Aura Lea: Theme and Variations for piano

The original sheet music cover

One of my most popular piano arrangements, Aura Lea: Theme and Variations for piano, was composed in Toronto.  No matter where I play it – on the concert stage, for a private party or during the dinner hour – it always receives grand applause and some rather sizable tips.  The arrangement is heart rendering;  bringing back pleasant memories.  One variation combines the theme with “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”; bringing two great American songs together.  And, by the way, this composition has many showy virtuoso passages!

Aura Lea is one of the most beloved American songs and is arguably as popular as Amazing Grace.  Our generation heard it with the words that Elvis sang as Love Me Tender.  It has graced America over the last 150 years.  The music was written by W.W. Fosdick and words by George R. Poulton during the Civil War in 1861.  The sheet music cover is the original Confederate version, dated 1864.

Below is a partial list of where this melody can be found. I feel that it is a valuable addition to any serious piano player’s repertoire.

Other occurrences of the song

“Aura Lea” was memorably sung by Frances Farmer and a male chorus in the 1936 film Come and Get It, based on Edna Ferber‘s novel.   Diana Muldaur sings the song to David Carradine in the episode “The Elixir” of Kung Fu.  The Elvis Presley song “Love Me Tender” (lyric by Ken Darby) is a derivative adaptation of this song.  A later Presley recording for the film The Trouble with Girls entitled “Violet (Flower of N.Y.U.)” also used the melody of “Aura Lea”.

Jerry Lanning performed the song on an episode of “The Donna Reed Show” in 1962 entitled “Big Star”.  The television cavalry comedy F Troop used a variation of the song to welcome saloon singer Laura Lee in the episode “She’s Only a Build in a Girdled Cage” (cf. “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage“).  The television western The Young Riders used the song in its series finale, which took place in 1861 and showed how the American Civil War was affecting its characters’ lives.

There is also a version of “Aura Lea” called “Army Blue” associated with the U.S. Military Academy.   In “Army Blue,” lyrics specific to the academy, written by George T. Olmstead, an 1865 graduate of the academy, are sung to the original melody. It is the running theme music in the background of the 1954 John Ford film The Long Gray Line.

Allan Sherman topicalized the song with this polio-based version:

Every time you take vaccine, take it Aura Lea (pun on “orally”)
As you know the other way is more painfully!”


The 1983 film Trading Places includes Ivy League stockbrokers at their racquet club singing a sexual parody of this song about their college days and their fraternity’s conquest of various women on locations at campus, with the refrain changed to “Constance Frye.”

The television show How I Met Your Mother 2009 episode (season 5 episode 22) “Robots Versus Wrestlers“, features Ted Mosby at an upper-class party singing the Trading Places “Constance Fry” version along with film director Peter Bogdanovich and New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.

In Revenge of the Nerds, Betty Childs and the other girls from her sorority sing a parody (though not the exact tune) to the Tri-Lambs.

Check out my performance of Aura Lea: Theme and Variations recorded live in concert at Scott’s Oquaga Lakehouse in Deposit, New York for a select audience, and played on an old and appropriate sounding piano.


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