Copland: 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson // Mov. 4 The World Feels Dusty

Vectoral Analysis by Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

Copland: 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson / Mov. 4 The World Feels Dusty

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Historical Background

Copland music has an important influence of the tradition.[1] While European composers are focused in the complexity (serialistic, rhythmic development, colors) and the USA composers like Cage in the emancipation of the noise; Copland prefers to create music in a more conservative way. It can be seen in the way that the composer arrangement the ideas in classical forms and how the phrases are built in this movement. Although that not means that it does not have important developments that are going to be discussed below.

Overview, Structure, and Texture

The piece has important static sense that can be understood analyzing 3 important tools. First, the use of a repetitive pattern in the piano (bar 1 and 2[2]) that it placed almost in the 95% of the piece. Second, the constantly repetition of musical ideas. Bar 1, 2 compared with bars 3, 4 and 5, 6 are examples of it. Third, by the use of a binary form that repeats the section A. Furthermore, the texture is polyphonic but just with few rhythmical differences between the notes, thus the texture is not perceived very thick.

Orchestration Techniques

The composer uses a free melodically voice related with the piano. That means that its horizontal movements are not based in the piano pre-presentation. However, the voice and piano have important relation in the text painting of the composition. The bar 3 is a good example of it where the voice is making a second with the piano in the word “world”. It creates sense a “not clean” sound that reflects the text “the world feels dusty.[3] In addition the piano use middle register (except for bars 11 to 16) in contrast of the voices that take more advantages of its register. From a low A sharp in bar 18 to an F Sharp in 11.

Basic Techniques

Three important elements can be highlighted here. First. the use of a chord that change its bass but without leaving the triadic structure. This can be seen in at the beginning and is present in the whole movement. Second, the use of syllabic arrangement of the voice and the piano triadic arrangement influence in it. Although the voice is melodically free, its movements are influenced by the notes in the piano that are triadic structured. Third, the influence of the periodical aspect of classical phrases that structure the music in phrases and even periods as is seen in each sections.

Vertical Models

The most recognizable element is the 11th and 9th diminished chord in the piano that is present in the huge part of the piece. It creates a triadic organization of the whole piece. This organization is present also in the melody line structure of the voice (see bar 6 as an example[4]).

Horizontal Models

Influenced by the periodical aspect of a classical form, their patters are trying to fixing in the form. The arpeggio organization in some bars in the voice is another aspect that shows influences of the triadic organization. In addition, voice movements are primarily thirds and fourths with almost no diatonic movements. And important aspect hear is the huger movements at the end of the phrases. In terms of the piano his movements are primarily result of the triadic thinking. However, there is a diatonic movement to the next bar since bar 18[5] that continue almost until the end of the movement.


The influence of the tradition is clearly seen in Copland’s Music. The aggrupation of the ideas in musical phrases, forms and triadic organization described adobe are examples of it. However, it’s clear that there are important advances in terms of Copland’s style compare to classical traditions. First, the triadic arrangement of the piece is very far of the tonal thinking due to the lack of cadenzas with its functional movements. Second, the use of different number of measures in phrases.


[1] Aaron Copland, Music and Imagination (Cambriege: Harvard University Press, 1980), (Page 69)

[2] Aaron Copland, Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (New York: Boosey and Hawkes, 2000), (Page 14)

[3] Ibid. (Page 14)

[4] Ibid. (Page 14)

[5] Ibid. (Page 15)

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