Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring

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?


  1. I do think he was very successful, Jessica, although I'm not sure why. You certainly hit the nail on the head with the "wide sonorities" such as fourths and fifths. (Think opening theme of the Classic Star Trek episode). Perhaps it evokes the wide open spaces of the American West.. I'm not entirely sure exactly what it is, but I'm glad he is credited with creating the American Sound because I LOVE his music.
    I'm a bit more in the camp of saying George Gershwin did more to establish a truly UNIQUE American sound in his music because of his successful infusion of Jazz into the classical music consciousness. But that'll be a discussion for a later blog : )

  2. Thank you for your comment! I do agree that Gershwin certainly created a unique American sound by using jazz (a purely American genre!) within his "classical" music. This week, I'm actually focusing my posts on Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. There's one post up now and I'll be adding two more.