Friday, August 03, 2007


I am staying in West Virginia at the moment, in a country spa hotel situated near the foothills of the famous Appalachian mountains. I've been listening to a young fiddle player called Rob Mann, a street musician and function player, who has been busting a cat gut or two taking us through some of the repertoire for this region. And very talented he is, too.

Of course the vernacular music of the area owes a good deal to English and (especially) Irish folk music, whence it borrowed some ideas and reworked them across the homesteads and bars. One or two of the better known tunes (from a wider span of possibilities) are included in Aaron Copland's famous ballet suite Appalachian Spring, which has always been a favourite of mine.

"An emotional highpoint of the score is a melody based on a traditional Shaker song, 'Simple Gifts.' We hear a chorus sing the original hymn that provided Copland his inspiration, then listen to Copland’s beautiful solo vocal and instrumental adaptations. Throughout the work, Copland brilliantly weaves melodies that evoke simplicity and the “earnest but good-natured piety” of Shaker culture. Composer John Adams discusses the Shaker influence on American culture and how Copland allowed that to shape the piece."

Adams' own orchestral work 'Shaker Loops' is one of the most widely adapted in the neo-minimalist canon, and has been set to words in an abbreviated version by Jon Anderson on the album Change We Must.

NPR continues: "Music critics were in awe of Copland’s ability to capture a vast emotional world within the limits of the 13-piece orchestration prescribed by the original score (which, in turn, was dictated by the size of the Coolidge Auditorium orchestra pit at the Library of Congress, site of the ballet's premiere). With some strings, a few woodwinds and piano he achieves remarkable effects."

See also Classical Notes on Copland and Appalachian Spring.

Comment on this post: NewFrontEars

No comments: