Aaron Copland

Piano Sonata

    Description by Uncle Dave Lewis

    Aaron Copland's Piano Sonata comes chronologically from the very heart of his "vernacular" period, but bears little stylistic resemblance to the works around it. The opening sketches date from June 1939, just after Copland had completed the incidental music he would later fashion into the tone poem Quiet City. In December 1940, Copland was named by Nelson Rockefeller to an advisory panel within the State Department's Office of Inter-American affairs. Copland spent most of 1941 touring South America as part of the Roosevelt administration's Good Neighbor policy, getting to know South American music and composers, giving master classes, and concertizing. In Santiago, Chile, in September, Copland put the finishing touches on the Piano Sonata, premiering it himself in Buenos Aires on October 21, 1941.

    Copland once noted that "a piano work, in my case, (is written) when I am stuck with ideas that have nowhere else to go." Copland studied sonata form extensively with Rubin Goldmark in Cleveland as a youth, and sticks to standard sonata-allegro form very definitely in this sonata, varying the opening Molto Moderato with appropriate contrast and periods of roughly equal length. The Scherzo vivace alternates abrupt, jazz-derived ideas with a slower, more relaxed trio section. The final Andante sostenuto departs from standard sonata form, in that it takes its basic working material from the second movement Trio and consists of static chords, giving an impression of immobility, like a clock winding down.

    Copland had relatively little to say about the Piano Sonata, although he was in general somewhat tight-lipped about his work, preferring to let the music speak for itself. However the sonata is rarely discussed in the context of Copland's music, and is as seldom heard in concert, in spite of its historical placement among the most popular of his works. Indeed, the Piano Sonata inhabits both of Copland's main spheres of activity to that time, taking the spindly, naked forms of his vernacular music and combining them with the tougher language of his early Piano Variations (1930). Nonetheless, the Piano Sonata is one of his finest creations in terms of its concentration of expression, variety of mood, and its finely tuned balance of both seriousness and dry wit. One important early advocate of the Copland Piano Sonata was Leonard Bernstein, who played it expertly early in his career and made a fine recording of it for RCA Victor in 1947.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Molto moderato
    2. Vivace
    3. Andante sostenuto

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2020
    Sony Classical
    19439715642
    2019
    Warner Classics
    2019
    Warner Classics
    9029535477
    2017
    Somm
    SOMMCD 0163
    2014
    Paladino Music
    PMR 0052
    2013
    Atoll
    ACD 205
    2013
    Wergo
    WER 40432
    2011
    Centaur Records
    CRC3090
    2008
    EMI Classics
    2008
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099923446
    2008
    Albany Music Distribution
    989
    2008
    Symposium
    1372
    2007
    Orion Master Recordings
    83112
    2007
    Eroica Distribution
    3199
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000860602
    2005
    Virgin Classics
    2005
    Naxos
    8559184
    2004
    Divine Art
    25016
    2004
    Eroica Distribution
    3144
    2004
    Centaur Records
    CRC2622
    2002
    Labor Records
    7038
    2002
    Eroica Distribution
    3097
    2001
    Virgin
    61928
    2000
    Virgin
    61702
    1999
    Nimbus
    NI 5585
    1999
    RCA
    68997
    1999
    Philips
    462232
    1999
    Philips
    456775
    1999
    Koch International Classics
    7622
    1998
    VAI Audio
    1156
    1998
    RCA Red Seal
    902668442
    1996
    Cedille Records
    5
    1995
    Campion Records
    1336
    1995
    BIS
    52
    1994
    Sony Classical
    66345
    1993
    Wergo
    6211
    1992
    RCA
    60915
    Silva America
    1009
    Fone
    9825
    Virgin
    59008
    Continuum
    1028/1029