This week we are looking at the works of American composer Aaron Copland and examining his approach to creating an “American sound.” Today, let’s look at one of his most famous works, Appalachian Spring (1943–1944), that won him a Pulitzer Prize.
Appalachian Spring was originally written as a ballet for dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. The ensemble consisted of only thirteen musicians. It wasn’t until later on that he arranged the piece into the orchestral suite most people are familiar with today.
One famous medley in Appalachian Spring is taken from the Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple. Copland then varies this theme throughout the work. In an attempt to evoke images of rural, American life, Copland uses wide sonorities and open fifths and octaves, a trait commonly used to express American ideas in music.
Here is a performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring by the Ulster Orchestra.
Also check out this great arrangement by John Williams that was performed at the 2008 Presidential Inauguration.
Do you think Copland was successful in creating the “American sound” in his music?