Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Appalachian Spring Suite

On today's date in 1945, Artur Rodzinski conducted the New York Philharmonic in the premiere performance of an orchestral suite arranged from Aaron Copland's ballet score, "Appalachian Spring." The whole country got to hear the work a day or two later, when the Philharmonic's weekly radio broadcast from Carnegie Hall included the new Copland suite as part of the program.
For the ballet's 1944 premiere at the Library of Congress, Copland called for a chamber orchestra of 13 players, but for most music lovers, it's as a work for a larger symphony orchestra that "Appalachian Spring" is most often remembered.
Copland said he had conducted all of his own works, but knew his "Appalachian Spring" best of all. He also had some specific advice for other conductors of his score.
"I have often admonished orchestras, professional and otherwise, not to get too sweet or too sentimental with it," said Copland, "and I have reminded performers that 'Appalachian Spring' should be played cooler than Tchaikovsky and lighter and happier than Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring.'"
"My own favorite place in the whole piece," said Copland, "is toward the end, where I have marked a 'misterioso.' I would tell string players that we don't want to know where the up and down bows are. They must have a special sustained quality there, a kind of organ like sound, with each entry like an Amen."
This excerpt above is courtesy of Composers Datebook, an informative daily radio program hosted by John Zech on American Public Media. In addition to CDs of music by Copland, we currently have Copland's classic book What to Listen for in Music. From the sample of his writing quoted by Zech, it sounds like it would be an excellent adjunct to a blissful interlude of music appreciation! Incidentally, Appalachian Spring is one of NPR's Milestones of the Millennium.


  1. I just discovered that "Appalachian Spring" was named after a phrase from a Hart Crane poem entitled "The Dance." Martha Graham, who originally danced the lead role at the 1944 premiere, suggested the title. Copland had not yet named the suite and referred to it only as "Ballet for Martha." How interesting!

  2. Copland's first published piece was The Cat and the Mouse, a solo piano piece based on a fable by La Fontaine.

  3. I am so sad that I've been missing Ken Burn's Prohibition series, I hope Daedalus will carry the DVDs when they are released.

  4. I think PBS will probably repeat Prohibition.
    How cool about the Copland ... esp re the La Fontaine poem and illustration we ran the other day!