≈ 2 hours and 20 minutes · With intermission
Aaron Copland had long admired the innovative artistry of American dancer Martha Graham, who in 1931 had choreographed the dance solo Dithyrambic to the composer’s Piano Variations. Over a decade later, in 1942, an opportunity finally arose for the two of them to collaborate—a commission by the eminent music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for a half-hour long ballet. Copland worked on the score (originally for 13 instruments) over the next two years; in 1944, the ballet, entitled Appalachian Spring (which Graham had taken from a poem by Hart Crane), was premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. A critical success, it won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award the following year. Six months after the ballet’s premiere, Copland arranged the music into a suite for orchestra, which was first performed by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Artur Rodzínski, in October 1945. It is in this form that Appalachian Spring is best known today.
Through his distinctive application of modernist elements such as static harmonies, extended tonality, and cross rhythms, Copland evokes in the music of Appalachian Spring a certain character of life in rural America—specifically, its spaciousness, simplicity, and down-to-earth quality drawn from American pastoral mythology as well as Anglo-American folk music. The Suite consists of eight sections (reduced from the ballet’s original 14 segments), which progress without break. Below is the ballet’s synopsis, for context, followed by the composer’s individual descriptions to each section of the Suite.
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Synopsis: A pioneer celebration in spring around a newly built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, which their new domestic partnership invites. An old 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. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.
1. Very slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
2. Fast. Sudden burst of unison strings in A-major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
3. Moderate. Duo for the Bride and her Intended—scene of tenderness and passion.
4. Quite fast. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feelings—suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
5. Still faster. Solo dance of the Bride—presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
6. Very slowly (as at first). Transition scene reminiscent of the introduction.
7. Calm and flowing. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer-husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title “The Gift to Be Simple.” The melody borrowed and used almost literally is called “Simple Gifts.”
8. Moderate. Coda. The Bride takes her place among her new neighbours. At the end the couple are left “quiet and strong in their new house.” Muted strings intone a hushed prayerlike chorale passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Aaron Copland is considered to be one of the 20th century’s most enduringly successful of American composers. His substantial compositional catalogue is comprised of music for the stage (ballet, opera, and incidental music), screen (two documentaries and six films), radio, orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, solo piano, and voice and piano. His musical style is considered distinctively American, bearing the influences of popular music, jazz, and folk music from Anglo-, African-, and Latin-American as well as Jewish sources. The works audiences find most appealing contain music of restrained emotional directness, often evoking a pastoral American ideal. Copland was also active as a pianist, conductor, and a prolific writer on music, including two notable music appreciation texts, What to Listen for in Music and Our New Music. An important mentor to several generations of composers, he was instrumental in the development of 20th-century art music in the Americas.
Born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York, Copland had formal piano lessons from age 13, and studied theory and composition through private instruction from Rubin Goldmark. Attending concerts, operas, and dance performances were also a formative part of his musical education. In 1921, he went to Paris for further studies in piano with Ricardo Viñes and composition with Nadia Boulanger, who was his most significant teacher. While there, Copland voraciously absorbed the city’s cultural offerings and frequently travelled around Europe. In 1924, by Boulanger’s arrangement, his Organ Symphony was given its American premiere by the New York Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Thereafter, the latter’s conductor, Serge Koussevitsky, became a notable commissioner and champion of Copland’s music.
Although he initially struggled to earn his living as a composer (critics were fickle), Copland was determined to help himself and his American colleagues. Over the next two decades, he tirelessly organized concerts; was active in New York’s League of Composers, led the American Composers Alliance, and co-founded the American Music Center; and wrote about American music in journals, newspapers, and magazines. By the late 1940s, having achieved wide popularity and critical acclaim from his patriotic pieces, ballets (especially Appalachian Spring), and film scores, Copland was regarded as America’s leading composer of his day.
In the early 1950s, Copland’s long-held socialist sympathies and activism made him the target of anti-communist smear campaigns; and he endured questioning by a Congressional subcommittee (he denied being a communist). Ultimately, his reputation was unaffected; as he continued to compose, lecture, teach, and write, he accumulated numerous honours and awards as well as major recognition abroad. Beginning in 1958, he embarked on an international conducting career, leading performances of his own works and those of other American composers for over 20 years. After 1972, he ceased to compose, and began to suffer memory lapses, eventually living with the effects of dementia. Copland died on December 2, 1990, a few weeks after his 90th birthday, in North Tarrytown, New York.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Jethro Marks (principal)**
David Marks (associate principal)**
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)**
Max Cardilli (guest principal)*
Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Joanna G’froerer (principal)
Charles Hamann (principal)
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Darren Hicks (guest principal)*
Christopher Millard (principal)**
Lawrence Vine (principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
Donald Renshaw (principal)
Chris Lee (principal)
Feza Zweifel (principal)
ASSISTANT PERSONNEL MANAGER
Non-titled members of the Orchestra are listed alphabetically