Appalachian Spring Eternal: The Story Behind "Ballet for Martha"

Oct 30, 2017

In the midst of World War II, a collaboration between choreographer Martha Graham and composer Aaron Copland gave birth to an enduring American classic. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston hears Appalachian Spring in a new way.

Two great American artists came together to produce Appalachian Spring. In the early 1940s, with dancer and choreographer Martha Graham on the west coast, and composer Aaron Copland working in Mexico, the two melded their talents, largely through letters. Graham guided Copland in telling this American story of courage, community and innovation, portrayed through the aspirations of a newly married couple settling in Pennsylvania.  

Graham and Copland's joint project was commissioned by the Library of Congress' Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, and first performed on October 30, 1944 in the 511-seat Coolidge Auditorium. The relatively small size of this acoustically pristine performance space required Copland to accomplish his vision of the music with just 13 instruments. After that first performance, Appalachian Spring was heralded as an immediate success - and earned Copland a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945; its popularity endures throughout the U.S. and around the world. Fascinating articles, photos, letters, programs and newspaper clippings about Appalachian Spring on the Library of Congress website.