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A survey of the piano music of Edgar Stillman Kelley (1857--1944)

Kenneth John Hoppmann, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The objective of this study is to survey and analyze the five piano pieces of Edgar Stillman Kelley, placing them in context of the larger repertoire. I shall give examples that show Kelley's compositional influences to be primarily European, not American, as might be expected. In spite of Kelley's American birth and frequent use of American themes, his compositional technique is firmly steeped in the nineteenth-century European tradition, with Mendelssohn and Chopin being the primary influences. ^ The opening chapter introduces Kelley with biographical information and a brief discussion of his compositional output. Even though his compositional activity focused primarily on dramatic choral writing, Kelley left us five piano pieces. The Three Compositions for Piano, Op. 2, which were written in 1891, include “The Flower Seekers,” “Confluentia,” and “The Headless Horseman.” Twenty-five years later, in 1916, he produced two more piano works: Polonaise, Op. 35 and Sky Line. Through the analysis of each piece in subsequent chapters, I shall demonstrate that Kelley matured significantly as a composer, but never abandoned his traditional European training. Even in his most progressive and adventuresome use of harmony in Sky Line, we can still see evidence of his early conservative style. In this paper, I shall present Edgar Stillman Kelley as a musical conservative with a keen interest in harmonic exploration. He was a great synthesizer of the harmonic languages that were being used around him, but never should it be said that Kelley was necessarily an innovator. ^ That being the case, I conclude that Kelley and his music should certainly not be avoided because he did not lead a new compositional school or develop a new style. On the contrary, his music should be studied and performed because it is endlessly creative and satisfying for performer and audience alike. ^

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Recommended Citation

Hoppmann, Kenneth John, "A survey of the piano music of Edgar Stillman Kelley (1857--1944)" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3022634.