Want to incorporate classical music appreciation as a weekly component in your homeschool schedule? Come check out my kid-friendly, easy-on-the-parents Music Curriculum. You can try a free sample lesson HERE.
Just joining us? Here’s what we have covered so far on the April Playlist:
- Thunder and Lightning Polka // Strauss
- Sinfonia from the “Easter Oratorio” // Bach
- Flight of the Bumblebee // Rimsky-Korsakov
- Worthy is the Lamb from the “Messiah” // Handel
- Daisies // Rachmaninoff
- Flower Duet // Delibes
Today is our last lesson from the April playlist! I will have a round-up Thursday on the remaining pieces, and the May list will post next week.
Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring
Today’s piece is one of my absolute favorites. (Though it’s probably a fair statement to say I say that a lot.) The composer is an American legend – we’ve met him once already this year, in February’s post on Lincoln Portrait. Aaron Copland is back today in arguably his most famous piece: Appalachian Spring.
A bait-and-switch confession: I put this piece on the April Playlist because it has “spring” in the title. Obvious choice, right? In actuality, the piece has nothing to do with springtime. Or Appalachia for that matter.
Two American Legends Collide
It’s 1942, and World War II is raging. Artists of all genres are bending toward creating purely American works, and legendary dance pioneer Martha Graham is no different. She has a vision to develop a truly American ballet. Enter Aaron Copland, himself a truly American composer. Martha and Aaron are a match made in artistic heaven.
Copland set to work on his “ballet for Martha,” which is what the piece was called for the entirety of its development.
Neither Appalachian nor Spring
Copland was writing music for Martha and her story. He called it “ballet for Martha,” because – in his mind – that’s what it was.
Sometime before the premiere Martha informed Aaron that she had discovered a great title – lifted from a poem entitled The Dance by American poet Hart Crane:
O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bendsAnd northward reaches in that violet wedgeOf Adirondacks!—wisped of azure wands…
So, I’m not a poetry expert, but it seems to be talking about a bubbling spring — a water source — not the season of springtime. Right?
Appalachian Spring has nothing to do with Appalachia or spring! It’s a shocking moment in American music history!!! #dramaticfont
Later in his life, Copland said he often got tickled when people told him the music masterfully evoked the beauty of the Appalachian mountains…since he had none of that in mind when it wrote it. (Also, he didn’t say “got tickled.” I made that up. He was born in Brooklyn, NY and probably never used that phrase. But that’s what he meant. #ifeelcertain)
Listen and Love
The whole of Appalachian Spring is over 30 minutes, but the part we are going to listen to is what people think of when they hear the title. Copland lifted the Shaker melody Simple Gifts and incorporated into the score, and it has since become the iconic piece people recognize. (The familiar part is in the first three minutes.)
And, because I love you, here is Yo-Ya Ma and Allison Krauss with their version of Simple Gifts. Behold, two masters at work:
I’m a big fan of using books to make music come alive, and this piece has a great one! Ballet for Martha tells the whole story with beautiful illustrations.
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Whitney Hawker says
Love this background and the two videos. These will be great in my group piano classes to learn some general music today! I’m excited to follow your blog, just found it.
Yay! I’m so glad – hope it’s really helpful for you!!