, while the broad humor of a Rogers would suggest that "the doorkeeper" and  surely "the speaker" might well be of the same lineage, for such is the truth of that day and today. As Rogers would further instruct, "The more you observe politics, the more you've got to admit that each party is worse than the other."


For other settings of Bierce's texts, click here.



The opening gesture is a polytonal stretto of the first phrase from "Hail to the Chief," in full awareness that so many American congressmen and senators managed their "egotistical" selves into the presidency as well. The music hall style follows, in wrong-note fashion, which then cedes to a polytonal chord succession, the relationship being the tritone between triads.



The final gestures allow the repetition of Bierce's fantasy that politics might actually demand an egotistical politician "Go away." We know the inverse of this to be the far more normal. The setting seems to have begun in C major, but never returns to its first roots, in the same way that politics seems to wander off into....




The score for Egotist 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.