Sunday, 22 July 2012

Aaron Copland - The Cat and The Mouse

And now for something completely different! Recently I asked my piano teacher if I could try looking at something a bit more unusual and fun, and he immediately suggested Aaron Copland's 'The Cat and the Mouse' for solo piano.

Aaron Copland
1900 - 1990
Copland was an American composer and teacher, often referred to as 'the dean of American composers'. He is best known for his early works written in the 30s and 40s such as 'Billy the kid' and 'Rodeo'. Copland said that his earliest influences were Chopin, Debussy and Verdi. Despite his fascination with the new and exciting styles of the impressionistic composers such as Debussy and Scriabin, because avant-garde sheet music was not only difficult to come by - but also incredibly expensive - it limited the musical influences that he could gain from their works. However, Copland didn't forget the true pioneers of music, as he appreciated and admired the works of Bach, Mozart and Palestrina - even stating that the perfect piece of music would 'combine Mozart's spontaneity and refinement with Palestrina's  purity and Bach's profundity'.

Tom and Jerry
For me, Copland was living at the peak of musical discovery, as he was surrounded by Ravel, Poulenc, Satie and Debussy, as well as Webern, Berg and Bartok. It was these more experimental composers that gave Copland the imagination to create his more unusual pieces such as 'The Cat and the Mouse' - he especially admired Schoenberg and his creation of the twelve tone system, even trying to adapt it to his own style. Despite this, Copland named Stravinsky as his hero, and his favourite 20th century composer. With all of these influences - paired with his love of jazz - Copland was able to create truly fascinating music.

'The Cat and the Mouse' was in fact Copland's first published work, and is a piano piece based on the fable by Jean de la Fontaine about the difference between the young and confident mouse, with the old and pitiful cat. When I first heard the piece, I immediately thought of the famous animation 'Tom & Jerry' which is famous for its literal music to mimic the two characters running into things, falling of surfaces and basically terrorising each other. This is obvious immediately as the sounds of piano glissandi and other effects paint a picture of a cat and a mouse running around after each other. As well as this, there is the obvious use of pitch to determine the difference between the lower tones of the cat, and the high-pitched twinkling of the mouse. Moreover, the tonal and rhythmic influences are evident from Copland's use of contrasting colour in pitch, as well as dissonant harmonies and unexpected chordal progressions.

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