Did you know that Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring began as a ballet? This Pulitzer Prize-winning work was originally written for dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. In the beginning, Copland didn’t know what to call the work so he referred to it as “Ballet for Martha.” Graham later chose the title that we know today. The ensemble at the premiere consisted of only thirteen musicians. It wasn’t until later on that Copland arranged the piece into the orchestral suite most people are now familiar with.
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. The music and choreography complement each other beautifully, telling the story of young newlyweds settling in the Pennsylvania frontier.
Here is a performance of Copland’s original Appalachian Spring ballet. Do you think the music fits well as a ballet accompaniment?