By Michael Charry
This article appeared in Volume 33 (2017) of the Journal of the Conductors Guild and is reproduced here by kind permission of the International Conductors Guild.
One of Aaron Copland’s most inspired and best-loved masterpieces, Appalachian Spring, has a complex history from its commissioning in the early 1940s by one of America’s preeminent modern dancers, Martha Graham, to concert suites extracted in 1945 and the 1970s, and the complete ballet version for full orchestra published in 2016.1Appalachian Spring was one of many commissions by the Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress. The Foundation was established in 1925 by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864–1953), a wealthy patron, one of whose chief interests was chamber music. The premiere of Appalachian Spring took place in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, named for Ms. Coolidge, whose generosity helped create the auditorium. Presented here are the many versions of Appalachian Spring, four of which are available for performance as decided in 2016 by the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.2The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, www.coplandfund.org. “In keeping with his lifelong devotion to contemporary music, Aaron Copland created the Fund and bequeathed to it a large part of his estate. The Fund was officially announced to the public in 1992. The Fund’s purpose is to encourage and improve public knowledge and appreciation of contemporary American music. The fund operates three grant programs and also grants permission for the use of Copland’s music.”
The working title of Appalachian Spring was “Ballet for Martha,” composed mostly while Copland was away from New York City. Graham sent Copland the scenario in May 1943 and followed it with two later revisions. The performance deviated in many details from the scenarios, which Copland accepted as the choreographer’s prerogative.3Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland Since 1943 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 34.
As Copland related many times, after he delivered the finished score to Graham, he asked what she had chosen for the title of the ballet. When she told him that it was “Appalachian Spring,” he replied, “Oh, that’s a pretty name.”4Ibid; Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man (New York: Henry Holt, 1999), 402. Graham took the title from a line in American poet Hart Crane’s long narrative, “The Bridge,” which describes the journey of a Native-American by foot and canoe through the primitive landscape of the Appalachian region of the country, eventually coming upon a pristine, spring-fed river.5Brom Weber, ed., The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane (New York: Liveright, New York, 1966), 72. “…I took the portage climb, then chose/A further valley-shed; I could not stop./Feet nozzled wat’ry webs of upper flows;/One white veil gusted from the very top./ O Appalachian Spring!…” In Graham’s scenario, the dance depicts a young bride and bridegroom facing life together in their new farmhouse in Pennsylvania in spring in the early 1800s. Copland used the Shaker melody “Simple Gifts” prominently for a set of variations at the core of the ballet and later bemusedly learned that there never had been any Shaker settlements in Pennsylvania.6Copland and Perlis, 33. The Graham Company toured with Appalachian Spring in the first half of 1945, performing it in many cities, from Boston and Cleveland to New York. “Graham’s choreography and costumes, Isamu Noguchi’s set, and Copland’s score…won both a New York Music Critics’ Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize within a few weeks in May.”7Pollack, 404. Appalachian Spring was performed in New York City in the spring of 1945 at the National Theatre on West 41st Street, now named the Nederlander Theatre.
As with his previous ballets Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942), Copland derived a concert suite from Appalachian Spring. The original ballet (1944) is scored for chamber ensemble due to the small size of the pit in the Coolidge Auditorium. The first concert version was titled, “Orchestral Suite from the Ballet, Appalachian Spring (1945).” In addition to increasing the size of the orchestration, Copland truncated the music for the suite, making seventeen cuts that range in length from one measure to 219—approximately eight minutes of music. Copland characterized the omitted sections as those in which the “interest is primarily choreographic”8Copland and Perlis, 48. (examples 1 and 2). He also recomposed two sections (examples 3–5) and re-ordered the Shaker Variations, cutting one variation and transposing another into a new key; all of Copland’s subsequent versions followed this restructuring in the variations. The 2016 complete ballet for full orchestra—finished 26 years after Copland’s death—restores the rewritten sections to their form in the original ballet.
In examining the history of Appalachian Spring, the key sources are listed below:
A1. Unpublished condensed score for the ballet, 50 pages, in Copland’s hand; titled “Ballet for Martha,” signed and dated Cambridge, MA, June 1944.9A recording of Copland playing this score on the piano, which he made for Graham’s use in choreographing and rehearsing the dance, is available on Pearl Records: GEMM CD 9279, Copland & Bernstein: The Composer as Performer. The recording stops at 22 minutes, suggesting that one or more of the original discs has been lost.
A2. Complete ballet scored for thirteen instruments: two first violins, two second violins, two violas, two cellos, one double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano. The premiere took place in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress on October 30, 1944.10The autograph score of Appalachian Spring is in The Library of Congress. Copland kept a photocopy of it at his home in Cortland, New York, which we went through together on my visit with him there in 1972 to discuss the premiere of version E, which I would be conducting in Kansas City in 1973. There are a few recordings of the complete ballet on CD: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff on Teldec 2292-46314-2 (CD includes Music for the Theater, Three Latin American Sketches, and Quiet City) and The Atlantic Sinfonietta conducted by Andrew Schenck, recorded March 15, 1990, on Koch International Classics 3-7019-2 H1. (CD also includes Samuel Barber: Cave of the Heart [Medea]).
B. Concert Suite, scored for orchestra by Copland in May 1945. The New York Philharmonic-Symphony gave the premiere on October 4 and 5, 1945, conducted by its music director, Artur Rodzinski.11“First radio performance,” October 7, 1945, AS Disc 546, © 1990. This Italian CD also includes Gershwin’s An American in Paris, and music by Heitor Villa-Lobos and John Alden Carpenter. Besides scoring for winds in twos, piano, harp, percussion, and strings, Copland made numerous cuts from the ballet and recomposed and rearranged the order of some passages. All subsequent versions except G—the 2016 version—follow the form of this concert suite. It is published by Boosey & Hawkes.
C. Ballet version for orchestra made for a projected performance by Graham and her company in 1954 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, conductor. Most of the cuts in B were restored but the recomposed and rearranged passages were not, making it unusable for the dancers.12The performance most likely used the original score (A2), probably with added strings. Ormandy recorded version C with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Columbia ML 5751).
D. The concert suite with the original orchestration for thirteen instruments, with the same cuts as B. Copland conducted the premiere in August 1970, on the concert series of the Los Angeles Museum of Art, at the instigation and encouragement of its director, Copland’s friend, Lawrence Morton. It was published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1972. A note in the score reads: “The composer authorizes for this version an increase in the number of string players up to 188.8.131.52.2 at the discretion of the conductor.”13Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring: Suite for 13 Instruments (New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1972). The Graham Company has often augmented the strings in performance.
E. “The complete concert suite in the original orchestration,” in the wording agreed on by Copland and the publisher, later referred to as the “Extended Suite.”14In July 1970 I became acquainted with the complete ballet for the first time when I conducted two danced performances of the ballet with the Martha Graham Dance Company with members of the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Center. Inspired by that experience, I persuaded Copland to give me permission to perform the suite in the original orchestration inserting the 219 measures that had been cut from the original ballet just before the end of the Shaker Variations, between rehearsal numbers 64 and 65, because it added another interesting and unknown musical dimension to the score that should be widely known. I conducted the premiere with members of the Kansas City Philharmonic at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, January 7, 1973. Copland thought well enough about this version that he recorded it with a group of New York freelance musicians later that year for CBS Records, MK 42431, calling it the complete ballet, which it was not quite. It is being withdrawn from performance by decision of the Copland Fund.
F1. “Variations on a Shaker Melody,” a six-minute concert piece extracted from the first concert suite (B), published in 1960 by Boosey & Hawkes in their Youth Orchestra Series.
F2. F1 arranged for band by the composer, (Boosey & Hawkes also lists “Excerpts from Appalachian Spring” for wind band, orchestrated by Robert Longfield.)
G. Complete ballet scored for orchestra, 2016, published by Boosey & Hawkes, edited and engraved by Philip Rothman. It is a true completion of the ballet, corresponding in structure to A2 above and filling in the gaps left in C. The score contains detailed notes by Aaron Sherber, former Music Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. Sherber explains, “At the request of the Copland Fund, composer and conductor David Newman orchestrated about fifty measures which did not appear in any orchestral version; he also adjusted some passages which needed to be brought back to their original key.” The score is available for sale and the parts are on rental from Boosey & Hawkes. The premiere took place in Dallas on May 11, 2016, by the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and Meadows Dance Ensemble at Southern Methodist University, conducted by Paul Phillips. It was also performed twice in June 2016 by the Baltimore Symphony, Marin Alsop conductor, with dancers from the Baltimore School of the Arts.
In 2016 the Copland Fund decided to make only four versions available for performance:
1. The complete uncut ballet either danced, performed in concert, or recorded, in the original instrumentation (A2);
2. The complete uncut ballet (2016) scored for same orchestra as the Concert Suite for full orchestra, with restoration of order and original keys as the original ballet (G);
3. Suite (1945) for full orchestra (B);
4. Suite (1972) with same cuts and changes as B, in the original instrumentation (D).
The condensed score of the original version, from which Copland orchestrated the ballet (A1), was completed in June 1944 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Copland recorded it on the piano for Graham (with the assistance of young pianist, Leo Smit) before he left New York for Hollywood, where he composed the music for the film The North Star.15Copland and Perlis, 33–34. According to Pollack, Copland orchestrated the original 13-player version in his New York loft and in Mexico, and Perlis states Copland completed the orchestration on a visit to Helen and Eliot Carter in Fire Island, NY, in July 1944.16Pollack, 392, and Copland and Perlis, 33.
The changes Copland made for the 1945 Suite are clearly identified in Aaron Sherber’s essay “Notes on This Edition” included in the 2016 version (G) published by Boosey & Hawkes. Building on Sherber’s work, here follows further details regarding cuts and changes Copland made between the ballet and the suite.
|Measure Numbers (complete ballet)||Measure Duration||Reference in Sherber’s Article|
|329 (4th %)–333 (1st %)||3||C|
|359 (2nd %)–360 (2nd %)||1||D|
|494 (with upbeat)–500||7||G|
|528 (3rd %)–536 (3rd %)||8||I|
|572–685 (Variation 2, replaced with transposed version of Variation 4)||14||J|
|671–678 (transition to “Fear in the Night”)||8||K|
Tables 1 and 2 present details of Copland’s changes and errata I have identified, which have not been incorporated in any of the published versions. Copland’s changes from the Ballet to the Suite took three forms:
1. Cuts of one to 219 measures;
2. Cut measures substituted with new material, usually involving transposition;
3. In the Shaker Variations, Copland cut the 2nd variation, replaced it with the 4th variation transposed.
|Theme, A-flat Major||Theme, A-flat Major|
|Variation 1, G-flat Major||Variation 1, G-flat Major|
|Variation 2, G-flat Major||cut|
|Variation 3, C Major||Variation 3, C Major|
|Variation 4, A Major||Variation 4 (transposed), G-flat Major (also re-ordered; appears after Var. 1)|
|“Fear in the Night” (219 measures)||cut|
|Variation 5, C Major||Variation 5, C Major|
I have identified two typographical errors in both Copland’s manuscript and the printed Boosey & Hawkes score of the 1945 suite. When I pointed these out to Aaron Sherber he consulted with the editor and engraver of the 2016 version and program advisor to the Copland Fund, Philip Rothman, who responded: “Although there’s a compelling musical case to be made for making the changes, because the music has been performed and recorded so many times in its current state (including by Copland himself), and because there’s not any clear evidence that Copland ever indicated these passages should be corrected, we refrained from changing them in the newly published edition.”17E-mail correspondence with Aaron Sherber, June 6, 2016.
The errors in the 1945 suite and in the 2016 complete ballet for orchestra are:
1. In the 1945 Suite and in the 2016 complete ballet scored for orchestra: 4 measures after rehearsal 38 in the Suite; 4 measures after rehearsal 41 in the 2016 score: trumpets should be read in C and not B-flat. The condensed score (A1) and original ballet (A2) confirm this reading.
2. In the 1945 Suite and in the 2016 complete ballet scored for orchestra: 2 measures before rehearsal 57 in the Suite; 2 measures before rehearsal 61 in the 2016 score: 1st piccolo note should be G-flat. The B-flat is not found in either the condensed score (A1) or the original ballet score (A2). [Editor’s note: Research conducted after the publication of this article has turned up evidence that the B-flat is intentional. In a copy of A1 which Copland marked up while orchestrating the Suite, he wrote in pencil “Play Bb” over the note in question.]
3. A third misprint in the early printings of the 1945 Suite was corrected in later printings and is also correct in the 2016 edition: Trombones, 3 measures before rehearsal 34 in Suite, trombones should be same as double bass and cello—A, B, C-sharp, E (not A, C-sharp, D-sharp, E). Oddly, in Bernstein’s recording, he chose in that place to change the bass and cello to the incorrect trombone notes. Proof that A, B, C-sharp, E is correct is found in the original ballet in cello, bass, and bassoon, as well as in the 1972 Suite in the original instrumentation.
A number of articles related to Appalachian Spring were published in the Journal of the Conductors Guild, Volume 11, Numbers 3 & 4 (Summer/Fall 1990); they include “Oral History, American Music” by Vivian Perlis, “Perlis on Copland: An Interview” by John S. King, Jr., “Score and Parts: Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring Suite, Version for Thirteen Instruments” by Michael Griffith, and “Rehearsal Notes for Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring Suite, Complete Ballet for Thirteen Instruments” transcribed by Lance Friedel. Indeed, scholarship related to the performance of Appalachian Spring continues. A critical edition of the original ballet score edited by Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett and Aaron Sherber is in progress; it will be published by Music of the United States of America/A-R Editions. Performance material will be available from Boosey & Hawkes.
As the 75th anniversary of the premiere of Appalachian Spring approaches in 2019, its rightly-deserved popularity and appeal shows no sign of abating. My personal interest and love for this work is unwavering. I disagree with the decision by the Copland Fund to withdraw the extended suite version (E) from future performances. I see it as both historic and viable today and plan to present my strong objection to the withdrawal and advocate for its availability for performance to the Copland Fund in the near future. Copland himself saw it as valid and his recording remains as proof of his faith in it to confer it to posterity.
Aaron Copland Fund for Music. https://coplandfund.org. © 2017.
Copland, Aaron. Appalachian Spring: Suite [Orchestral]. New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1945.
___. Appalachian Spring: Suite for 13 Instruments. New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1972.
Copland, Aaron and Vivian Perlis. Copland Since 1943. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.
Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland
Copyright 1945 by The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc. Copyright renewed.
Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. Sole Agent. Reprinted by Permission.