Date of Completion


Embargo Period



music, piano, aaron copland, piano variations, american music, sketch study, composition, twentieth century music

Major Advisor

Dr. Alain Frogley

Associate Advisor

Dr. Angelina Gadeliya

Associate Advisor

Dr. Ronald Squibbs

Field of Study



Doctor of Musical Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations, composed in 1930, is his most important work for piano and one of the most significant works of his entire oeuvre. It is a staple of twentieth-century American piano literature and it has been analyzed in many published works. However, practically no studies have examined the sketches for the Piano Variations, which exist at the Copland Collection at the Library of Congress. The Collection includes five folders relating to the Piano Variations: the sketches, the final manuscript, two copies of the manuscript with handwritten edits, and the published score with Copland’s handwritten orchestration (relevant to his 1957 Orchestral Variations). This sketch study summarizes and examines the content of the sketches, the manuscript, and the manuscript copies, focusing on the sketches and their ordering.

Once organized into a more logical ordering (as close to chronological as is possible to determine), the sketch pages can be subdivided into chronological draft groups that provide invaluable insights into Aaron Copland’s compositional process, particularly related to his “assembling” process of composing sections of music out of its final order. This pioneer study uncovers earlier, hitherto unknown drafts of the Piano Variations, proposes a reordering of the sketch pages to aid future study, and draws conclusions from these sketches about Aaron Copland’s compositional process and performance intentions for this monumental work.