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Selected Correspondence, 1942-44

Martha Graham and Aaron Copland back-stage after the premiere of Appalachian Spring in Washington, DC, October 30, 1944.

For much of the genesis of Appalachian Spring, the key figures involved in its creation were in different locations across the United States. Graham moved between New York and Bennington College; Copland spent most of 1943 in Hollywood; and Harold Spivacke, the key administrator who managed the commission, was in Washington, DC, where is served as Chief of the Music Division of the Library of Congress. For that reason, a significant amount of discussion about the work’s genesis and staging was done by mail. This gives a unique insight into the workshop of its creation. Much (though not all) of this correspondence has been digitized by the Library of Congress. This page lists only letters that have been digitized.

Correspondents:

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge [ESC] (1864–1953) was a well-known patron of music, trained as a pianist and composer. Through the Coolidge Foundation dedicated to the promotion of modern chamber music, she collaborated with successive Chiefs of the Music Division of the Library of Congress organizing concerts and commissioning new works. Appalachian Spring is the result of such a commission.

Aaron Copland [AC] (1900–90), who wrote the score of Appalachian Spring, was one of the leading American composers of the twentieth century. Among his best-known works are two more dance scores, Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942), as well as Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) and Lincoln Portrait (1942).

Martha Graham [MG] (1894–1991), a key figure in American modern dance both as a performer and as a choreographer, created the scenario and choreography of Appalachian Spring. For several decades after the work’s premiere, the part of the Bride was one of her signature roles. Other well-known choreographies include Frontier (1935), American Document (1938), and Clytemnestra (1958).

Erick Hawkins [EH] (1909–94) dance the role of Husbandman in Appalachian Spring. By that time, the dancer and choreographer was also Graham’s partner in life and took an active role in running the company. The couple married in 1948, but divorced six years later. Hawkins continued his own career as choreographer in New York with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company.

Harold Spivacke [HS] (1904–77) was a musicologist who served as Chief of the Music Division of the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1972. In that capacity, he was liaised with the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. During World War II, he also served in manifold advisory capacities to the American war effort.

1942

May 21, 1942

Erick Hawkins to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

Asks ESC to consider commissioning a score for MG from a composer such as AC or Paul Hindemith. EH describes MG as “one of the great creative artists of America.”

July 7, 1942

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Sends the AC a potential script for the dance piece being commissioned, titled Daughter of Colchis.

July 31, 1942

Aaron Copland to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

Thanks ESC for the commission; he assumes that the $500 cover solely the music itself and the premiere; performance fees for subsequent use would need to come from MG.

August 4, 1942

Erick Hawkins to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

Reports that MG is overjoyed. Mentions AC and Heitor Villa-Lobos as potential composers.

August 12, 1942

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

An extensive letter that promises to send a new scenario soon (after AC rejected Daughter of Colchis) and that engages with the practicalities of the commission, including the scoring and timing of the dance piece and financial arrangements.

October 7, 1942

Erick Hawkins to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

Reports that MG is “feeling her way” into a new idea for AC and suggests that he might choreograph AC’s Lincoln Portrait (premiered on May 14, 1942) one day as a solo dance: “I wouldn’t be Lincoln, but the myth of the American man that he is the prototype of.”

November 7, 1942

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Announces that she is working on a new idea that he should like better. Proposes to give the scenario of Daughter of Colchis to Carlos Chávez.

1943

April 13, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

AC Copland writes from Hollywood that he has not heard from MG in months, even though she promised to deliver a new scenario soon after Christmas. He worries that his commitments to score The North Star might interfere with the composition of the dance piece. He also addresses the financial side of the arrangement.

May 10, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

MC waits “with much curiosity” for MG’s new scenario. More about performance fees in response to a letter by HS from April 15, 1943.

May 16, 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

A detailed letter accompanying MG’s new script, House of Victory, which forms the basis for Appalachian Spring. MG explains the key issues in her new Americanist scenario.

May 29, 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

MG is relieved that AC likes her new scenario, responds to his criticism, and explains her concept of American identity in more detail. She also announces that she sould soon send an outline for the choreography’s timing.

June 8, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

AC has finally received MG’s script and likes it on the whole, though he has asked for changes. Addresses performance fees ($15 per performance).

July 10, 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Letter that accompanies the revised scenario which now carries a placeholder title, Name. MG explains that she has added the Indian Girl and addresses the challenge of doing “American things.”

July 21, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Telegram announcing special-delivery letter “explaining situation in full.”

July 21, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

MG took a good six weeks with her revisions, delaying everything again, but AC has now received them. Her new scenario is “an improvement” and he accepts it. By now, he has composed about a third of the score but is worried with the timing of The North Star and suggests postponing the premiere.

July 22, 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

MG is delighted that AC likes the new version. She speaks about how she ignores a script once she receives its music, preferring to develop her choreography out of the score. She worries about practicalities, especially a potential delay.

August 19, 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Announces that she has received a letter from HS about postponement, about which she is very upset. Blames the delay on Chávez in particular. Hopes AC’s movie score will work out.

August 21, 1943

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

Addresses the postponement and discusses fundraising for Graham’s company.

August 25, 1943

Harold Spivacke to Erick Hawkins

HS regrets the postponement, but there is nothing to be done. Performance will only be scheduled once the music is available. He does not want either the Library of Congress or the Coolidge Foundation mentioned in any fundraising by Graham until the score is completed and the performances are confirmed.

August 30, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Postponement is a godsend so far as he is concerned because he is now immersed in The North Star. He plans to be back in New York by October 1 so he can “keep in close touch with Martha Graham, which ought to produce better results than long distance correspondence.”

September 5, 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Thanks him for his letter. Looks forward to seeing him in October. Encloses the latest version of the scenario. She hopes he “will like it better. I felt it had more finish this way.”

October 20, 1943

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

AC is back in New York, has arranged to see MG, and will dedicate himself full-time now to the new dance score.

Late 1943

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Undated telegram asking for the remainder of the score.

1944

January 31, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

AC is grateful for news about MG’s response. He discusses the orchestration, now fixed for “thirteen men” (double string quartet, one double bass, piano, flute, clarinet, and bassoon).

June 19, 1944

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

The score has arrived: she looks forward to hearing it. Discusses performance forces (suggests using single instead of double string quartet when she tours with the work).

July 8, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

He has sent the score; he is also prepared to accept a version with single string quartet for the purpose of tours (which will lead to minor revisions)

July 11, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Is sending both the recording (on two pianos) and the piano score.

July 26, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Ac has settled in Mexico for the summer and will keep the score until he hears from Spivacke.

July 30, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Telegram: AC has just realized that Nola Studios did not send the records. “Kindly explain mixup to Martha.”

August 5, 1944

Martha Graham to Aaron Copland

Reports at length about her response to the score. AC’s recording has not yet arrived, but the corrections to the score that he sent earlier have been noted by Louis Horst and Helen Lafer, her rehearsal pianist.

August [12], 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

Identifies himself as the spokesperson for MG where practicalities are concerned, as she is busy with the artistic work. Goes over the finances in detail; plans to come to Washington, DC.

August 17, 1944

Harold Spivacke to Erick Hawkins

Asks for clarifications of the budget.

August 21, 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

Detailed response about costs that gives significant insight into the running of an independent dance company. Continues discussing performance forces that are typical for a touring dance company, which consist of different forces than those used by Copland, Hindemith, and Milhaud for the score commissioned by ESC for MG. “I wish I had interfered to the extent of pointing out to everyone concerned, that until some other financial situation is revealed the size of the scores (I mean the number of instruments) is going to make it almost impossible to tour the country with these works. . . For example, the second violin Hindemith put in can practically wreck in a way a touring budget when it is a question of not having subsidy as the Russian ballet invaders wrangle out of Americans, and either making a tour pay, or not going.”

August 22, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Has left instructions with Nola Studios to send recordings.

August 23, 1944

Harold Spivacke to Erick Hawkins

Further response to the budget; discussion of rehearsal schedule in October.

August 27, 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

EH responds to HS’s criticism by pointing out that, with the addition of Milhaud’s score, the budget now needs to cover three works. “I have just talked it over with Martha, and she asks me to say that since the Milhaud is the third, additional, and less important piece, she would attempt to temper it in cost to what you and Mrs. Coolidge feel you can do.”

September 7, 1944

Aaron Copland to Harold Spivacke

Planning to fly to Washington to attend festival. Should there be any changes, he needs to know.

September 12, 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

EH gets into practicalities of stage construction and continues negotiating the financial side of the arrangement. He asks whether the $5,765 currently agreed for the production and the two performances could be rounded up to $6,000.

September 22, 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

Followup letter to the recent meeting between MG, EH, and HS. Discusses rehearsal pianist Helen Lanfer’s union membership (which is a precondition for performing at the Library of Congress).

September 27, 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

Discusses invitations for the premiere and the details for the press release, including the question as to when the press release will be sent out.

October 3, 1944

Erick Hawkins to Harold Spivacke

Reports that the title for the AC piece is “Appalachian Spring.” Discusses the financial difficulties of the company that have arisen on account of patron Alma Morgenthau’s withdrawal of promised support. Asks for a letter detailing the exact arrangement with the Coolidge Foundation in order to get a bank loan

October 5, 1944

Harold Spivacke to Martha Graham

Responds to EH’s request detailing the financial arrangements of the commission, in order to enable MG’s bank loan.



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