|With this concert, we celebrate the arrival of Spring with a famous work by Aaron Copland, an elegant work featuring the cello by Tchaikovsky, and an exciting work by young Robert Schumann, inspired by his young bride, Clara.|
(November 14, 1900-December 2, 1990)
Written by one of America’s favorite native composers, Appalachian Spring is one of several pieces (e.g., Lincoln Portrait, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Rodeo) from the late 1930s and 1940s, Aaron Copland’s most popular period of composition. During this time, he experimented with folk music and other recognizable “American” styles in more contemporary and classical contexts; he was very concerned with nationalist themes, and he moved toward music that combined socially relevant and musically accessible ideas.
Appalachian Spring was first a ballet scored for a thirteen-member chamber orchestra, commissioned by choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. It was premiered on October 30, 1944, at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, with Graham dancing the lead role. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his achievement. In 1945, Copland rearranged the ballet work into an orchestral suite and later created a full orchestra version. Originally, Copland titled the work Ballet for Martha, but Graham herself suggested Appalachian Spring, from a poem by Hart Crane, “The Dance.”
The ballet story is a spring celebration by 19th-century American pioneers after building a new farmhouse. While the ballet has 14 movements, the orchestral suite is divided into eight sections. Copland describes the eight scenes as follows: “1) Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light; 2) Sudden burst of unison strings starts the action—both elated and religious; 3) Duo for the Bride and her Intended—tenderness and passion; 4) The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feeling, with suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers; 5) Solo dance of the Bride—forethoughts of motherhood: joy, fear, and wonder; 6) Transition scene to music reminiscent
The piece is a staple in the ‘cello repertoire and, as variations go, has a rather unique form. Instead of the predictable format of one variation following another, he takes a freer approach, with surprising variety between the variations, and sprinkling orchestral interludes, cadenzas and ritornellos throughout, to create a surprising and satisfying result. The theme is elegant, and the sequence of variations includes ornamenting the melody, a conversation between soloist and orchestra, a slower melancholy variation in minor, more ornamentation, a meditative respite, and a final build from graceful theme to dramatic ending. Several cadenzas appear in different variations, adding to the opportunities for soloists to show off their skills. This piece does not have the same depth of expression or seriousness as his symphonies, but the craftsmanship and suave treatment of the theme and form are quite remarkable.
Schumann’s compositional career tended to progress by genre. In 1840, his focus was on art songs, but his interest shifted to orchestral music in 1841. Schumann’s First Symphony appeared in a whirlwind—a draft was completed within four days (January 23-26) and then orchestrated by late February. It was premiered at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on March 31, conducted by Mendelssohn. The symphony was reportedly inspired by an unpublished “spring” poem by German poet Adolph Böttger:
The second movement begins with a lovely, lush melody befitting the “Evening” inspiration, featuring the strings and winds. There are occasional ebbs and flows but the mood set at the beginning is consistent throughout, reminiscent of a pleasant spring evening, with a gradual descent into night. The third movement has a rollicking mood. The contrasts presented by the trio sections are surprising, and the use of brass highlights the merry-making mood. A brief moment of rest and reflection brings this movement to a surprising close.
The fourth movement returns to the bright energy of the first movement, once again inspired by the energy and optimism of Spring. The celebration moves forward with a sense of gathering all the musical materials and energy together—the fanfares, lyrical melodies, celebratory figures, and finally a sense of completion—confirming that Spring is in full bloom.