No classical composition has likely been heard by a greater audience at its premiere performance than Williams’s Air and Simple Gifts. Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, and Gabriela Montero performed outdoors, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, before hundreds of thousands of spectators, with many millions more following via television and other media. (Cold temperatures necessitated the use of a recording to which the performers synchronized their movements.) Williams’s score made use of the traditional American hymn tune “Simple Gifts,” which appears prominently in Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. After a brief lyrical introduction largely for the strings, the main theme is stated and each of the players is featured in a sequence of variations. Continue reading from Encyclopedia Britannica
On May 8, 1945, the streets of American cities filled with throngs celebrating the Allied victory over fascism in Europe. That week, Aaron Copland, a forty-four-year-old Brooklyn-born composer of Russian-Jewish descent, received a Pulitzer Prize for his ballet score “Appalachian Spring.” It was a symbolic ceremony of arrival for an artist who had long labored to bring American composition out of obscurity and into the cultural mainstream. In Copland’s youth, most American concert halls and opera houses were essentially shrines to Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner; few native-born talents could win admittance without imitating the European masters. By the time Copland reached the peak of his career, in the late thirties and the early forties, he and other members of his generation, among them Samuel Barber, Roy Harris, and Virgil Thomson, had gained a foothold. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, three weeks before V-E Day, the luxurious lamentation of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” unfurled on the radio. Copland seized the nation’s attention by forging a universally recognizable national sound. Continue reading from The New Yorker
After 150 years, "Simple Gifts" isn't so simple anymore.
The song composed in 1848 by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett as an easy-to-learn tune for Shaker worship -- extolling the virtues of a simple life -- has become one of America's most popular all-purpose melodies.
In its sesquicentennial year, it's hard to escape the song, which is performed with or without its original lyrics by folk singers, school choruses, church choirs and symphony orchestras. Versions have shown up in weddings, funerals, two presidential inaugurations, television commercials -- and even the hit Irish dance revue "Lord of the Dance."
"It's surprising how many places the song is used. Sometimes, people don't even realize what they're hearing," says Diana Van Kolken, author of a book about the Shakers and owner of Shaker Messenger, a shop that sells Shaker-style furniture in Holland, Mich. Continue reading from The Baltimore Sun
John Williams Composition "Air and Simple Gifts"
Keeping Score: Aaron Copland and the American Sound