Copland: Appalachian Spring, Nonet and Two Pieces for String Quartet - St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, Dennis Russell Davies

NOW STREAMING

EXPLORING MUSIC

SOUNDS LIKE...APPALACHIAN SPRING
BY David White

In the month of February, much digital ink was spilled in the discussion of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It wasn’t a simple discussion of the merits of the work as it reaches its 100th birthday. Much of the discussion - and we even emailed the article to our members - was about Gershwin using the musical art forms of blues and jazz in a “composed” work, with no improvisation taking place. Some wrote that blues and jazz have improvisation at their heart, so any attempts to incorporate a blues or jazz feel into a work is just akin to sampling, and doesn’t create a blues or jazz work. Others felt the entire work to be someone badly overrated. The writer in the The New York Times not only claimed that the work was barely worthy of its exalted place in American musical culture, but its wildly exaggerated reputation also creates an environment where Rhapsody in Blue (and the writer ties ALL of Gershwin into his equation) blots out the sun, as it were, and impedes the growth of other composers and other works.

 

Now, that was all one man’s opinion, and if you take a long view, as many who enjoy classical music do, great works are often overlooked and ultimately rediscovered. Or, at least, we’d like to HOPE that is the case.

 

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring sits on this very balancing point. While nowhere near as controversial as the latest harrumphs over Gershwin, his reputation and his most recognizable work, Appalachian Spring sits quiet, over here, not really bothering anyone.

 

Tim Page, the Pulitzer Prize winning music writer and critic, in his notes for this recording, mentions, almost in an off-hand manner that within 2 years of the debut performance of Appalachian Spring, the work went “determinedly and, one presumes, permanently” into standard repertory.

 

So while Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue gets raked over the coals for possibly being appropriated, or a prime example of an American musical colonialism, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring sits untouched as possibly the 2nd most popular work composed in the 20th century.

 

Maybe it’s just too “Applachian Spring” to get worked up about. Maybe it’s put into a different category because it started life as a ballet. Maybe it’s just too darn nice for its own good? I mean, if we start kicking around “Appalachian Spring”, what’s the world coming to? (The Gershwin thing struck me as coming from an interesting place, but I couldn’t really see it as being used as a prejudicial stick that other used to keep black composers from being heard. But I don’t really know, never having written a piece of music.)

 

My feeling is that Appalachian Spring depicts a time and a place. If it were the same piece of music, and it was called “Lower East Side, 1902”, then we might have a discussion on our hands. But since it’s called “Appalachian Spring” and it seems to do a lovely job of depicting just such a thing...then your opinion of the piece becomes limited to whether you think the work achieves its stated goal.

 

Not to paint this work with a limited pat on the head type compliment, but I’d have to say that Appalachian Spring has safely found a home in the same musical need as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. While I don’t shiver when I hear Vivaldi’s depiction of winter, I do recognize that the work is both descriptive and pleasant. Remove the story and you still have four marvelous concertos.

 

Remove Appalachian Spring from its ballet origins and you have one of the most successful narrative works of the past century. Does Copland nudge Mozart’s best works with Appalachian Spring? I don’t think so, but he does deliver on a simple promise, and so we continue to listen.

OUR REVIEW

TRACK LISTING


1 Appalachian Spring (Original 1944 version for 13 instruments) 24:54

2 Nonet For Strings 16:28
Members Of St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble

3 Two Pieces For String Quartet
St. Luke's String Quartet (8:50)

  • Lento Molto 4:36
  • Rondino 4:14

Copland: Appalachian Spring, Nonet and Two Pieces for String Quartet - St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, Dennis Russell Davies

NOW STREAMING

EXPLORING MUSIC

SOUNDS LIKE...APPALACHIAN SPRING
by David White

In the month of February, much digital ink was spilled in the discussion of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It wasn’t a simple discussion of the merits of the work as it reaches its 100th birthday. Much of the discussion - and we even emailed the article to our members - was about Gershwin using the musical art forms of blues and jazz in a “composed” work, with no improvisation taking place. Some wrote that blues and jazz have improvisation at their heart, so any attempts to incorporate a blues or jazz feel into a work is just akin to sampling, and doesn’t create a blues or jazz work. Others felt the entire work to be someone badly overrated. The writer in the The New York Times not only claimed that the work was barely worthy of its exalted place in American musical culture, but its wildly exaggerated reputation also creates an environment where Rhapsody in Blue (and the writer ties ALL of Gershwin into his equation) blots out the sun, as it were, and impedes the growth of other composers and other works.

 

Now, that was all one man’s opinion, and if you take a long view, as many who enjoy classical music do, great works are often overlooked and ultimately rediscovered. Or, at least, we’d like to HOPE that is the case.

 

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring sits on this very balancing point. While nowhere near as controversial as the latest harrumphs over Gershwin, his reputation and his most recognizable work, Appalachian Spring sits quiet, over here, not really bothering anyone.

 

Tim Page, the Pulitzer Prize winning music writer and critic, in his notes for this recording, mentions, almost in an off-hand manner that within 2 years of the debut performance of Appalachian Spring, the work went “determinedly and, one presumes, permanently” into standard repertory.

 

So while Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue gets raked over the coals for possibly being appropriated, or a prime example of an American musical colonialism, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring sits untouched as possibly the 2nd most popular work composed in the 20th century.

 

Maybe it’s just too “Applachian Spring” to get worked up about. Maybe it’s put into a different category because it started life as a ballet. Maybe it’s just too darn nice for its own good? I mean, if we start kicking around “Appalachian Spring”, what’s the world coming to? (The Gershwin thing struck me as coming from an interesting place, but I couldn’t really see it as being used as a prejudicial stick that other used to keep black composers from being heard. But I don’t really know, never having written a piece of music.)

 

My feeling is that Appalachian Spring depicts a time and a place. If it were the same piece of music, and it was called “Lower East Side, 1902”, then we might have a discussion on our hands. But since it’s called “Appalachian Spring” and it seems to do a lovely job of depicting just such a thing...then your opinion of the piece becomes limited to whether you think the work achieves its stated goal.

 

Not to paint this work with a limited pat on the head type compliment, but I’d have to say that Appalachian Spring has safely found a home in the same musical need as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. While I don’t shiver when I hear Vivaldi’s depiction of winter, I do recognize that the work is both descriptive and pleasant. Remove the story and you still have four marvelous concertos.

 

Remove Appalachian Spring from its ballet origins and you have one of the most successful narrative works of the past century. Does Copland nudge Mozart’s best works with Appalachian Spring? I don’t think so, but he does deliver on a simple promise, and so we continue to listen.

OUR REVIEW

Lor

TRACK LISTING


1 Appalachian Spring (Original 1944 version for 13 instruments) 24:54

2 Nonet For Strings 16:28
Members Of St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble

3 Two Pieces For String Quartet
St. Luke's String Quartet (8:50)

  • Lento Molto 4:36
  • Rondino 4:14

MORE RECORDINGS OF AARON COPLAND ON THE MUSICAL HERITAGE SOCIETY LABEL

SOUND SAMPLES

APPALACHIAN SPRING: Eden Valley (excerpt)

TWO PIECES FOR STRING QUARTET: I. Lento Molto

LINER NOTES