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The greatest anthem to springtime wasn’t written with spring in mind. Here’s what modern dancer Martha Graham wrote about how Aaron Copeland’s ballet score for her most famous ballet (a story of pioneering newlyweds in Pennsylvania) came to be called “Appalachian Spring.”
When Aaron first presented me with the music, its title was “Ballet for Martha”–simple and as direct as the Shaker theme that runs through it. I took some words from the poetry of Hart Crane and retitled it “Appalachian Spring.”
When Aaron appeared in Washington for a rehearsal, before the October 30, 1944, premiere, he said to me, “Martha, what have you named the ballet?”
And when I told him, he asked, “Does it have anything to do with the ballet?”
“No”, I said, “I just like the title.”
Appalachian Spring is essentially a dance of place. You choose a piece of land, part of the house goes up. You dedicate it. The questioning spirit is there and the sense of establishing roots.
The piece still works for me this time of year!
Here’s the Hart Crane passage she mentioned. It’s from his poem, “The Dance.”
“O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge