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June 2014
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In Copland’s Hand: Appalachian Spring

Aaron Copland's original manuscript for "Ballet for Martha"

Aaron Copland's original manuscript for "Ballet for Martha"

He didn’t give it a title – just “Ballet for Martha.”

Martha was not satisfied. Choreographer Martha Graham thought the piece deserved a more poetic name. In fact it was in a poem, The Bridge by Hart Crane, that she ran across the words “Appalachian Spring.” She suggested this as a title to composer Aaron Copland. He agreed.

Appalachian Spring was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a philanthropist whose ambition was to make music available to all Americans, free of charge. She sponsored the construction of an auditorium in the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, and endowed the concert series which continues to this day.

The orchestra pit at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium (1925) is a cozy space. Accordingly, Aaron Copland scored his ballet for a spare 13 instruments (the popular, expansive, orchestral version came later). The piece premiered in 1944 to choreography by Martha Graham. In 1945, Appalachian Spring won the Pulitzer Prize.

Hear Appalachian Spring on this week’s Rush Hour Concerts, Tuesday at 5:45 pm.

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