Scott Wheeler's Piano Works: Musical Portraits and Tributes



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The purpose of this study is to understand the piano works by American composer ScottWheeler, a student of Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) who claimed to be the first musician in the world to have composed musical portraits following the procedure of depicting sitters by a method he called “disciplined spontaneity.” Actively working as a conductor and composer, Wheeler is best known for his vocal works; however, he also wrote more than forty pieces for piano, categorized as musical portraits and tributes. By looking at Wheeler’s entire body of piano compositions, this study identifies the compositional techniques that characterize Scott Wheeler’s musical portraits and tributes. By providing a deep analysis of ten compositions in both categories, this dissertation provides a closer look at the most common characteristics within these pieces. The study begins with a brief introduction of Scott Wheeler, a musician/composerbased in New York, and includes a list of contributions he has made over the years to the American classical music community. Chapter One also provides a brief overview of musical portraiture throughout the history of art music as well as an understanding of how the genre was created and evolved through time in various composers’ works, especially Virgil Thomson’s. Chapter Two gives an overview of Wheeler’s piano music focusing on four features: formal structure, tonality and diatonicism, texture, and rhythm. Chapter Three analyzes ten pieces in both categories to show how the discussed elements in Chapter Two work together. The last chapter provides a chronological list of all works for piano by Wheeler in the form of a thematic catalog, with selective information on their subjects and dedicatees.