To celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, listen to Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait. Copland was commissioned in 1942 to create a composition to comfort a nation at war still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. Copland felt overwhelmed with the assignment. But then he came up with the idea to find comfort for the country in the words of the greatest U.S. President.
The composition uses excerpts from several of Lincoln’s speeches, along with original music that samples American folk songs from Lincoln’s time period, such as “Camptown Races” and “Springfield Mountain.”
For a 1943 program book of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Copland explained that the work is roughly in three sections. First, he noted, “In the opening section I wanted to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality. Also, near the end of that section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit.”
Copland continued, “The quick middle section briefly sketches in the background of the times he lived in. This merges into the concluding section where my sole purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame about the words of Lincoln himself.”
In the following recording, Gregory Peck provides the voice of Lincoln.
The composition was not among Copland’s favorites according to a 1953 New York Times article. If I had to choose, I would choose his Appalalachain Spring, which is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. But I still love A Lincoln Portrait. It is a fitting tribute to the sixteenth president of the United States.
Did you know that 2011 was the Civil War Sesquentennial, i.e., the 150th year since the start of the Civil War? On March 4, 2011, it was 150 years since Lincoln was sworn into office. What do you think? Leave a comment.