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AARON COPLAND (1900-1990)

Appalachian Spring (1943-44)

Aaron Copland’s most performed works, and his most tremendous success, originate from the 40s, a decade that saw "Rodeo" (1942), "Fanfare for the Common Man" (1942), "Appalachian Spring" (1944), and the "Third Symphony" (1944-46). These works channeled early American landscapes and themes. The incorporation of hymns and folk-tunes coupled with the composer's iconic lush open sonorities, rhythmic and metric vitality, and crisp orchestration is the sound that defines the American musical perspective and spirit.

 

"Appalachian Spring" was composed during 1943-44 for dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. With Copland coming off the success of his previous two ballets (Billy the Kid, Rodeo) and Graham ushering in the new era of modern dance, the ballet, titled at first "Ballet for Martha," seemed to have pre-ordained promise. Premiered by Graham and her company at the Coolidge Festival in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, on October 30, 1944, the work received the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for music. 

 

The now-famous title is often mistaken for the spring season. While the plot is set during the season, the title's genesis points to an actual spring of water. Graham encountered the pair of words in a poem titled "The Dance," part of a collection of poems called "The Bridge" by Hart Crane. 

 

I took the portage climb, then chose

A further valley-shed; I could not stop.

Feet nozzled wat'ry webs of upper flows;

One white veil gusted from the very top.

 

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;

Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends

And northward reaches in that violet wedge

Of Adirondacks!—wisped of azure wands,

- Hart Crane.

 

While no actual spring is involved in the ballet plot, Graham was taken with the word combination and changed the title a few weeks shy of the premiere.

 

Set in the early part of the last century, the plot revolves around "a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate." Finally, the work's seminal variations on a Shaker melody underscores the simple gifts of life, to be free. "At the end, the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house."

 

The original score called for a chamber ensemble of thirteen instruments. Copland expanded the orchestration for a condensed 20-minute suite-like arrangement in the spring of 1945, calling for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, and strings.

Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York, and died on December 2, 1990, in Peekskill. © MTF

(Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai)

ABOUT THIS PERFORMANCE (MASTERWORKS 3):

American masters take center stage to celebrate an American experience, fearless women, impossible virtuosity, and unforgettable journeys. Violinist Joshua Bell and Soprano Larisa Martinez join your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in a program of the unshakable American spirit with Barber’s sweeping Violin Concerto, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Bernstein’s West Side Story, Gershwin’s tour de force An American in Paris, and more! © MTF