Premiered in 1944, Appalachian Spring is a ballet developed in a close collaboration between the composer Aaron Copland and choreographer Martha Graham. It is one of Copland’s most famous compositions, but its very popularity has obscured the performance and publication history of this iconic Americana work. In fact, most people are familiar with the orchestral suite Copland arranged from the ballet’s music rather than with the original composition. Even Copland lost track of the many different published versions of the score.
Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett and Aaron Sherber have stepped into this muddle and co-edited a critical edition of the score of the original music for the ballet, published by A-R Editions in 2020 as part of a series called Music of the United States of America (MUSA). MUSA is a joint venture between the Recent Researches in Music series of editions and the American Musicological Society with significant funding support from the National Endowment of Humanities. The series aims to reflect the breadth of American music and includes editions of musicals, popular songs from different eras, art music, and various kinds of folk music. The critical edition includes a companion website and an introductory essay about the work, its performance history and an explanation of the provenance of the sources DeLapp-Birkett and Sherber used to inform their edition, along with copious notes that describe each editorial decision. In an unusual addition, the score also includes images of the Martha Graham Dance Company’s production of the ballet which illustrate the connections between the music and the dance.
Kristen M. Turner is a lecturer in the music and honors departments at North Carolina State University. Her research centers on race and class in American popular entertainment at the turn of the twentieth century.