Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Annegret Fauser's "Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring"

Annegret Fauser is Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Music at UNC Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her books include Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II (2013), which was awarded both the Music in American Culture Award of the American Musicological Society and an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award.

Fauser applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring", and reported the following:
How musicians and critics abroad responded to Aaron Copland and his music for Appalachian Spring forms the thread that runs through page 99 of my book. Italians considered him “an American Grieg,” Chileans understood him as a regionalist, Germans worried about his lack of avant-garde sophistication, and the British saw him in a similar light as his local fellow travelers, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett. In the decades after World War II—when the high modernism of John Cage, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen dominated much of contemporary music—Copland’s Americana sounded out-of-date to the ears of many critics, but concert-goers and radio listeners, especially in the English-speaking world, reveled in the composer’s evocative music. Proving Ford Madox Ford’s point about the “page 99 test,” this particular page offers a surprisingly accurate snapshot of my book as a whole for two reasons. First, I am writing about a singular work, its genesis, and its history, tracing the vicissitudes of its existence in performance, recordings, and memory from its beginnings at the height of World War II to today. The often critical and even negative postwar reactions to Copland’s music for this particular work form part of this story. Later, however, musicians and scholars rediscovered the vernacular modernism of the score and began to appreciate its contribution to the soundscape of contemporary music as something more than just iconic Americana. Second, I consider this dance piece a collaborative work that intersected with the lives of many individuals, especially its three creators: the choreographer Martha Graham, the composer Aaron Copland, and the stage designer, Isamu Noguchi. Each of them was at a critical point in their careers when they joined forces, between 1942 and 1944, in crafting Appalachian Spring. The enmeshment of biography and art played a key role in shaping this work, particularly where Copland and Noguchi were concerned. In another section of the book (p. 37–38), I discuss how self-consciously Copland erased any trace of sentimentality in his idiom, considering it a problematic form of expression, one he associated both with his Jewish heritage and with German Romanticism. At the end of p. 99, I draw attention to the issue that the German criticism of Copland’s neoclassical idiom in the 1950s carries disturbing echoes of the ban, after 1935, of Copland’s music in Germany because he was “a left-wing Jew” (p. 23), and thus doubly suspicious in the eyes of the Nazis. Indeed, tracing such undercurrents—where biography and music interconnect throughout the story of Appalachian Spring—forms an important part of this book, and p. 99 is, in this respect, a cliff-hanger.
Learn more about Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue