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This all-American work was written for ballet choreographer and dancer Martha Graham (indeed, the original name on the score is ‘Ballet for Martha’).
For an original fee of $500 (roughly the equivalent of £3,900 today) Copland wrote enough music for a 30-minute ballet, to be performed by a group of thirteen instruments. There is still footage of Graham dancing the original ballet, with a thirty-nine-year-old Merce Cunningham playing the role of the preacher alongside her.
The ballet told the story of pioneer settlers establishing a homestead and interacting with the landscape around them. Oddly enough, the title and the ballet are unconnected, with Martha Graham opting to choose part of a poem called ‘The Bridge’ by the American poet Hart Crane. She deliberately misconstrued the meaning as being related to the season, rather than to the stream, which the poet had originally intended. Regardless, the ballet was a hit and Copland expanded his score for a full orchestra. Copland himself recorded the music, with the London Symphony Orchestra.
London Symphony Orchestra ; Aaron Copland (conductor). Sony: SMK89874.
Illustration: Mark Millington