After studying in France for three years, Aaron Copland returned to the United States with a stark and spiky musical language steeped in Parisian influences. He moved away from those European conventions in the early 1930s, and he soon found his iconic American voice through explorations of local folk music. A campy orchestra work from 1936, El Salón México, brought Copland his first broad success. Two major ballets set in the American West followed: Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942). Copland further refined his American style, musically and culturally, with two orchestral works from 1942, Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man.
Copland began his crowning work of Americana, Appalachian Spring, in 1943. The dancer and choreographer Martha Graham asked him to compose a ballet score, with the commission funded by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Copland kept Graham’s style in mind: He saw “something prim and restrained, simple yet strong about her, which one tends to think of as American.” He worked under the title Ballet for Martha until not long before the premiere, when Graham suggested Appalachian Spring, borrowing the phrase from Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge.” The writer Edwin Denby summarized the scenario for the original program notes:
“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, their new domestic partnership invites. An older 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.”
Appalachian Spring debuted on October 30, 1944, in Washington, D.C. The limited dimensions of the Library of Congress’s 500-seat auditorium dictated a small ensemble, so Copland’s score used just thirteen instruments. Appalachian Spring earned Copland the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, cementing his reputation as the leading composer of his generation.
Copland built the unmistakable sound world of Appalachian Spring mostly out of simple and familiar musical materials. The first section builds a hazy wash of consonant sonorities, especially triads and the open intervals of fourths and fifths. The following section energizes similarly basic materials—octave leaps, triadic intervals and descending major scales—into spry dance music. The scoring emphasizes crisp and brilliant colors, with emphasis on the piano. There is a tender scene for the young couple, a lively romp depicting the revivalist and his dancing minions, and a brisk solo dance for the bride, which dissipates into a return of the gentle, triadic wash of the beginning.
The famous section that follows, starting with a theme in the clarinet, presents the tune of Simple Gifts, a Shaker dance song written in 1848 by Joseph Brackett. The folksy melody fits seamlessly into the homespun, diatonic language of Copland’s score, and the increasingly grand variations build the ballet to its transcendental climax. A prayer-like chorale provides a final coda.
Aaron Grad ©2014
About This Program
The SPCO and GTCYS present:
GTCYS Family Concert
Made in America
April 26, 2014
Ordway Center for Performing Arts
Mark Russell Smith, conductor and host
Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies Symphony Orchestra
Geared towards families with children ages 6-12.
ABOUT GTCYS: The Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies (GTCYS), founded in 1972, provides an exceptional youth orchestra experience for young musicians of all ages and abilities, and aids in their development as young artists and adults. Under the dynamic leadership of new Artistic Director Mark Russell Smith, GTCYS serves more than 750 students ages 8-18 from across the Twin Cities region through seven academic-year orchestras and two summer programs. With an outstanding artistic staff including coaches from the esteemed Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Minnesota Orchestra, students benefit from GTCYS’ comprehensive approach to education and excellence. Committed to bringing music to diverse audiences, GTCYS presents 20 annual concerts to more than 10,000 audience members through performances at Orchestra Hall and Ted Mann Concert Hall, and free community concerts at homeless shelters, schools, and care centers in the Twin Cities.
GTCYS is renowned for its rich touring history and will embark on a tour to Spain to perform by invitation at the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance in June 2014. At home, GTCYS collaborates with world-class artists and organizations including guest conductors Osmo Vänskä, Roberto Abbado, and Nicholas McGegan and recent projects with the Minnesota Chorale and James Sewell Ballet. In 2011, GTCYS and the SPCO formed a unique strategic alliance that works toward the shared goals of serving the community and building classical music audiences. Dedicated to increasing access to music education, GTCYS awards $27,000 in need-based scholarships to students annually. For more information, visit www.gtcys.org.
Please note: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra does not perform on this program.