12 February 2007

Copland: Orchestral Variations

Orchestral Variations (1957): A return to the Piano Variations can be read in any number of ways, which I'l get into in a moment. This is an orchestration of the modernist Piano Variations of 1930, one of the more proclamatory pieces of Copland filled with bell-like minor ninths throughout the writing. Where the piece really bothers me is not in its clangorous theme, or in the brilliant orchestration that Copland does here, but rather in the intensely sectional nature of the variaiton structure. There is little change of phrase length and the listener is constantly hearing always in the forefront this annoying little note progression, the regularity beomes, well, regular and one hears Copland and/or this melody trapped in this phrasal box. The return to it at this histirocal point is particularly interesting. This was always one of Copland's more note-sensitive scores and in the climate of rising serialism, we can see it as Copland wanting to jump on the bandwagon, which we'll see later with his other "serial"-type scores, or else by the commissioning agency, in this case, the Louisville orchestra, wanting to present a "serial"-type-sounding piece with the imprimatur of an established conservative name. From the political perspective, if we assume that Copland had the progressive views, and that they are reflectied in his "modernist" scores and that there was an important outlet for progressive art as opposed to socialist art - which Mark Carroll outlines well in his study we can see Copland renewing his political advocacy of progressivism in a return to this note-y work.

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