In the wake of two well-received ballets set in the American West — Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942) — Aaron Copland began Appalachian Spring in 1943. He created the ballet for the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, and he worked under the title Ballet for Martha until not long before the premiere, when Graham suggested Appalachian Spring, borrowing a phrase from Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge.” Created for the 500-seat auditorium at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, this ballet needed a suitably compact pit orchestra, so Copland used just thirteen instruments in the original version. The next year he arranged most of the ballet into a concert suite for orchestra, and his publisher later added the option heard here, which preserves the original chamber ensemble scoring while adopting the structure of the concert suite. Copland built the unmistakable sound world of Appalachian Spring out of simple and familiar musical materials, like the major triads and the resonant intervals of perfect fourths and fifths heard at the beginning. The famous section near the end, starting with a theme in the clarinet, quotes the tune of Simple Gifts, a Shaker dance song written in 1848 by Joseph Brackett.
Aaron Grad ©2019