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A record player with a stack of records in the foreground. Photo by Wesley Gibbs on Unsplash.

Midday Thoughts: Which Appalachian Spring? An Audiophile’s Guide

While recordings of Copland’s Appalachian Spring abound, confusion easily arises about which version of the work is found on any given release. Sharp-eared Copland fans will note that even recordings with similar titles or similar timings may differ in their musical contents. Last month’s Midday Thoughts explained the three basic configurations of Appalachian Spring and noted that each of the three can be performed by a full orchestra or by a 13-instrument chamber ensemble. This month’s essay will identify which recordings present each version.

The three versions concept emerged in the mid-2010s when Aaron Sherber and I closely examined the Appalachian Spring score materials in the Aaron Copland Collection while researching what became the 2020 scholarly edition of Appalachian Spring. Written or annotated by Copland himself, the following two tables helped us understand how the composer categorized the work’s different versions and structures. From these tables we took the term Extended Suite to describe the hybrid structure that combines elements of both the suite and the ballet.

PLATE 1: ACCLC box 76, folder 55.3; type-written sheet of paper attached to title page recto.PLATE 2: ACCLC box 28, folder 55; score front matter with notes by Aaron Copland.

Readers interested in the complexities of Appalachian Spring’s family tree should consult MUSA Volume 31. The edition’s 50-page introductory essay details the genesis of the original ballet score and its post-premiere configurations. Each section below includes background on the versions and their recording history, as well as discography information for key recordings taken from Appendix 3 of the MUSA edition.

Appalachian Spring Suite

Orchestra Version (1945)

The 1945 Suite for Orchestra is by far the most frequently recorded version of Appalachian Spring. The name given to this version is sometimes inconsistent, since for decades the published score bore the title Appalachian Spring: Ballet for Martha despite its being a suite that is about 30% shorter than the original ballet.

The best-loved and most often reissued recording of the Suite for Orchestra are those conducted by Bernstein (1961, New York Philharmonic; and 1982, Los Angeles Philharmonic). Koussevitzky was an early champion of the work (1945 and 1946 recordings with the Boston Symphony Orchestra are available). Artur Rodzinski’s 1945 premiere with the New York Philharmonic was reissued in 1999. Of particular interest are two conducted by Copland: 1959, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and 1970, with the London Symphony Orchestra (see discography information at the end of this article). Antal Dorati, Walter Hendl, Richard Hickox, Erich Kunzel, Louis Lane, Zubin Mehta, Gerard Schwarz, Robert Spano, and William Steinberg are among those who have made recordings of the orchestral suite. The equally popular Variations on a Shaker Melody for band and for orchestra is excerpted directly from the 1945 Suite.

Chamber Version

In the 1970s, Copland allowed the orchestral suite to be re-scored for the same chamber ensemble that had premiered the ballet in 1944: a double string quartet, bass, piano, flute, clarinet and bassoon. This Chamber Suite has been recorded numerous times, my favorites being the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s 1989 release and the two Dennis Russell Davies recordings.

Davies, Dennis Russell, cond. St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. On Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring/Charles Ives: Three Places in New England: Sound 80, 1978, LP. Also released on LP as Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring/Charles Ives: Three Places in New England, Pro-Arte Digital PAD-140, 1983. Released on CD as Copland: Appalachian Spring/Short Symphony/Ives: Symphony No. 3, Pro-Arte Digital CDD140, 1984, and Pro-Arte Gold/Intersound CDG 3140, 1988.

Davies, Dennis Russell, cond. St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble. On Copland: Appalachian Spring/Nonet for Strings/Two Pieces for String Quartet. Recorded October–November 1989, Performing Arts Center, State University of New York, Purchase. Musicmasters 7055-2-C, 1990; Nimbus Records NI 2506, 2008.

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Recorded March 1988, Performing Arts Center, State University of New York, Purchase. On Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring… CD11503, DG 427335-2, 1989, CD.

Extended Suite (1954)

Orchestra Version

In 1954, at the request of the famous conductor Eugene Ormandy, Copland created an extensive, 32-page score insert that made it possible for a full orchestra performing the suite to add eight minutes of music from the ballet that hadn’t been included in the 1945 suite. The inserted material was contrasting, turbulent music that had previously been heard only in danced Graham Company performances, played by a much smaller chamber group. Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the Suite with the new insert in 1954, Columbia released it in 1958, and the Extended Suite was born. Although the jacket notes imply otherwise, Graham’s company never danced to this version.

Ormandy, Eugene, cond. Philadelphia Orchestra. Recorded 28 November 1954 at The Academy of Music, Philadelphia. Appalachian Spring (Complete Ballet) [sic]/Billy the Kid (Ballet Suite) Columbia Masterworks ML-5157, 1956, LP.

Using additional inserts to restore even more of the original ballet music, Leonard Slatkin and Michael Tilson Thomas have created personalized versions of the Extended Suite for Orchestra that are even more complete than Ormandy’s. Their expert recordings of the Extended Suite have introduced many listeners to the tension and turbulence that were part of Graham’s original vision for Appalachian Spring’s emotional journey.

Slatkin, Leonard, cond. Copland: Appalachian Spring. Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Recorded at Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, 1985. EMI Classics CDC 49766, BMG Direct Marketing D 154176, 1988, CD. Also released on CD as EMI 49766 in 2001; on Copland, EMI Classics, 2007 and 2011; and EMI Classics 48645 (with West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein), 2011.

Slatkin, Leonard, cond. Appalachian Spring (Complete Ballet) [sic]. Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Recorded at Orchestra Hall, Detroit, May 14–18, 2014. Naxos 8.559806, 2016, CD.

Tilson Thomas, Michael, cond. San Francisco Symphony. Recorded 19–23 May 1999 at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. On Copland the Populist, RCA 09026-63511-2, 2000, CD. Also released on CD as The Essence of America, disc 2 of 3, BMG 09026-63720-2, 2000.

In recent years, the Copland estate has withdrawn the Extended Suite for Orchestra and replaced it with a full-orchestra score that follows the structure of the 1944 ballet score exactly. As of this writing, the full orchestra scoring of the complete 1944 ballet has yet to appear on a commercial recording.

Chamber Version

From the 1970 until about 2015, a thirteen-instrument version of the Extended Suite was available for performance, using an adaptation of the eight-minute orchestral insert. Unfortunately, when Copland recorded it for Columbia, it was called the “First Recording of the Original Version.” In fact, like all Extended Suite recordings, it differs from the 1944 original in important respects, most notably in the sequence of the Simple Gifts variations. Tilson Thomas has also recorded this Extended Suite for chamber ensemble.

Copland, Aaron. Columbia Chamber Orchestra. Recorded May 1973, Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York. Modern American Music Series. On Copland Conducts Copland: First Recording of the Original Version [sic]. Columbia M 32736, 1974, LP. Also released on CD as Copland Conducts Copland: Appalachian Spring (Original Complete Version) [sic], CBS Masterworks, 1988 and A Copland Celebration, Vol. 1, Sony Classical SM2K 89323, 2000.

Tilson Thomas, Michael, cond. Members of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Recorded live 17 September 2005 at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. Michael Tilson Thomas Conducts Copland and Ives (Keeping Score Series) SFS 0034, 2010, CD. Also released on DVD Keeping Score: Copland and the American Sound, San Francisco Symphony, 2006.

The MUSA volume explains more precisely which score inserts (or their equivalents) can be heard in each of the Extended Suite recordings.

Original Ballet (1944)

As stated above, the complete ballet scored for full orchestra has yet to be commercially recorded. However, two audio recordings of the complete ballet in its original chamber scoring appeared in 1990. These were conducted by Andrew Schenck and Hugh Wolff respectively, using unpublished score materials. The Schenck and Wolff recordings match the Graham choreography precisely, as does the performance led by Eugene Lester for Nathan Kroll’s 1958 video production of Graham dancing the lead role.

Schenck, Andrew, cond. Atlantic Sinfonietta. Recorded March 15, 1990 at Master Sound Studios, Astoria, New York. On Music for Martha Graham—The Original Versions, Koch International Classics 3-7019-2 H1, 1990, CD.

Wolff, Hugh, cond. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Recorded September 1990, Ordway Music Theatre, Saint Paul, Minnesota. On Copland: Appalachian Spring: Original Chamber Version. Teldec 2292-46314-2, 1991, CD.

Lester, Eugene, cond. WQED Pittsburgh in collaboration with National Educational Television and Chatham College, 1959. Released on VHS as Appalachian Spring, Phoenix/BFA Films & Video, 1973 and Kultur 1177, 1988; released on DVD as Martha Graham in Performance, Kultur D1177, 2002 and remastered on the DVD Martha Graham: Dance on Film (1959), Criterion CC1714D, 2007. Misalignment in original film has been corrected in Criterion masters and future reprintings as of 2017.

Suite for Orchestra (selected discography)

Bernstein, Leonard, cond. New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded 9 October 1961, Manhattan Center. Produced by John McClure. On Bernstein Conducts Copland. Columbia MS-6355 (also ML 5755, CBS 72074, MS 6355, BRG 72074), 1962, LP. Also released by Columbia/CBS on LP as Copland’s Greatest Hits MS-7521, 1970, reissued on LP as M 39443, 1984; The Copland Album MG-30071, 1970; The American Album, MG-31155, 1972; and Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite MY-37257, 1982. Released on CD: Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite CBS MYK-37257, 1982; Copland’s Greatest Hits, MLK 39443, 1984; Bernstein: Copland, MK-42265, 1987; Leonard Bernstein: Copland: Appalachian Spring . . . SMK-47543, 1992; and Leonard Bernstein: Copland: Appalachian Spring . . . , SMK-63082, 1997.

Bernstein, Leonard, cond. Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded live in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, July 1982. On Bernstein Conducts Copland & Gershwin, Deutsche Grammophon 2532 084, 1983, LP. Also released on Deutsche Grammophon CDs as Copland: Appalachian Spring 413 324-2 CD 1983; Gershwin—Rhapsody in Blue; Copland—Appalachian Spring; Barber— Adagio 439 528-2, 1993, 477 635-2 and 00289 477 635-2, reissue 2007, and 431 048-2 [n.d.]; Mad About American Music 439 521-2 and 439 521-2 GMA, 1993; Classic Performances: Bernstein’s America 289 463 465-2 CD 1999; Lenny: The Legend Lives On, CD 5 of 6, 469 460-2 (469 461-2-469 466-2), 2000; and Leonard Bernstein: The Americans, CD 2 of 6, 474 940-2, 2004.

Copland, Aaron, cond. Boston Symphony Orchestra. Recorded in Symphony Hall, Boston, 13 November 1959. On Appalachian Spring/The Tender Land Suite. RCA Victor LM 2401/LSC 2401, 1960, LP. Also released on LP as Copland Conducts Copland, RCA Gold Seal GL 42705, 1978. Released on CD: Copland: Appalachian Spring . . . (with Ormandy cond. Billy the Kid ), RCA Victor Gold Seal 6802-2-RG, 1988; and Copland/Gould: Composers Conduct, BMG Classics, 1993.

Copland, Aaron, cond. London Symphony Orchestra. Recorded at EMI Studios, London, 9–10 November 1970. On A 75th Birthday Celebration, Columbia Masterworks D3M 33720, 1975, LP. Previously released as Columbia LPs as MS 7375, M 30114, M 30649, and M 33269. Released on CD as Copland Conducts Copland, CBS Records Masterworks, 1990; Copland Conducts Copland Sony Classical SS 89041, 2000; and Copland Conducts Copland—Expanded Edition, CBS Masterworks, 2003.

Koussevitzky, Serge, cond. Boston Symphony Orchestra. Recorded 31 October 1945. Koussevitzky Conducts Copland. RCA Victrola AVM1-1739 Mono, 1976, LP. First released on 78 rpm discs as Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring. RCA Victor DM 1046, 1946. Remastering by Mark Obert-Thorn released on Serge Koussevitzky Conducts American Music, Biddulph WHL 050, 1999, CD. Remastering by Michael Dutton released as Copland: Appalachian Spring/Hanson: Symphony No. 3, CDEA 5021, 1999, CD.

Koussevitzky, Serge, cond. Boston Symphony Orchestra. Remastered by Andrew Rose from acetates recorded at live broadcast from Hunter College, New York, 13 April 1946. On Koussevitzky Conducts Copland. Pristine XR PASC458, 2016, CD.

Ormandy, Eugene, cond. The Philadelphia Orchestra. Recorded 8 January 1969 at Academy of Music, Philadelphia. On Copland: Billy the Kid Suite/Appalachian Spring RCA Red Seal LSC 3184, 1970, LP. Also released on LP as RCA Red Seal LSB 4018, 1971; and RCA Gold Seal AGL1- 5202, 1983, and on CD as BMG 1999.

Rodzinski, Artur, cond. New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded 7 October 1945. Disc 5 of An American Celebration, vol.1. New York Philharmonic Special Editions B0001PDYLQ , 1999, CD.

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