Appalachian Spring is a composition by Aaron Copland that premiered in 1944 and has achieved widespread and enduring popularity as an orchestral suite. The ballet, scored for a thirteen-member chamber orchestra, was created upon commission of choreographer and dancer Martha Graham with funds from the Coolidge Foundation; it premiered on Monday, October 30, 1944, at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, withMartha Graham (1894-1991) dancing the lead role. The set was designed by the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his achievement.
O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
The orchestral suite is divided into eight sections. Copland describes each scene thus:
- Very slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
- Fast/Allegro. Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
- Moderate/Moderato. Duo for the Bride and her Intended – scene of tenderness and passion.
- Quite fast. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feeling – suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
- Still faster/Subito Allegro. Solo dance of the Bride – presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
- Very slowly (as at first). Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.
- Calm and flowing/Doppio Movimento. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband. There are five variations on a Shakertheme. 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.”
- Moderate. Coda/Moderato – Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. 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.