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Aaron Copland

The Shaker hymn Simple Gifts first appeared in 1837, and a bit more than a century later it would become a highlight of Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring. Copland so loved the melody that he employed it again, this time with lyrics, in his first set of Old American Songs, premiered in 1950 by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, and first performed in America the following year by William Warfield with the composer at the piano.

As the Shakers sing it, Simple Gifts has a lively and slightly rough quality. Copland makes a few tweaks to smooth out the melody a bit, and while he subjects the song to a variety of mood changes in the ballet, here he treats it as a straightforward, noble hymn. After a fragmentary, bright introductory passage, the baritone begins the piece at a moderately quick tempo, made to seem slower by the broadly spaced chordal accompaniment, which tends to change off the expected beats. Things proceed apace in the chorus, which is closely related to the melody of the verse; then the verse is repeated complete with tiny intro, which also serves as the basis of a compact coda.

Copland arranged this song for baritone and orchestra; there's also a version for chorus and orchestra.

The verse and chorus:

'Tis the gift to be simple

'Tis the gift to be free

'Tis the gift to come down

Where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed

To turn, turn will be our delight

'Till by turning, turning, we come round right.