Facets Model

Appalachian Spring: "Variations on a Shaker Song"

Sarah DaCapo

November 11, 2002

Music 3824

Who created it?

Aaron Copland composed the orchestra music. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, Nov. 14, 1900 and died in North Tarrytown, New York, Dec.2, 1990. He was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuanian Russia. He received many honors throughout his life. Some include: a Congressional Gold Medal, Medal of the Arts, and the Pulitzer Prize. He was decorated internationally and had a music school named after him.

When and where was it created?

Appalachian Spring was created between 1943 and 1944. Copland traveled extensively, so the exact location this music was born is undetermined. The most likely place would be his home in New York. Originally, this piece was written for 13 instruments, (only 13 instruments could fit in front of the stage), but Copland later wrote it for full orchestra in 1945.The Simple Gifts section of Appalachian Spring was expanded and arranged for band in 1956 and called "Simple Gifts Variations".

Why and for whom was it created?

This composition was "ordered" by Martha Graham, a renowned ballerina and choreographer, who was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Music Foundation at the Library of Congress. I believe Copland was chosen for this work because he had a distinctively American style. He "aspired to affirm a relation between his music and the world around him". The music was to "have a folk feeling without folk themes" and based on Pennsylvania's early settlers. (This is stated directly from his personal hand written notes). Despite that note, Copland did tie an old Shaker dance song called "Simple Gifts", written by Elder Joseph Brackett into his composition.
Copland received three different scripts from Graham before he started his " Ballet for Martha". (Graham gave the composition its title) Copland said about the piece: "[It has] to do with roots in so far as people can express themselves without telling an actual story." The ballet story line was based on a poem by Hart Crane. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics' Circle Award.

What is its subject?

It is about the community of a newly married pioneer couple who are trying to live the American dream.

What is being expressed?

It expresses "a poignant love story amid the Puritan ethos of the American pioneers." It is about two newly married people and their life. This song could easily be expressing the morning, afternoon, and evening of a day.

What techniques did its creator use to help us understand what is being expressed?

"…Diatonicism creates so-called 'white-note' chords,---[making chords out of many different white notes on the piano]--- subtle syncopation, polyrhythmic layering, changing meters and tempos… transparent textures… bright and crisp… straightforward playing without excessive vibrato… alternating delicacy". This song starts out simply with a clarinet solo, slow and quiet (like a sunrise) and then builds with trumpets and quick strings. (The day is busy) It ends quietly with a single note. (The last ray of a sunset is disappearing behind the hills). The day is finished the work is done.

What kind of structure or form does it have?

The music has an art form with "…three movement designs (slow-fast-slow format)".
What does it sound or look like? It looks like a beautiful summer day. Immense hay and wheat fields sway in the breeze. All is well. Spirited early Americans, determined to achieve the impossible, find favor with the land. They achieve by living and loving. It sounds like the beginning, middle, and ending of a day.


  • Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov
  • " The Shaker Journal", Religion in Song: the Craftsmanship of Shaker Music, Roger Hall, June 1999,

Mapping ideas:

Kinesthetic map: First, body movement representing the sun coming up. Starting from the ground the students will stretch upward. Then more movements for beginning the day like praying, dressing, washing face and hands. As the music climaxes various chores would be demonstrated by hammering, washing clothes, hoeing and planting. As the music slows, evening movements would be represented like reading, praying, watching the sunset, holding hands, and blowing out a candle.

Visual map: Picture collages would represent main ideas. (Farm, animals,farmers, crops, planting garden, sunrise, sunset, old attire, various work : horseshoeing, quilting, milking)