A stylistic analysis and performance guide for James Sclater's Variations and Toccata on a Theme by Paganini

David Michael Ward, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

This document exists as a resource for understanding and performing the piano music of the American composer James Sclater. It focuses specifically on the Variations and Toccata on a Theme by Paganini (2002), his most important solo piano composition. Sclater's extensive output includes works for orchestra, voice, opera, band, chorus, as well as compositions for soloists and chamber music. After a brief biographical summary and some historical background for the subjects under discussion, the main portion of the study provides a stylistic analysis of Sclater's Variations and Toccata on a Theme by Paganini , a significant and heretofore unexamined piano work which fuses elements of twentieth-century techniques with a more traditional style of composition. The piece continues a tradition of works by various composers that utilize the well-known caprice theme of Paganini as a point of departure, with Sclater's colorful contribution to this lineage reflecting his individual predilections, aesthetics, and temperament. The attractive conflation of old and new qualities, adept compositional craftsmanship, and appealing musicality found in James Sclater's work produces admirable creations which are worthy of examination, research, and performance. His compositions offer intriguing, vital responses to the confrontation of tradition and innovation in twentieth-century art music. Because of the quality, accessibility, and gratifying style of Sclater's compositions, his work is deserving of support, research, and appreciation. The analysis and discussion contained within this document explicates, elucidates, and supports these assertions. The material to be learned in this study includes a deeper understanding of the piano music of James Sclater, as well as insight and perspective regarding his style of composition resulting from the analysis and discussion associated with the dissertation. The musical elements of melody, tonality, harmony, rhythm, texture, tempo, and form are analyzed and explored. As this document is also a performance guide, performance concerns found in the music are addressed. Appendixes include a complete list of works, a letter of permission from James Sclater, an IRB approval form, and excerpts from an interview with the composer.