Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

ORCID 0000-0002-9816-557X

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


School of Music


Eric Ruple

Eric Guinivan

Gabriel Dobner


Augusta Read Thomas (1964-) composes in many genres. Her music is often filled with subtle nuances of articulation and color, and contains many intentional "surprises." Thomas achieves these sound effects by applying three compositional principles: by providing a score with detailed instructions and additional information that result in the feeling of "spontaneity"; by using her "organic" language to transform the connections to the past or to living composers; and by considering all musical elements as one "gestalt" to form her music.

Six Piano Etudes (1996-2005) and Traces (2006) are filled with "surprises," in which the listener can discover elements of unpredictability in the journey to appreciating her music. This document will explore how these three compositional principles are reflected in these two sets, with a focus on Thomas’ own compositional methods of establishing "connections" and "transformations" as an approach to create "unpredictability" within the two sets.

Each of the Six Piano Etudes makes reference to one past or living composer, while each movement of Traces makes references to two composers (or two styles). I will explore how Thomas takes the gestures explored by each of these composers and interprets them by using her own creative ideas. The set-theory analysis will provide examples of Thomas’ "organic language" as she combines every two etudes into one pair in Six Piano Etudes. The analysis of Thomas’ methods of varying the same motive in different ways also illustrates how the composer creates the effect of unpredictability and spontaneity.

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