The orchestral suite that won Copland his Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945, “Appalachian Spring” was a piece commissioned by choreographer and dance legend Martha Graham and music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for a ballet with, “an American theme.” Copland’s piece is grand and sweeping, much like our fantasies of the American mountainsides.
Except the Appalachian of this ballet has nothing to do with mountains. The title actually comes from the poem “The Dance” written by Hart Crane, another American artist whose work is often misunderstood (“O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge; / Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends / And northward reaches in that violet wedge / Of Adirondacks!”). The working title was just “Ballet for Martha,” because this ballet was indeed for Martha Graham. The new title would be tagged on at the last minute, but it worked out in the end that Copland, an openly gay Jewish man from Brooklyn, accidentally gave these American mountains an unofficial anthem.
Also make sure to listen to Copland’s other excellent American score “Rodeo.”