How to Win an Election

For Mezzo Soprano and Bass Clarinet
(2016) 6.5 minutes

Commissioned by Ian Mitchell and premiered by Alison Wells and Ian Mitchell at St. Mary Magdalen Church, Oxford on 22nd January 2017.

Programme note 

Sitting on a train shortly after President Trump's inauguration, I noticed a fellow passenger reading an article titled 'Books to Help You Survive in a Dystopian World' or something like that. Sensing that it may contain excellent inspiration for future pieces, I jotted down the recommended reading list and ordered several of the books the next day. One of my favourite things to do when writing for the voice is to set ancient texts that seem utterly contemporary, and large parts of Philip Freeman's translation of Quintus Tullius Cicero's How To Win and Election seemed straight out of Trump's election playbook. The book was written by Quintus for his brother Marcus in 64BC when the latter ran for consul (the highest office in the Roman Republic) and contains nuggets of advice such as 'If a politician made only promises he could keep, he wouldn't have many friends'. My setting seeks to bring out the drama of the text in all its pragmatic outrageousness. 

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2016


Available to download (via the Digital Booklet button) from Divine Art Record's website (this work features on Ian Mitchell's Bass Clarinet and Friends disc)


"British composer Cheryl Frances-Head has provided a remarkably contemporary setting of some advice from the Roman statesman Quintus Tullius Cicero (102BC-43BC) on How to Win an Election. This piece for bass clarinet and mezzo soprano came about shortly after Mr Donald Trump’s assumption of office in January 2017. Allowing for the passage of years, the text is remarkably prescient for politicians down through the ages – not just for Mr Trump. The singing is an exciting tour de force of sprechstimme and an atonal sound world generated by the singer and the bass clarinet." John France, MusicWeb International

"How to Win an Election by Cheryl Frances-Hoad is the first piece of music I’ve encountered that has been precip­itated by the election of Donald J. Trump. The work is set for soprano and bass clarinet, its text drawn from the eponymous (in translation) work of Roman author Quintus Tullius Cicero that contains such sage advice as “If a politician made only promises he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends.” This may apply to Trump, but jaded by politics as I am, it seems to me equally applicable to virtually every politician across the political spectrum. But, I digress. The work opens with a solo disquisition by soprano Alison Wells, with the bass clarinet making its entrance coinciding with a climactic high note in the vocal part. From that point, the instrument makes a musical commentary on what is sung, at times mimicking it, at others, seeming to countermand it. It’s an all-around jocund work." 

David DeBoor Canfield (Fanfare)

Performance history (post-premiere)

21st September 2018 - Alison Wells and Ian Mitchell at the 1901 Club, London, UK


Buy Bass Clarinet and Friends, Ian Mitchell's CD featuring How to Win an Election

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