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Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland performed by Perspectives Ensemble

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Published on Aug 10, 2012

Appalachian Spring stems from the collaboration of two great twentieth-century artists, composer Aaron Copland (1900-90) and choreographer Martha Graham (1894-1991). Like many masterpieces that have entered the canon, Appalachian Spring appears to have come into existence fully formed, like the adult Athena bursting out of the head of Zeus. It presents to us a musical language that we now consider to be iconically American. Aaron Copland's genius was to weave together seamlessly, out of his own imagination and inspired by the traditional works that preceded it, all these musical strands, creating from them a new but immediately recognizable whole—a sonic language that conveys the characteristic qualities of independence and individualism associated with the American movement west and the idealism and sense of renewal that accompanied those pioneers. Copland came of age after The Great War, at a time when American artists were looking to create forms, languages, and ideas that were distinctly American.

In 1943, Martha Graham received a commission from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the well-known patron of many mid-twentieth century composers, to choreograph three works, each with a newly composed score, for a festival to be held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Graham approached Copland with the intent of creating an "American" work. They corresponded, trying to create a story with the right balance of elements. Graham wrote in a letter to Copland: "It is hard to do American things without becoming pure folk or a little like a mural in a middle western railway station or post office." She suggested the possibility of including an Indian girl "on whose parents' land the frontiersman have settled. She was to represent a dream...the legend of American land, youth and country. It was a meeting of frontiersman and Indian. But it didn't work." They also discussed and then rejected the possibility of including an episode from Uncle Tom's Cabin. Graham said of the completed work, "Appalachian Spring is essentially a dance of place. You choose a piece of land, part of the house goes up. You dedicate it. The questioning spirit is there and the sense of establishing roots." The final story outline describes "a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century." It is perhaps the fact that the two creators finally chose a very abstracted plot which only suggests, in Copland's words, "youth and spring, with optimism and hope," that explains the universal popularity of this work. They succeeded in distilling the essence of human aspiration and clothing it in the personae of American pioneers. Copland described Martha Graham as "unquestionably very American. There's something prim and restrained, a strong quality about her, that one tends to think of as American. Her dance style is seemingly, but only seemingly, simple and extremely direct." Graham said of Copland's score: "It now has an independent existence apart from the dance. It is a symbol for many people of the central part of America. They see distances which, perhaps, exist no longer." And it is ironic that the title, which has proved to be so evocative, was almost an afterthought. The work was originally called "Ballet for Martha." Some time before the first performance, Graham suggested using a phrase from the first line of a Hart Crane poem "The Dance." And so, without Copland ever having considered the Appalachian spring of Crane's poem while writing the piece, an enduring American icon was born. This live performance features the original 1944 orchestration for 13 instruments: 2 violins, viola, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano. COPYRIGHT 2012 -- Sato Moughalian, Artistic Director, Perspectives Ensemble

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