Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Geoffrey Burleson

Committee Members

Norman Carey

Ursula Oppens

Jerome Lowenthal

Subject Categories

Music Performance | Music Theory


Bolcom, Etudes, Piano


Ever since its naissance, composer William Bolcom’s set of Twelve New Etudes has garnered great critical praise, culminating with the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Although much has been written about the background surrounding the creation of these pieces and their technical novelty, no formal analysis of this set of etudes has been published.

This dissertation thoroughly examines the various aspects which hold these pieces together. Each etude is analyzed according to a clearly defined set of criteria: dynamics, compositional language, range, texture, articulation and contour, meter and rhythm, and form. In addition, a more detailed analysis is offered, providing an analytical and descriptive musical narrative of the piece.

The analysis is predicated upon a few assumptions, which the author sets to argue and prove throughout the document. First, is the idea that although Bolcom is boldly experimental through these compositions, his modus operandi is to leave a few stabilizing elements in each piece. The choice of with which elements to experiment, and which to stabilize, changes from etude to etude, and is partly responsible for the great variety in the set.

Second, is the assumption that Bolcom’s background as a concert pianist greatly informs and guides his musical decisions. This is particularly noticeable through the palpable use of hand positions in his passagework. Lastly, is the assumption that Bolcom’s immensely varied background as a composer, ranging from the application of serial techniques in his early works, to his working knowledge of jazz theory, is responsible for his unique compositional language.