Rerun: Rehearsing Appalachian Spring

You’ve probably noticed the posts are shorter here on the Hymie’s blog lately, and its true that we wish we could simply program a summer rerun season. They’re called the dog days of summer but right now its our cat who is about twice his usual length while trying to cool off on the kitchen table, and we feel like we have about the same amount of extra energy.

In the interest of hearing something lively, here’s a post from about two years ago. We thought of it after last week’s performance performance of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

DSC07239In yesterday’s post about the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s groundbreaking digital recording of Appalachian Spring we mentioned that Aaron Copland himself had earlier conducted a recording of the original 13-piece arrangement of the ballet. We never loved that recording as much as the SPCO’s, but both are records we’d recommend in a heartbeat.

We also wrote disparagingly about the “Copland Conducts Copland” series but it really has less to do with the quality of the recordings than with what the period of time in his career represented. His transition traveling guest conductor was the result of his diminished inspiration as a composer. He is quoted, heartbreakingly, in Howard Pollack’s biography Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, as saying “it was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet.”

We find it sad to imagine an artist bound to his earliest works because of its enduring popularity, having never understood how for instance Bruce Springsteen can still drag “Born to Run” onto stage with any passion. Copland, in his later years, was often invited to conduct Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid. For good measure also The Red Pony and Fanfare for the Common Man at times, all fine works and famous for a reason.

His late-period twelve tone compositions like the Piano Fantasy are rarely performed in this country which declares him a favorite son, just as (let’s be honest here) nobody really wants to hear songs from the last decade’s worth of Bruce Springsteen albums. This isn’t a fate which befalls all composers or all rock stars. Richard Strauss, for instance, had something of a renaissance of creativity in his seventies and eighties, composing his Four Last Songs almost in anticipation of his own passing. And until this Frank Sinatra bullshit it seemed like Bob Dylan was as creative as ever (maybe that’s the idea — you never know with Dylan).

DSC07242Anyways, every record collector in the world loves any kind of album insert, especially a bonus disc. And any music lover would enjoy hearing a favorite composer rehearse one of their most famous pieces. Columbia’s Masterworks division experimented with 7-inch inserts for a while, offering insights into the album by Leonard Bernstein or Bruno Walter, or in this case recordings of the rehearsals.

The little bonus record provides an interesting and enjoyable portrait of Copland, both as a composer and a conductor, as well as an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to revisit one’s own work decades later.

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