The Piano Variations of Aaron Copland: An Analysis and Study for the Performer.

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Aaron Copland has been in the forefront of the American musical scene since the 1920s. He has been called an "American composer" for his ability to formulate the essence of American folk music into a wide variety of mediums. The variety and scope of his compositions encompass a diverse array of styles and techniques. From the jazz influenced works that dominated his early period to the works for Hollywood films, from the chamber music that was directly influenced by his Jewish background to the partial acceptance of serial technique, Copland has managed to delve equally into all these styles. Yet, ... continued below

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Saun, Rinna M. August 2003.

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  • Saun, Rinna M.

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Description

Aaron Copland has been in the forefront of the American musical scene since the 1920s. He has been called an "American composer" for his ability to formulate the essence of American folk music into a wide variety of mediums. The variety and scope of his compositions encompass a diverse array of styles and techniques. From the jazz influenced works that dominated his early period to the works for Hollywood films, from
the chamber music that was directly influenced by his Jewish background to the partial
acceptance of serial technique, Copland has managed to delve equally into all these styles. Yet, one could arguably rank his works for the stage as his most popular and generally most successful compositions of his career. The extent to which the American public has accepted these works as being "folk" is a case for the genius and adaptability of Copland's talent.

Although works like Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Lincoln Portrait command
the attention of the general public, of whom Aaron Copland was constantly aware, there
are works for the piano that deserve and demand close study by pianists. One such work is the Piano Variations. Written in 1930, it has been acknowledged as a twentieth century masterpiece in publications for piano and piano literature as well as by pianists since its premiere in 1931. It is a brutal and sparse work that encompasses a quasi-serial technique in which the motto of four notes transforms itself through the course of twenty variations and a coda.

The demands of learning a work such as this can be overwhelming for the pianist not accustomed to the rigors of a non-diatonic piece. However, a careful analysis precipitated by specific questions directed not only at learning the piece but also with the goal of performance in mind, can shape the interpretational issues that will eventually face the pianist. The questions that I pose are directly pulled from Michael Remson's article, "Copland's Piano Variations: A Forgotten Masterpiece." Although it is considered by this writer as an introduction to the technique of serialism, largely because of the classical practices among which are tonal center, period structure and interruptions of the motto, Copland's Piano Variations is a classic example of a twentieth century work that will be heard as avant-garde and studied in the style of late Romanticism.

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  • August 2003

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • May 14, 2008, 8:24 p.m.

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  • Jan. 15, 2014, 2:22 p.m.

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Saun, Rinna M. The Piano Variations of Aaron Copland: An Analysis and Study for the Performer., dissertation, August 2003; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc5529/: accessed December 15, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .