Thursday, September 3, 2015

The American Spirit in Lincoln Portrait

Last time we looked at Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, composed for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra during WWII. He also wrote another piece one year earlier that our local orchestra premiered—do you know which one?

On May 14, 1942, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait was first performed by the CSO. It was commissioned by prominent conductor Andre Kostelanetz, who instructed Copland to choose a distinguished American figure as the basis for this work intended to boost American morale. Copland initially wanted to use Walt Whitman but after receiving advice from Kostelanetz to use a political figure, he decided to choose Abraham Lincoln.

In Lincoln Portrait Copland sought to convey the American spirit during a difficult time of war. Among his own original material, he also incorporated several period pieces including Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” and an 1840 ballad titled “Springfield Mountain.” Lincoln Portrait’s text famously uses Lincoln’s own words, including excerpts from the Gettysburg Address.

Below you can hear a wonderful performance of Lincoln Portrait from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 Hallowed Ground CD featuring narration from the late Dr. Maya Angelou.