I finally download the “Simple Gifts” theme from Copland’s Appalachian Spring ballet today. Based on a shaker tune which was transformed into the “Lord of the Dance” hymn all us Catholic schoolchildren sang, it may be a bit on the hokey side. Nevertheless, it is one of my favorite pieces of music.
We hear the simple but compelling theme over and over: quiet woodwinds, beautiful long-bowing strings, the quick, stacatto brass section, and then that final quiet woodwind (flute?) bit. The orchestra feels as if it’s winding down, yet we know something is coming; we can feel the tension. And then, bam, the trumpet starts back up, coming in gently so as not to startle but with grandiose power not yet heard in the work. It feels like an eternity until that timpani hit one note later, but with that, the whole orchestra enters. They play with such brilliance and majesty. It’s as if we’ve been waiting for this for the entire piece, but they do not rush and instead each note comes through with feeling and restraint.
I would to love see Appalachian Spring performed someday. Until then, we can all enjoy this 1996 Oldsmobile Aurora commercial; the cheese here is unsurpassed, and yet the whole thing (even without the towers) feels nostalgically pre-9/11.