Similarities & Differences in Classical Compositions of Copland & Smetana

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1732 Words
Date:  2023-01-25

The varied difference in nationality, as well as era, may make one t think that there is no similarity between classical composition of Aaron Copland and Bedrich Smetana. However, relating to the initial pieces of both artist, one can deduce that indeed there exist profound similarities and differences in their work or classical compositions. The two artists showcase similar as well as different intellectual and emotional side of their music. Such dynamics are evident through several numbers of elements as will be discussed below.

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The purpose of this paper is to thoroughly analyze "Billy the Kid" as composed by Aaron Copland and "Ma Vlast" as composed by Bedrich Smetana, identifying the differences and similarities between the two composers. Throughout the analysis, the issue of nationalism will be addressed, putting much focus on how the era of "diversified the stream (of the European music) enriched it with new technical processes and idioms, and the origin of most of the new currents that were supposed to flow in the 20th-century music" (Pogue, David, and Scott, 6). A critical consideration of the musical elements will be an important aspect when analyzing the two works, including the dynamics, structure, timbre, duration, harmony, and texture. The analysis will also include genres, styles, and contexts related to the two compositions (Lee, 101-125).

Due to era and nationality differences, most people tend to think that the two pieces of work have no similarities. However, the work of Aaron Copland, "Billy, the Kid" (piece 1) and Bedrich's six symphonic poems, "The Vltava" (piece 2) exhibit differences and similarities. Both the authors were nationalist composers-they included musical motifs and ideas which can be typically related to a particular country, including melodies, harmonies, folk tunes, and rhythms (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42).


The initial speed in the work of Bedrich indicates "Allegro commondo non-agitato," whereas in Aaron's work is marked with "Allegro" alone. The speed in the two works fluctuates, and constantly changes their time signatures as well as the tempo markings (Lee, 101-125). Moreover, due to the fact the work of the two composers are long, the changes in speed creates a fluctuating atmosphere and contrast to gain attention from the audience.

Although the two composers have used similar tempo indications, with the two works being played at a brisk speed, the Bedrich's composition is substantially faster than Aaron's. First, the speed difference is developed through the time signatures used at the start of each composition. For instance, Aaron's composition starts in simple duple time, whereas Bedrich's starts in a compound duple (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42). The presence of a beat divided into three rather than two play a critical role in the feeling of "Vltava" being at a quicker tempo that "Billy, the Kid." Secondly, at the start of every piece, Bedrich's composition has at least one instrument playing continuous semi-quavers, thus qualifying piece 2 to be quicker (Pogue, David, and Scott, 3).

In relation to the current age of composition, the classical era was popular due to its simplicity; thus, the tempo ranking and time signatures remained the same in the entire music. However, Aaron's composition had slightly deviated from this since it introduced new time signatures and tempo marking after the new themes arrived (Lee, 101-125). Moreover, the incessantly frequent time signatures and tempo rankings fluctuations in Aaron's work are a true representation of the less unpredictable and structural styles of composers in the 20th century.

Time Signature

As noted above, the two compositions have different time signatures, and each time signature is conducted with two beats per bar, but the number of notes conducted in one beat is different. This goes in accordance with the styles of the two compositions and the intended mood of the composer. Bedrich's composition has 6/8 time signatures which enable it to semiquaver the flow, whereas Aaron's time signature portrays a more westernized style (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42).

However, the two compositions change their time signatures throughout, but Aaron's composition is more frequent compared to Bedrich's. Aaron's time signature fluctuation is more sectional than Bedrich's due to the introduction of new themes and new ideas which leads to new time signatures. Contrary, Aaron's composition changes his time signatures bar by bar style that creates confusion, but an effective rhythmic repetition and the needed suspense required at particular instances (Lee, 101-125).


The two composers have used various dynamics throughout their compositions, which create contrasts within the compositions and enable them to be more captivating. Both compositions start in a soft mood with Aaron's composition marked "mezzo piano" and Bedrich's marked "piano." These dynamics enable the two compositions to develop throughout the music gradually and finally end on "fortissimo" (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42).

Generally, in most orchestral compositions, composers normally utilize the natural dynamics and timbre of individual instruments and different ranges to obtain the requisite dynamic. For example, in "forte sections," composers tend to include full orchestra or brass section (Pogue, David, and Scott, 2). This is a skillful technique that has been constantly applied by both Aaron and Bedrich. At the start of Bedrich's composition, only pizzicato violins and the flutes are utilized to indicate the "piano dynamic," which is similar to Aaron's work where piccolo, violins, tin whistle and violas are used. Contrarily, the whole of the orchestra plays in bars 277-289 in Aaron's composition, thus portraying the "fortissimo" dynamic (Pogue, David, and Scott, 5).

Most compositions, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, tend to narrate a story. As opposed to beginning abruptly with a loud dynamic marking, both composers use the technique of a subtle introduction where they narrate a story from the beginning. The purpose of the beginnings of these compositions is not to capture the audience immediately, but to ease the audience into the storyline and engage them in it through making walking with them on the journey (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42).

Both Aaron's and Bedrich's compositions make constant use of dynamics throughout their works, but Aaron's work is more abrupt and aggressive whereas Bedrich makes use of gradual fluctuations which indicate the swells and surges in the river and help in portraying the vastness and imagery of the Moldau (Pogue, David, and Scott, 4).


Both compositions make constant use of various themes throughout their works and re-introduce different ideas in their works. For instance, the imagery created by Bedrich is clear and is strongly represented in each individual section names such as "hunt in the Woods." The section titles resemble the music's imagery (Lee, 101-125). However, the ballet structure in Aaron's composition is much vague compared to Bedrich's incontrovertible Rondo form. The Rondo form comprises of a Theme A which is consistently repeated throughout his work in variations.

In the 20th century, the structure of compositions began to taper and emerged to be less apparent. Bedrich was still stuck in the structural rut which existed in the 19th century together with other romantic composers, but Aaron was much eager to venture outside this (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42). Compositions in the modern days tend to concentrate much on themes expansion in order to include stories in them as opposed to composing with a particular set structure. The 20th-century compositions were all about innovations, explorations, and creativity, which are exemplified in Aaron's work.


The two composers have used different textures available within the orchestra to emphasize the various dynamic levels used in their compositions. Through fluctuations in textures, greater dynamic contrasts and timbres have been achieved by the two composers, thus portraying the mood and the atmosphere in their works. The two composers have constantly skilfully used this technique for their own benefit (Lee, 101-125). However, Aaron's composition changes the textures more abruptly than Bedrich's work. This is well illustrated in bars 106-108 of Aaron's work compared to Bedrich's gradual tapering of the instruments layer-by-layer as indicated in bars 165-185. Again, this portrays the differences in composition styles between the 19th and the 20th centuries, where the latter is more unpredictable and experimental than the former (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42).


Both compositions have distinct changes in sound and timbre. Nevertheless, the instrumentation differences between Aaron's work and Bedrich's work is distinctly diverging, and ultimately creating a different atmosphere and sound in the two compositions. For instance, Aaron's composition is set for the Wild West where different instruments are used to resemble the concept like the woodblocks in bar 165, the gourd in bar 168 and sleigh bells in bar 149 (Palmquist and Gail, 1-42). The utilization of such instruments helps the composers to portray a particular image and is common in modern-day music than it was in the classical and romantic ages. Similarly, Bedrich work incorporates the traditional orchestra instruments, but with the addition of a harp which plays a critical role in flowing the nature of the composition.


Another significant similarity that exists between the two artists is attributed to syncopation. The two artists tend to employ this effect. However, in as much as Copland applied it more frequently as compared to Smetana, both of them did apply it to drive their message home as well as make their pieces interesting. Notably, syncopation is instrumental as far as modern music is concerned. This is most evidenced by the classical and ancient romantic songs or composition. The effect offers an unpredictable mood in the song and sense of unevenness where necessary.


The purpose of this paper was to thoroughly analyze "Billy the Kid" as composed by Aaron Copland and "Ma Vlast" as composed by Bedrich Smetana, identifying the differences and similarities between the two composers. Although the two composers have used similar tempo indications, with the two works being played at a brisk speed, Bedrich's composition is substantially faster than Aaron's. First, the speed difference is developed through the time signatures used at the start of each composition. For instance, Aaron's composition starts in simple duple time, whereas Bedrich's begins in a compound duple. Thus clearly identifying the difference and similarities.

Works Cited

Lee, Ming-Yen. "The Politics of the Modern Chinese Orchestra: Making Music in Mao's China, 1949-1976 1." Modern China Studies 25.1 (2018): 101-125. Retrieved from

Palmquist, Jane E., and Gail V. Barnes. "Many String: An Online Community of Practice." International Journal of Community Music 8.1 (2015): 2-42. Retrieved from

Pogue, David, and Scott Speck. Classical Music for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. (2015). Retrieved from

Cite this page

Similarities & Differences in Classical Compositions of Copland & Smetana. (2023, Jan 25). Retrieved from

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