Later this week I will perform Copland’s beloved Appalachian Spring — the original 13 instrument version, in its entirety to a projection of Martha Graham’s 1944 performance.
Copland began composing a ballet for Martha Graham in 1942. At first it was simply called “Ballet for Martha,” but shortly before its premiere, Graham suggested the title “Appalachian Spring” — which comes from “The Dance,” a poem by American poet Hart Crane:
O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
I don’t think there could ever be a better title for this work. Copland’s music is so iconically American, so full of life and that hopeful quality one imagines the pioneers felt when looking out on the vista of their new home. Copland said, “I gave voice to [the Appalachian] region without knowing I was giving voice to it.”
Appalachian Spring garnered Copland the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945, and has since become one of the most most beloved works of the twentieth century.
To me, performing this work is something of a spiritual experience. In the course of the ballet, there are moments of intense joy and happiness, of love, of fear, but most apparent to me are the moments of hope. At the end of the ballet, Copland creates a theme and variations on the folk tune “Simple Gifts” (also known simply as “Shaker Melody”). By the time the melody reaches its peak, I am always on the verge of tears (whether I am listening or playing).
All in all, if you haven’t seen/heard Appalachian Spring, you should.
The performance is this Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Liberty Theater in Astoria, Oregon. Check out the festival’s website for ticket information and other concert opportunities!