SÓN | ‘Appalachian Spring’: The Origins of a Name

SÓN returns with the next instalment in their popular Unwrapped series on Sunday 20 May, performing alongside David Owen Norris as he explores and unwraps what is arguably one of Aaron Copland’s most famous works: Appalachian Spring.

Dubbed ‘the Dean of American Composers’, Copland is rightfully considered to be one of the greatest and most respected classical composers to have come out of the twentieth century, with his ability to thread forms of American popular music into his compositions placing him at the forefront of the creation of a classical American sound.

Premiered in 1944, Appalachian Spring’s use of emotive harmonies and variations on the simplistic, pastoral melody of Simple Gifts are all evocative of the expansive American landscape, and the title of the work suggests just that; what better way to pay homage to the vast American countryside and its endless promises than to name the piece after one of its own mountain ranges? However, little is publicly known of the true origins of the work’s title.

It is a popular belief that the work is simply named after spring in the Appalachians; the music a shimmering soundscape of the season, capturing the essence of the Appalachians’ beauty. Yet Copland did not arrive at the title until shortly before its premiere, over a year after the work’s conception. It was, in fact, originally titled ‘Ballet for Martha’ after the American choreographer and dancer Martha Graham, who had commissioned Copland to write a ballet in which she would dance the lead role. The story of the ballet was set in the 19th century, and told the simple tale of American pioneers celebrating the build of a new farmhouse in their Pennsylvanian community. It was Graham herself who ended up feeding the title Appalachian Spring to Copland after reading the phrase in a poem by American poet Hart Crane entitled ‘The Dance’, with ‘spring’, in this context, referring to the source of water:

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!

Since its successful premiere as a ballet, Appalachian Spring has gained its own glory as a piece of music in its own right, with Copland rearranging it as an orchestral suite in 1945.

Be sure to book your tickets to see a full performance of this suite with SÓN on Sunday 20th May at 7:30pm. We look forward to seeing you there!

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.