07 Mar 2013

Copland – Suite from Appalachian Spring

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, bass drum, suspended cymbal, snare drum, tabor, triangle, glockenspiel, xylophone, woodblock, claves, harp, piano, strings.

Duration: 23 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – AARON COPLAND (1900-1990) – Copland’s most productive decade, both in terms of compositional output and reputation enhancement, was the 1940s. Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) and Lincoln Portrait (also 1942) would have been enough to assure the fame of any American composer but for Copland (like Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky in Russia) it was the ballet scores that truly established him as the preeminent contributor to the national musical identity.  

THE MUSIC – Copland’s career and ambitions are impossible to capture in a single work or deed. He was a man of wide-ranging artistic tastes and eclectic influences, one whose personal compositional range included at various times both film scoring and the twelve-tone technique. Still, if you ask random music lovers about Aaron Copland today they will almost always invoke just one masterpiece among his many – the seminal Appalachian Spring of 1944. Not merely the most recognizable example of Copland’s populist “vernacular” style, Appalachian Spring ranks among high the great ballets of the 20th century and is certainly the most important American submission to that vaunted category. Martha Graham had already collaborated successfully with Copland back in 1931, so when Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge offered funding in 1942 for a trio of commissions, Graham knew just where to turn for one of them. The script, supplied initially by Graham, tells of a young pioneer couple in 19th century Pennsylvania. They raise a house, hear a sermon, attend a party and spend a few quiet moments alone in hopeful anticipation of a long life together. It is heartwarming, essential Americana and Copland’s authentically evocative music could not be more perfectly suited to the imagery. Interestingly, Copland composed the music without first knowing the title of the ballet, which was also chosen by Graham and taken from the poem “The Dance” by Hart Crane. The present concert suite was created a year later in 1945.         

THE WORLD – Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1944. 1944 was also the year of the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III, the founding of the United Negro College Fund in America and Iceland’s final declaration of independence from Denmark.

THE CONNECTION – Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite was a featured on Utah Symphony’s European Tour in 2005. Keith Lockhart also conducted the Masterworks performance that year.