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"The Many Versions of Appalachian Spring" Video Transcripts

Video 1: The Versions of Appalachian Spring, Explained in One Minute

The scores for Appalachian Spring have something of a split identity. First came the ballet score for Martha Graham. About 30 minutes long, it was first performed in 1944 by a chamber group of thirteen musicians and eight dancers. The suite for orchestra, completed and premiered in 1945, is nearly ten minutes shorter, and requires at least three times the number of musicians: Copland added a brass section, harp, timpani, percussion, and a full complement of strings, and he embellished the score here and there with decorative, symphonic flourishes.

Decades later, the suite came out in the thirteen-instrument scoring (1972). In 2016, a full orchestra version of the ballet was published.

Between the 1940s and 1972, a third configuration of Appalachian Spring arose, a kind of hybrid version that combines elements of both the suite and the ballet. It is often called the “complete ballet” but would more accurately be called by the name Copland eventually hit upon: Appalachian Spring Extended Suite. The full orchestra version came first, followed twenty years later by the chamber version.

Video 2: The Structure of Appalachian Spring, Explained in 3 Minutes

The original ballet score has eight main sections: Here is a simplified horizontal diagram. The titles come from Graham’s scripts, which guided Copland as he composed. There’s the Prologue, Eden Valley, Wedding Day, and -- beginning at the midpoint -- the Interlude, which consists of the Variations on Simple Gifts. I’ve combined sections 5, 6, and 7, which are “Fear in the Night”, “Day of Wrath,” and “Moment of Crisis,” because in important ways they form a single unit. The last section, The Lord’s Day, begins with a REPRISE of the Simple Gifts theme.

When creating the suite from the ballet, Copland first made a single cut of about eight minutes to remove the entire “Fear-Wrath-Crisis” portion. This significantly altered the formal proportions of the work, removing about a quarter of the music. And it changed the character of the work, since the Fear-Wrath-Crisis music is turbulent, agitated, even stormy, in contrast to the remaining music.

The reprise that begins section 8 is now a continuation of the Variations section. The second structural change occurs within the Variations section which comprises a theme, and variations one, two, three, and the music box variation, number four, which is orange in these diagrams.

Copland removes most of variation two and shifts Variation Four into the second spot, thus the music box variation now becomes #2 in the sequence. He turns some of the cut variation into a transition going into variation 3, and the Reprise becomes the new variation 4.

In this next diagram, the third kind of changes Copland makes are represented by gray bars. These are several very short cuts, between one and eight measures long, that are mostly choreographic and repetitious.

The cumulative result of Copland’s changes is that the suite and the original ballet are two distinct works, structurally. Here is a direct comparison, with the suite on top, and the ballet on bottom. Now let’s mark the music box variation with arrows. In the original ballet, that variation led directly into the agitated, turbulent Fear-Wrath-and-Crisis music. In the 1945 suite, it’s sandwiched somewhere in the middle of the section.

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