Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite (full)
One of the best-loved of all classical scores by an American composer, Appalachian Spring was composed during World War II for the great dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, who wanted a piece "with an American theme." In a time of suffering and turmoil, Graham and Copland wanted to create something simple, direct and full of beauty and a feeling for American traditions.
The plot, which Martha Graham devised, depicts an old-fashioned country wedding in Pennsylvania and the quiet, peaceful life a young couple hopes for in their future life together. To mirror this gently optimistic mood, the composer chose the wonderful 19th century Shaker hymn, "The Gift to Be Simple," writing a beautifully "plain" series of variations on this tune. In fact, more than that, the whole score is drawn in the most ingenious way from this now world-famous song.
The original ballet was for a small group of 13 instruments. A few years later, Copland made this program's version for full orchestra, preserving all the music's luminous simplicity, but giving it more power and color.
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Born in Vienna, Austria, at the end of the 19th century, Erich Korngold was an astonishing child prodigy and the protégé of BOTH Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, writing classical chamber music and operas and symphonic music. As the threat of Nazism became greater, this great Jewish composer escaped to America, like many of his friends and colleagues, where he became one of the most important of all Hollywood film composers.
During World War II, Korngold felt he could do more useful and practical work in his adoptive country concentrating on movie scores, and he more or less stopped writing other kinds of music. But as the tide of war turned in favor of the Allies, he began to think once more of concert music, and his first new piece of this kind – begun in the final months of the war in 1945 (and only a year after Aaron Copland finished Appalachian Spring) – was this deliciously nostalgic Violin Concerto, first championed by the great Jascha Heifetz, and played by many other great violinists since.
A violin concerto for the concert hall this may be, but there's still plenty of cinema in this warm and romantic score, especially in the sweeping melodies which were mostly taken from Korngold's movie music of the 1930s, including two 1937 films starring Errol Flynn (Another Dawn and The Prince and the Pauper).
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8
A generation or two earlier, Dvořák was already well-known in his lifetime for his terrific melodies, but his Eighth Symphony surely has more tunes in it than almost anything else he ever wrote, even including the New World Symphony.
The Eighth was the last symphony the composer wrote in his native Bohemia before leaving a couple of years later for his famous trip to the USA, and it was composed in his idyllic country-home of Vysoka, where he himself designed and built the house, surrounded by a rambling garden "which I have nurtured with great care and loved as God's divine work."
Here in this place, he was filled with the sights and sounds of nature, and, in this music, we hear birdsongs – Dvořák was passionate about birds (especially pigeons and doves) – and all sorts of other kinds of nature painting (wind and water), but most of all the catchy rhythms and quirks of Bohemian songs and folkdances which Dvořák had known and loved all his life. He grew up a country boy, and always felt happiest in the lush green fields and woods of Central Bohemia (in what is now known as Czechia), surrounded by the kinds of working people he had always known.
If the New World Symphony is a love-song to the America he later came to as a visitor, then this symphony is a love-song to the familiar beauties of his native land.
– San Diego Symphony Creative Consultant GERARD MCBURNEY