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Classical Notes

Pieces of Spring No. 5

Posted at 8:00 AM on May 6, 2007 by John Birge

Welcome May, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Pieces of Spring.

Every day, we'll play a springtime classic. Visit our online playlist to find each day's spring piece or, in the Twin Cities, listen to 99.5 every morning at 8. Enter the correct title here, and you have another chance to win fresh flowers delivered to your door for a year! Check back here every day to see if you got it right.

Yesterday's piece was the Variations on a Shaker Tune from Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring.

The music for “Appalachian Spring” was written long before it even had a name. Copland was commissioned in 1943 to write the music for a new ballet for Martha Graham and her dance company, which told the story of a wedding in rural Pennsylvania. The name “Appalachian Spring,” from a line in poet Hart Crane’s “The Bridge,” was coined by Graham the day before the premiere. According to Graham’s memoir Blood Memories, when Copland asked if the title had anything to do with the ballet, she responded, “No…I just like the title.”

The Shaker tune “Simple Gifts” used by Copland in “Appalachian Spring” was written in 1848 by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett. It is commonly called a “Dancing Song” in Shaker manuscripts, with lyrics that vividly describe movement:


'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
to turn, turn, will be our delight
till by turning, turning we come round right.