Appalachian Spring is one of Aaron Copland's most famous pieces. He wrote it in 1943-44, during World War II. Originally it was a ballet that he wrote for the famous ballerina Martha Graham. Martha wanted to create a ballet about something American. She had the idea of a story about four American pioneers. At first, Aaron called his piece "Ballet for Martha". After the ballet was finished Martha had the idea of calling it Appalachian Spring from a poem that she had read. Aaron said it was funny when people would tell him how the music made them think of spring in the Appalachian mountains - when he wrote it he wasn't thinking about spring at all!
After the ballet was performed, Copland was asked to put the music into a suite, a collection of pieces that is played together. The most well-known part of the suite is the "Variations on a Shaker Melody" . A variation is when a composer takes a melody or theme and changes it. The Shakers were a group of people who believed in community, simplicity, song and dance as ways of worshipping God. They settled in America in the 1800s and many of their songs have become popular folk songs. The best - known Shaker song is Simple Gifts. Thanks to Beth's Notes for this copy of the song.
Theme and Variations
In Appalachian Spring Copland uses the song as his theme and changes it each time it's played. Here is a listening map to help you follow the variations.
Start at 17:30 to hear the Theme
Here are some other performances of Appalachian Spring. The first is the Martha Graham Ballet, the second is "Fountain Choreography" at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, the third is a marching band competition.
Simple Gifts has become a popular melody that has been used in many different ways. The main melody in "Lord of the Dance" is Simple Gifts, The Piano Guys used it in a mash-up with Somewhere Over the Rainbow and an arrangement of it was played at President Barak Obama's inauguration.