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Not the Suite, but Not “Complete”: What to Call the Hybrid Version of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring

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Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett

The following is a guest blog post from Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett, Ph.D. She is a consulting musicologist for the Aaron Copland Fund for Music. She has been mining the riches of the Aaron Copland Collection since 1995, resulting in several publications on Copland in the 1950s. With Aaron Sherber, she is co-editor of a forthcoming critical edition of the original ballet version of Appalachian Spring.




Most listeners know that there are two distinct versions of Appalachian Spring: the original ballet score for thirteen instruments (1944), and the orchestral suite for concert performance (1945), which is nearly 10 minutes shorter.  Later, the suite was published in the thirteen-instrument scoring (1972), and in 2016, a full-orchestra version of the ballet was completed to match the Graham choreography.

However, few people are aware that there is a third configuration that differs in its form from both the suite and the ballet. The third configuration, which has been recorded by Eugene Ormandy, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Leonard Slatkin, is often mistakenly called the “complete ballet” for full orchestra, when in fact it is not.  After reviewing the structural differences between the ballet and the suite, I will explain the origins and history of the third, hybrid structure, and will argue that “Extended Suite” is the best term for the hybrid version.

Form of the Suite (top) versus Ballet (bottom)

When Copland created the suite, he made three kinds of structural changes to the ballet (aside from the change in instrumentation from thirteen instruments to full orchestra).  First, he made a single cut of about eight minutes to remove sections 5, 6 and 7, which we can call the “Fear-Wrath-Crisis” portion of the work.

The second structural change occurred within the variations section, which consists of a theme (represented in purple), and Variations One through Four (blue, green, yellow, and orange). Copland cut most of Variation Two, rearranged the others, and adjusted the key scheme. The former Reprise (red) became the new Variation Four.

The third kind of change Copland made is represented in the diagram by gray bars.  These were several short cuts, between one and eight measures long, mostly choreographic and repetitious.  The cumulative result of Copland’s changes is that the suite and the ballet are two distinct musical works, though they share a title and more than twenty minutes of music.

Until 1954, there were only the two configurations of the work: the complete ballet and the suite.  1954 was the year Martha Graham – who was a Pennsylvania native – took Appalachian Spring on an extended European tour with her company. The conductor Eugene Ormandy seems to have envisioned a grand homecoming performance with the Graham Company accompanied by the full Philadelphia Orchestra. Because the score that matched Graham’s choreography existed only in the thirteen-instrument version, a new score would be needed to showcase the famous, lush “Philadelphia sound.”[1]

The first page of the thirty-two-page score insert that Copland completed for Ormandy in 1954, using the same instrumentation as the suite. “Insert for complete ballet” Box 77/55-A.1, Aaron Copland Collection.

Despite many other obligations that year, Copland found time to orchestrate for Ormandy the largest cut – the “Fear-Wrath-Crisis” portion of the ballet.  The insert’s thirty-two pages present all of the “Fear-Wrath-Crisis” music, with only small changes at the beginning and end to facilitate its insertion into the suite.

Ormandy discovered less than a month before he planned to perform the work that even with Copland’s insert, the published suite would not match the choreography of a Graham Company performance, because of the smaller changes in the first half and the reconfigured variations. On October 28, Ormandy sent Copland a desperate plea for additional music:

“Mr. Eugene Lester, Assistant to Martha Graham, is with me now and, apparently, there are nearly 100 bars which will have to be rewritten and recopied…” Ormandy asked Copland to supply a “changed score” by November 10, adding “Please hurry! S.O.S! There is no time to lose. I know you will do it.”[1] (The 100 bars roughly agrees with the measures of smaller cuts plus the changes made to the variations section.[2]) At some point thereafter, another copyist—not Copland—created five additional inserts to address some of the remaining missing music, and Copland approved of them, adding “No. 6” to his insert.

Ormandy never gave a high-profile performance of a new version of Appalachian Spring.  Instead, he led a more conventional performance of the work with Graham and her company dancing on a concert for students on Monday night, November 22, 1954. The musicians most likely performed the original thirteen-instrument ballet, with augmented strings, which is something the Martha Graham Company has often done over the years.  We know that they did not use the suite-plus-Copland’s-insert, because the changes in the variations would have meant revising the choreography, something the Graham dancers say did not happen at that performance.

However, the “Fear-Wrath-Crisis” insert was used six days later when Ormandy recorded Appalachian Spring with the Philadelphia Orchestra for Columbia Records. The Ormandy recording’s release in 1957 initiated enduring confusion.  The liner notes by Charles Burr erroneously claim that the recorded version is the “complete ballet,” and imply that the Graham Company danced to this version at the 1954 performance in Philadelphia.  They read, “In 1954 Eugene Ormandy invited Martha Graham to perform the work in Philadelphia and for this occasion Aaron Copland orchestrated the previously excluded sections . . . to furnish full score for the complete ballet.” As described above, the Graham company could not have danced to the suite-plus-inserts because that version retains the alterations to the “Simple Gifts” variations section, and some additional alterations not rectified by the inserts.

Early on, Copland seems to have adopted the Ormandy terminology.  In a list of conducting engagements, he lists a 1955 London performance with the BBC Symphony as “Appalachian Spring (complete ballet version).”  And in a list of recordings, he describes the 1957 release of the Ormandy recording as “Appalachian Spring: Complete Ballet.”

(top) Copland’s list of conducting engagements, where he lists a 1955 London performance with the BBC Symphony as “Appalachian Spring (complete ballet version)”; ACCLC Box 432, Folder 10, Aaron Copland Collection. (bottom) Recordings list, Aaron Copland Collection, Binder 1.

This is one of Copland’s copies of the published orchestral suite, on which he has indicated where to put the insert.  Here, he shows more ambivalence about terminology; the word “complete” is in quotation marks and parentheses, with the word “extended” added above.

From Copland’s copy of the full score for the Appalachian Spring suite, with holograph markings indicating where the 32-page insert belongs when extending the suite. Box 28, Aaron Copland Collection.

If this widely circulating third structure is not the complete ballet, what should we call it?  Fortunately, we have two sources that provide guidance.  At least twice Copland attempted a comprehensive description of all extant versions of Appalachian Spring.  The first is his “Note on Various Versions of Appalachian Spring” which must date from after 1972 because he categorizes the suite for chamber group as a “published version.”

A handwritten table affixed inside the front cover of a photographic reproduction of the manuscript score in the Coolidge Collection. Box 76 (ARCO 55.3), Aaron Copland Collection.

After the two published suite versions, he lists the “Full ballet score,” which is not published, but exists only in manuscript form.  The third item he calls the “Extended Suite” for full orchestra.  He gives instructions on where to place the insert into the published suite, and then adds a fourth possibility: the extended suite for thirteen instruments, to be prepared, which he ultimately recorded for a 1974 Columbia release titled Copland Conducts Copland: First Recording of the Original Version [sic] (Columbia M 32736, 1974, LP).

The second document is a table titled “Three Versions Exist,” which must date from 1972 or later since it is written directly on the published score to the 13-instrument suite (plate no. B.&H. 19979).

Aaron Copland holograph table “Three Versions Exist,” listing versions of Appalachian Spring. Box 28 (55-Ca), Aaron Copland Collection.

First he writes “Full ballet score (for use solely with Martha Graham’s choreography);” second he lists the orchestral suite as published by Boosey & Hawkes, in both scorings, 13 instruments (1972) and full orchestra (1945), and finally, he lists the Extended orchestra Suite,” and indicates the specific connection to the 1954 hybrid version: “as recorded by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.”

In the forthcoming critical edition of the original ballet, Aaron Sherber and I refer to that version as the “Extended Suite” for three main reasons.  First, it is most descriptive of its genesis.  When he created it in 1954, Copland started with the suite and added something. Second, it’s descriptive of its structure:  It retains the suite’s order of variations and key structure, rather than reverting to the ballet. And third, Copland used this term on both occasions when he made a direct comparison of the versions of Appalachian Spring.  It is my hope that the term “Extended Suite” will be widely adopted, thereby rectifying longstanding confusion about the three basic structures of this celebrated work.

Images used by permission of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc

[1] Ormandy to Copland, 4 November 1954, box 260, folder 10, Aaron Copland Collection.

[2] Aaron Sherber, “Appalachian Spring: Ballet for Orchestra,” Journal of the Conductors Guild 33 (2017): 9.

[1] Sean Wilentz, 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2012), 110.

Comments (3)

  1. I was sent this information recently and find it, of course, fascinating. Some things are not clear because we have a video of the Graham troupe from a long time ago, and we have the recording with Copland and the Columbia Chamber Orchestra.

    I always thought that the version I do is what would constitute what Copland left us as a “Complete Orchestral Version,” as opposed to the “Complete Ballet”

    If you have a copy of the new edition, I would be most interested to see it as I do have the full work coming up a few times in the future.


    Leonard Slatkin

  2. Dear Mr. Slatkin,
    As a specialist in 20th-century American concert music, I have always considered myself incredibly fortunate to have lived in the DC area when you led the NSO. So many inspiring and memorable programs of marvelous repertoire!

    The 1958 video of the Graham Company performing Appalachian Spring, produced by Nathan Kroll, is one of just three commercially available recordings of the original ballet in choreographic order (the other two being the 1990 recordings by Andrew Schenck and Hugh Wolff). Copland’s 1974 Columbia recording, in contrast, does not match the Graham choreography. Rather, despite the comments on the jacket, it is a performance of the extended suite for 13 instruments, as evidenced by the original ballet’s fourth variation being moved to the second variation’s slot, a few other cuts, and the simplified key structure of the variations section.

    Sincerely, Jennifer

  3. The Ballet in One Act for Full Orchestra is presently available from Boosey, and the MUSA critical edition of the original 13-instrument ballet is scheduled for printing in May or June 2020.

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