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.


    1. Molto moderato
    2. Vivace
    3. Andante sostenuto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    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 Eroica Distribution 3144
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 000860602
    2005 Virgin Classics
    2005 Naxos 8559184
    2004 Divine Art 25016
    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